Thursday, September 18, 2014


For over 20 years, I harbored a grudge against a couple of football players who pulled me out of a fight my older brother had against a bully on the last day of my freshmen year of high school.  It wasn't until I told the story to my son a couple of years ago that I finally realized how those boys only did so to protect me, despite what it looked like at the time.

The whole thing started about a week before school let out.  My older brother was hanging out with friends, (they were cursing and messing around with each other - typical teenager shit), and this punk thought some of the comments were directed at him.  He harassed my brother for several days until they decided to settle the score in the parking lot after the bell rang to end the school year.

In the car that morning, my brother only told me the following (by the way, this was all after my mom had already given him the third degree about the crappy T-shirt he was wearing): "I'm having a fight after school."  I said, "OK."  He said, "There's a bat in the backseat."  I again replied, "OK."  He answered, "Use it."  No explanation.  No special combat training.  No "Tommy, I know you're only a buck fifteen, and you'll probably get yourself killed, but who cares?"  Just two words: Use it. 

What the fuck was I supposed to do with a baseball bat?  Fighting was my brother's thing.  My dad's thing.  Not mine.  But I knew I couldn't let my brother down, so I sweated the whole mess until I walked out to his car that afternoon when the fight started.  Not at all how I figured the last day would go.

It was kind of funny at first.  I laid low by his car with a buddy and watched from a slight distance.  There was a mob of people crowding the parking lot.  Mind you, both boys were hulking masses compared to me.  Muscles popping, veins surging; the whole scenario predated the UFC contests you see on TV today.  The two combatants circled each other a couple of times with fists raised and then kicked each other.  No harm done.  Just feeler kicks, really.  Then my brother punched the other kid squarely on the nose and knocked him to the pavement.  I'll never forget what it looked like to see that huge boy collapse like a wet noodle. 

As soon as that happened, a flood of kids swarmed the fight, and I lost sight of my brother.  I took that as my call: Use it!  (In my head, I might've added a "you fucking asshole" in my brother's voice.  His short temper has always been part of his charm.  Kind of like my dad.)

I grabbed the baseball bat and charged into the crowd, swinging. 

Almost immediately, I realized two things.  First, the majority of the kids were chanting for the other boy (funny how bullies tend to be popular).  Second, my brother was bashing the kid's head squarely into the pavement and didn't need my help at all.  I wasn't using the bat for anything more than to make myself an easy target for an angry crowd of spectators whose prized fighter was getting his ass kicked but good.

A couple of large arms grabbed me and asked me what the fuck I was doing.  These were the football players.  They were gigantic.  I recognized both of them because they worked out with my brother in the weight room where I would sometimes be forced to wait when I'd rather have been off playing Dungeons & Dragons with my gang of nerdy (but very safe) friends.  When you're a tiny freshmen and your big brother plays football, it's just what you have to deal with.  How did I get such scrawny fucking genes anyway?

While in their grasp, I got popped in the forehead with the bat someone had snatched from my hands and cold-cocked on the left jaw before the two ballplayers could get me out of harm's way.  All the while, they were yelling at me and making sure the angry mob never thought for a moment they might actually be on my brother's side.  They held onto me until they handed me off to one of the gym coaches who eventually arrived to break up the fight.  By that time, my brother had turned the bully into an unconscious bloody mess and had gone apeshit in the parking lot.  He would've destroyed the whole crowd that day if they'd dared to step up to him.  One jerk did, in fact.  My brother shoved him hard in the chest with both hands and screamed "Nobody fucks with the Dragos!" about two inches from his face.  The boy vaporized into the simmering crowd.

I remember walking to the Dean's Office.  The gym coach clutched me tightly under the arm to make sure I didn't get lost in the sea of angry kids who might be looking for an easier target given that my brother was fairly indestructible at that moment.  I can't tell you how many coaches eventually wrangled him to the office.

I started out thinking I would be my brother's life-saver but ended up needing a couple of guardian angels of my own.  I think my brother would still tell you I'm his hero for doing what I did.  We're brothers.  That's all that matters in the end.

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