Back in third grade I was a runt. Frank was the opposite, a fifth grader in age, he was big even among his eleven year-old peers. Frank came back from Christmas break determined that I was responsible for anything that irked him at any given moment. He was irritated often. Nearly every day he promised I was going to get it after school. Apparently, he failed to grasp the notion that I rode the school bus, while he walked home, and that meant a promised meeting was pretty much impossible.
Finally, Frank decided the fear of punishment was not enough to deter him from delivering the ass-beating I deserved for whatever I did to make him angry and swore I would get what was coming that day at recess.
I hustled out to the playground. I knew Frank was a lot taller than me, so I climbed a pile of plowed snow beside the chain link fence around the school perimeter to help equalize the height difference. A crowd gathered as Frank approached.
Frank wasn’t one of those guys who talked and boasted and threatened before a fight. He was a man of action. He came straight for me. I shifted position to prepare to run out of the way. I tripped over an untied shoestring. I fell straight at Frank and we both tumbled to the ground, my elbow striking him square in the nose. Blood exploded over his face. As I scrambled to get up, my hand pushed him in the throat. He gagged and curled into a ball. Why not, I kicked him while he was down. A couple of times.
Then I ran.
Frank’s friends helped him up, shielding him from the teacher monitoring the playground. He later said he fell on the ice to explain the bloody nose.
I figured I was in for it the next day.
Instead, Frank became my biggest supporter. He thought I purposely fought him. And won. Everyone did. I had a newfound reputation and playground respect.
Mom was always yelling at me to tie my shoes.
She was wrong. Loose shoestrings saved my life.