I was brave, once.
Many things pass for bravery in our world today. Depending on people's perception of them, certain events are permeated by courage and heroic behavior. But one thing is showing courage while doing your job, and another is being brave because you choose to. In other words, your job description may require you to confront certain perilous situations (soldier, fireman, cop, etc.), but in real life we're constantly being confronted with challenges, and yet we seldom act courageously.
Usually, when we look back at those moments, we wish we'd acted differently. In retrospect black and white are always very clear, and the words we would have liked to hear come out of our mouths shoot out quickly and in sequential order. In the thick of it, things rarely happen as you would have thought they would. Our reactions to menacing circumstances can't be calculated or planned beforehand. If your instinct is to freeze up when somebody pushes you, you're going to have a hard time in the playground until you manage to break past your initial fear and push back.
Well, I had my share of playground fights. I did my bit with the neighborhood gangs, had plenty of fights in high school and more than a few in the service. But none of those fights were anything more than fights. I mean, the purpose of the fight was to fight. There was no honor to defend and no real turf to protect. All either one of us truly wanted was to beat the shit out of the other.
As you grow older you realize the futility of physical violence, and you become much more aware of your own mortality. Fighting becomes something you're no longer quite so eager to engage in. You do it only out of pure necessity.
So back to my bravery.
I was 26 then. Cindy and I had just started going out together. She was bartending at this bar & grill called The Oasis. It was a weeknight and not much was going on. I was sitting at the bar with an acquaintance, having a beer. There were maybe another five or six people there.
This one crazy looking guy kept darting back and forth, between the restroom and the bar. You could see he was tweaking (tweaking = T-Town's word for being on speed) like crazy. He was sniffing loudly and looking wild, while raucously exchanging tall tales with his drinking buddies.
There came a point when the guy had had too much to drink, so Cindy cut him off. He obviously didn't like this. He shot back to the bathroom.
Now people in small towns can be rowdy and ignorant, but it usually comes to pass. Most people don't want to get blacklisted at a bar where they know they're going to want to go back to. Hell, there's only so many things to do in a small town.
But this guy came out of the bathroom fired up, stood squarely in front of the bar and with his finger pointed out at Cindy yelled: "YOU ARE A SOUR PUSS BITCH. FUCK YOU!!!" Then stormed out of the bar.
Cindy did her best to ignore him, and she kept washing glasses and wiping the counter. It's not like she'd never been insulted before, it comes with the job. But it happened in front of me, and you could tell she was hurt by it.
That, more than anything, got my blood boiling. The sudden shock was passing, and now I didn't know what to do. The guy was gone. It was too late to run out after him, he'd probably be out of the parking lot by then.
And then the most amazing thing happened. The guy walked back in. He just waltzed his ass right back in as if nothing had happened. His buddies were still there, that's probably why he hadn't left.
He was crossing the bar to go back to the Men's room again, when without a thought in mind I jumped up and blocked his path. He stopped, momentarily startled. I asked him, "You think you're just going to walk back in here, after insulting my girlfriend?" There was rage in my voice, he could tell. We were both gauging each other; judging size, strength and agility in a second's glance. Both of us were of average build and height. Neither really looked physically intimidating.
My arms were slightly lifted to my sides, in anticipation of his every move. I wanted to tear his fucking head off, and he could tell. He backed off a little, "What the fuck are you talking about?" he said defiantly, like he was getting ready to jump. "You know what I'm talking about, asshole. You better get your nasty ass the fuck outta here before I beat you senseless," I barked. By now his three friends had gotten up from their table and had approached us, but nobody said a word. My friend came in closer too.
My eyes weren't flinching, and they were boring deep into his skull. If he was going to make a move, this was the time to do it. He knew it. "Rock n' roll motherfucker," I was thinking, "rock n' roll!" I was ready to go.
I wasn't completely unaware of his friends. They seemed ready to back him up, but I didn't give a fuck. I was past the point of no return and was not about to back down.
I could tell he was feeling invigorated by the presence of his buddies. He started inching up toward me a little, feeling me out a little further. "Man, I didn't say shit to her. What the fuck did I say?"he asked. "You know what you said, dirtbag," I shot back, "and I didn't fucking like it!" I was getting ready to let loose on him. There comes a point in every faceoff when you feel that if you wait any longer, your opponent is going to get in the first hit. I put my face in his to let him know his time was up. His friends were just standing around, uncertain about what to do.
It was then that he relented. He put his open hands up and said "Aw man, I'm sorry about that. Hell, I didn't mean shit by it." I stared at him in disbelief. First of all, I never thought he was going to back down, especially in front of his friends. Secondly, people on speed usually feel invincible. And third... an apology??? Why not just leave?
"Dude, I don't want your fucking apology," I yelled. "You tell her you're fucking sorry, you piece o' shit!"And I motioned to Cindy.
Cindy was standing there, anxiously awaiting the conclusion to this ordeal. She was probably worried like crazy that we might tear the place up on her watch, so I'm sure she was thrilled when the asshole mumbled out, with downcast eyes, "I'm sorry...I didn't mean anything by that, I was just playing around...I won't do it again," and he sounded just like a scolded schoolboy. Then he looked back at me, as if to say "Okay?" I was watching Cindy. She was suddenly beaming, refreshed. She nodded her assent. I said, "Alright man," and got out of his way.
And so it ended, with no blood spilled. But it hadn't been necessary, since I felt like I'd won the fight anyway. And let me tell you something: there's no better feeling than when you've successfully defended your loved one's honor. I also think it told Cindy that I would do it over and over again if necessary.