We’ve all been there. It doesn’t matter if you are the most laid-back, lowest blood pressure, Bible knowing, softest spoken, politest, cutest, smartest and generally bestest person in your community — you’ve been there.
It’s that moment when someone pushes the right buttons and elicits an ever-growing rumble of anger from deep inside that eventually bubbles over and comes out in a not-so-pretty way.
It happened to me when I was 15.
It was November 1971 and my family had just moved to New Jersey a few months earlier. My younger sister, brother and I were still the new kids in the neighborhood, though we’d managed to make a few friends. I was lucky enough to have a few guys around my age, and we had begun to bond through neighborhood football and baseball games.
Except there was this one kid … Jodie McGovern. Just the thought of him, even 45 years later, makes me shudder.
It was quickly evident that Jodie was the neighborhood bully — partially because he’d lived there the longest. He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he was the most athletic. He didn’t really have friends, but he had other kids who hung out with him because they knew he was the alpha male. They were his posse.
So when I showed up, we soon established a neighborhood rivalry that was sparked by our baseball games. These were played in the street with a tennis ball, and we kept tack of statistics — especially home runs, which were determined by hitting the ball past a fence at a yard fairly far away.
Jodie and I were neck and neck right away.
I was told these games were usually played until the end of September. When the weather started to get chilly, the gang went to the narrow field in the neighborhood and played football.
Not this year.
As it turned out, Jodie and I were tied with the most home runs when Oct. 1 arrived — and Jodie said we had to keep playing. So we did … for two more weeks.
For about 10 of those extra days, I held something like a one or two home-run lead. But over the course of those last few days, Jodie tied and then went ahead of me. On the very day he took the lead, he determined it was football time.
What a jerk.
So my disdain for Jodie the Jerk was on the rise, and it came to a head about three weeks later.
The scenario was this: New neighborhood, Halloween was looming on a Saturday and my father had caught a cold. That left my mother manning the door for trick-or-treaters and me to take my brother and sister trick-or-treating. Since some of the guys, Jodie the Jerk included, were going out to “wander the neighborhood” and had asked me to come, I wasn’t happy about having to tell them I couldn’t go — OR the reason.
My brother and sister and I ran into the wanderers and, of course, Jodie the Jerk hurled a number of insults at me for having to babysit, but nothing too awful prevented the night from going OK.
The next day, the talk around the neighborhood was that Jodie the Jerk and a few of the other guys were in hot water for soaping cars. I felt emboldened, and even gave thought to publicly chastising Jodie the Jerk at school the next day. But he beat me to it.
Jodie the Jerk started telling everyone on the school bus, and then at school, about my having to take my brother and sister trick-or-treating. It was a horrible day — and his incessant jerkness continued through the week.
On Friday, as the bus made its way to our neighborhood, Jodie the Jerk was at it again. I’d had enough.
When we got off the bus near his house, I followed him up his driveway. The other kids had started off toward their own homes, but seemed to sense something was awry and soon stopped. Jodie the Jerk turned to look at me .. and smiled. That was the trigger I needed, and I pounced.
Let’s just say I earned a little respect among the neighborhood guys that day, and Jodie the Jerk … well, he lost a bit of his shine as well as a little nostular blood.
When it was over, I picked up my books and headed up the street to my house feeling pretty good. But it only lasted until my sister fell into step with me and declared, “I’m gonna tell mom you started a fight!”
I said to her, “Go ahead,” but I knew exactly how it would all go down, and I was right.
My sister blurted out every detail — from the gut punch to the bloody nose — and then she scampered to her bedroom, leaving me face to face with my visibly irate mother in the middle of the kitchen. My mind was whirring like a top, taking into account all of the weapons within my mother’s reach — like wooden spoons, frying pans and spatulas. Instead, she looked me dead in the eye with as stern a face as I’d ever seen and said, “Go to your room and wait for your father to get home.”
I hadn’t considered THAT weapon. It was the longest two hours of my life.
When my dad finally got home, he and my mom chatted downstairs a while and I soon heard his footsteps on the stairs. I gulped, took a deep breath and waited. My door slowly creaked open and there he was — and he didn’t look so angry.
Suddenly, I had a massive case of verbal diarrhea. I told him about the baseball nonsense, the Halloween story and the week-long torment. My dad listened quietly and, when I was done, I waited for what seemed like an hour for his reaction.
My dad told me what dad’s usually tell their children — that fighting was wrong and turning the other cheek was best and it wasn’t right to hate anyone no matter what they did to you and to treat others the way you want to be treated. I sat on my bed nodding my head, all the while thinking there was no way Jodie the Jerk deserved any forgiveness or empathy.
When he was finished, my dad and I spent a moment eye to eye — and it was over. Except for two sentences.
“You know you’re grounded for the weekend, right?” he said, to which I nodded and said, “yessir.”
“So tell me, did you win?” he asked, to which I grinned ear to ear and said “YESSIR!”
I’ve had a few scrapes since Jodie the Jerk, but nothing close to what took place that day in 1971. And over the years, it’s become clearer and clearer that things like anger and hate never help to solve a situation or problem. And just the other day, I heard the perfect quote to wrap this all up neatly — and it will serve as our quote of the day:
“Hanging on to hate, anger and unforgiveness is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill the other person.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.