Once, a bully chased me around the neighborhood. He was older and he was bigger than I was.
It was twilight and I needed to get home when the streetlights came on. Somehow that worried me just as much as what he might do to me.
I was carrying a plastic "briefcase" that my dad had given me. I think it was full of toys and probably drawings of Star Trek scenes. It never occurred to me, as I was running and crying, to drop it -- which is good, because, thinking I had evaded the bully, I hid up against a friend's house under a pine tree. It would either be a great hiding spot or it was "a corner."
It was a corner.
He found me, and it was nearly dark, so coming under the pine tree, he was a spectre; but he was a spectre with big, knuckly fists and he let them loose, catching me on the temple, then, in the stomach. His breathing was a growl and he was muttering about killing me as he punched, missing and connecting; missing and connecting.
I did what I had to: I swung the plastic case and hit him on what, judging fron the height of the swing, must have been the bridge of the nose. I couldn't see the blood in the dark, but weeks later, it was still sprayed on the side of my friend's house, where, hidden under the thick pine tree, it might remain to this day, almost forty years later.
The bully squealed. (It's the only word that fits -- like when a pig is in distress.) He fell back from the opening of the pine and I ran out, right over him, stepping on him as I went; he grunted and went back to squealing.
In the full-dark, I ran as fast as I could -- I was late -- through yards and over fences in the most direct line home I could find.
My mom was working late, so the house was dark. My dad had been sitting at the piano since before the sun had dropped, so I saw him like a floating spirit in the glow of the piano light, his right hand on a chord, his left hand penciling notes onto manuscript paper. He said hello; I said hello; I went up to my room and I sat numbly in the dark, until I was called down for dinner.
Mom was now home; the living room was painted rich with light; the kitchen was flooded with light, warmth and sound and it smelled like dinner.
At the table, they asked me how my head had gotten bruised. "Football," I told them. My sister was only two or three years old, but she looked hard at me when I said it. I looked down at my food.
For weeks, people talked about it in the neighborhood. "You really messed him up," a friend told me. "He had to go to the hospital."
For weeks, I worried I would get into a trouble that never came.