I have some mad respect for this dude. Seriously! This post rips me up… it also increased my determination to be more aware of those around me.
Not every kid has an adult in their life who loves them.
Let that sink in.
I read the stories and I watch the horror of headline news and yet… it is hard to truly grasp what is going on. What’s going on is there are kids that are LEFT to survive completely alone.
This is one of my favorite posts and I hope you share it every chance you get. I hope you see the surviving spirit Byron has, but I also hope you see the moments where other people made a difference. All too often, we are afraid to get involved so we program ourselves to be oblivious. I believe being an oblivious community is creating a bigger problem. Bullying is only the beginning of worse adult behavior.
FIGHTING BACK by Byron Hamel
When I was a kid, I used to get beat up a lot at school, or at home by my older brother. Or by my mother and her boyfriends.
People were always beating me, or threatening my life growing up. Big adult men pummelling me with fists the size of my eight-year-old head. Kids at school ganging up on me, 3 or more at a time… I lost every fight I was in before high school, but I never backed down.
Maybe I should have done more to stay out of trouble. But I absolutely hated the injustice of it all. I hated the idea of standing there quietly while I was being stabbed and burned and ridiculed for simply existing. 9 times out of 10, it was the other kid who started the fight. But 8 times out of 10 it was me who threw the first punch. I fought and fought and fought because I never accepted the bullshit.
I fought my brother. I fought his friends. I even fought my abusive parents. I fought my mother. I fought her boyfriends. I even tried to fight Augustine, the one who tried to kill me, a couple times. I was scared as hell, but I tried. I could do nothing to him, but I did my best.
I was so full of fear. I lived in fear. Every day was fear. So much that I didn’t feel it anymore. It left the realm of feelings, and became a part of my behavior. I remember one time standing there silently as he stared down at me, naked in the shower, 9 years old. He reached down and turned the hot water up. It burned my skin, but I stayed there. I stood, petrified and narrow focused, until the water ran freezing cold. And then I stood there still, shivering in pain, and staring right the fuck back.
One time I buried myself under junk in the closet so that he wouldn’t see me there. He had spent that afternoon pinching my cheeks until they bled, slapping my head, and threatening me with cigarette burns. My swollen face stung under the salt of my tears. He was stumbling around laughing his head off. That’s how I’d managed to get away from him and hide.
He was going to kill me that time too. I knew it. He never said much to me, but I could feel it. In the closet, I saw the handle of our push broom. I took the plastic cap off of its metal handle, remembering that I’d cut myself on the sharp edge once. I could jab him with that, hard in the face, maybe take out his eye. I quietly pulled it toward me and held it tight to my chest.
Augustine opened the closet. I would never be able to do it, I thought. He was so much stronger. I felt how flimsy and weak the thin metal of the push broom handle was. I thought about how easily it bent that one time I used it to pick up dirt under the kitchen table. That dent was still there. I remember knowing my weakness. For the first time, knowing that I was truly powerless. I would fail. But I would try. And I would kill him if I could. I would not run from him. Not this time.
It felt like hours. He stood there with the closet door open, not even looking in. I could only see the profile of his face and body. He was calling me. “Here kitty kitty” is what I remember him saying. And some things in Spanish: “Stupid little fucker”, “Fat little faggot”. I thought of him dead on the floor. I thought of jamming the handle into his throat when he was down. But mostly I thought about how hitting him would just make him angry, how he would just take the initial hits and then break my neck.
Eventually he got quiet. It was dark in the closet. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. I needed to strike him. He was right there. But I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to die. So I waited for him to come to me. I would only strike if I had to. Time passed. I think he looked for me in a couple different places. I heard him pretend to leave, and stay quiet for a long time. I heard him pretend to snore. I stayed where I was. I stayed until well into the night when he actually left our roach infested apartment. He must have gotten bored, or came down off of whatever he was on.
A few years later, after Augustine had been arrested for something, and our family had time to relocate to Hesperia California, mom had a new boyfriend. A really great guy this time. His name is Ron, and he loved me. He believed in me. Later, he became my adopted dad. And let me tell you, I was not an easy kid. He didn’t have to do that. He just chose to. Just out of goodness and liking me for whatever reasons he had. He was a dad to me. An amazing guy, who tried his absolute best to give me a refuge and a home.
In Hesperia, we had a neighbor whose son was a couple years older, and about a foot and a half taller, than me. He saw me coming home with black eyes and bloody noses from school, and he asked me if I wanted to start boxing with him. It’s only now that I realize he was doing his part, trying to look after me. At the time, I thought he just wanted a punching bag (well there IS some truth to that Martin, you fucker!), but I was excited to learn how to box.
I was terrible at boxing, and I got hit a lot. I gave up so much at the beginning. “We’ll try again tomorrow then” said Martin, laughing, as I cried my way into my house and slammed the front door. I hated getting hit in the face. The stars, the blood, the breathlessness… I’d rage every time, forget everything I’d learned, and charge! And lose.
|Me taking the famous elbow of David “The Crow” Loiseau, a man once told he would never walk again, who became famous for winning fights in the UFC with his flying knees. A world-class fighter. Also a world-class gentleman.|
This went on, day after day. I never went into his house. He never came into mine. We didn’t have a ring. We just boxed, at least every other day, in my driveway. If you fell there, you fell on pavement, and then you got up, shut up, and fought again. If we didn’t box, we played basketball. Martin won every time. “Take the ball from me,” he’d say laughing at me, but he’d never let me get it. He was improving my reaction time, and my agility.
I remember the first time I got hit in the diaphragm. Getting punched hard in the involuntary muscle which inflates your lungs can stun that muscle, temporarily disabling your breathing. I was so afraid I was going to die. “Keep your hands up” ridiculed my neighbor with the infinite reach. So I learned to keep my hands up, to protect my face and body. Then came the hooks from the side to the temple. The temporary blindness and shock. Yelling “I can’t see!” “Move out of the way idiot,” my boxing coach shouted, trying to build a sparring partner who lived next door and could last more than three minutes. So then I learned to dodge.
Over time, I didn’t get hit as much. And when I did get hit, it didn’t hurt as much. I didn’t need to give up as much. And then I learned how to throw my own punches. How to knock out the other guy, using weak points and his own exertion against him. I learned that when the other guy misses a punch, he uses more energy than if he lands it. I learned that simply moving out of the way can put the other guy’s shoulder out. I learned how to use my whole body to punch. I practiced how to gauge the distance between me and my opponent, even though I’m visually impaired.
I took more punches, stumbled more, fell more, failed more, until one day I didn’t need to give up at all. I learned many valuable life lessons from getting hit. Break me, I’ll heal stronger. Knock me out, I’ll be better at moving out of the way next time. Take my breath away, I’ll let you do it on an exhale and catch you on the chin. And if you land it, I’ll wait it out and keep my head in the game. Like a wise fisher waits for rough sea.
|I spent a day with George Chuvalo, the legendary boxer who went the distance with Muhammad Ali. We got along really well until I told him to prove he still had fight in him.|
Boxing was good for me, but I never really understood how until much later in life. I never understood the personal power one can develop from fighting until, at the age of 30, I took up grappling. Learning Judo has given me so much. The applications to my daily life and philosophy couldn’t be more clear to me, especially in the ground game.
There is peace and meditation in a tight clinch. Holding that other person, squeezing the air out, bending a limb to the breaking point… It counter-intuitively quiets my soul. Brings my being together as a whole. Connection. That quiet back and forth between two souls helping each other become better at something through courage, drive, tenacity, and humility. There is beauty in the precision of nailing a move. Wisdom in compromising, improvising, waiting it out, using the least energy to achieve the maximum result. Self-improvement through learning, practicing, and knowing when to abandon external form in order to express your own reality.
The experience is uniquely physical. But it never stops there. The mind, the muscle, the heart and spirit… The entire self follows the improvement of any one facet, and in its own way, matches it.
Thanks to my neighbor Martin, and all of my martial arts teachers and sparring partners through the years, I fought my way out of extreme abuse and injustice. I fought my way out of being a victim. I’m no longer afraid to be myself. I’m not hiding and bleeding in a closet. I stand my ground when I’m under attack. I allow my attacker to injure himself (and perhaps facilitate a little). I try to teach him there’s a better way. And more importantly, I am willing and able to protect those in need.
These days, I’ve found I’m resting more. Picking my battles. Choosing more wisely. My communication is better. My victorious nature is clear and obvious to people who encounter me. I hold my quiet power closer, keep it under wraps until I need it. I smile and love more. I do more to fight without fighting. To end it before it begins.
I do spend a good deal of time in my corner, studying my opponents. And sometimes I still get beaten. But now I make it damn hard.