My grandfather was a generally peaceful man. He was a gardener, an EMT, a town selectman, and an all around fantastic person. He would give a friend - or a stranger - the shirt off his back if someone needed it. He also taught me some of the most important lessons I ever learned about violence, and why it needs to exist.
When I was five, my grandfather and grandmother discovered that my rear end and lower back were covered in purple striped bruises and wheals. They asked me why, and I told them that Tom, who was at that time my stepfather, had punished me. I don’t remember what he was punishing me for, but I remember the looks on their faces.
When my mother and stepfather arrived, my grandmother took my mother into the other room. Then my grandfather took my stepfather into the hallway. He was out of my eye line, but I saw through the crack in the door on the hinge side. He slammed my stepfather against the wall so hard that the sheet rock buckled, and told him in low terms that if he ever touched me again they would never find his body.
I absolutely believed that he would kill my stepfather, and I also believed that someone in the world thought my safety was worth killing for.
In the next few years, he gave me a few important tips and pointers for dealing with abusers and bullies. He taught me that if someone is bringing violence to you, give it back to them as harshly as you can so they know that the only response they get is pain. He taught me that guns are used as scare tactics, and if you aren’t willing to accept responsibility for mortally wounding someone, you should never own one. He told me that if I ever had a gun aimed at me, I should accept the possibility of being shot and rush the person, or run away in a zig-zag so they couldn’t pick me off. He taught me how to break someone’s knee, how to hold a knife, and how to tell if someone is holding a gun with intent to kill. He was absolutely right, and he was one of the most peaceful people I’ve ever met. He was never, to my knowledge, violent with anyone who didn’t threaten him or his family. Even those who had, he gave chances to, like my first stepfather.
When I was fourteen, a friend of mine was stalked by a mutual acquaintance. I was by far younger than anyone else in the social crowd; he was in his mid twenties, and the object of his “affection” was as well. Years before we had a term for “Nice Guy” bullshit, he did it all. He showed up at her house, he noted her comings and goings, he observed who she spent time with, and claimed that her niceness toward him was a sign that they were actually in a relationship.
This came to a head at a LARP event at the old NERO Ware site. He had been following her around, and felt that I was responsible for increased pressure from our mutual friends to leave her alone. He confronted me, her, and a handful of other friends in a private room and demanded that we stop saying nasty things about him. Two of our mutual friends countered and demanded that he leave the woman he was stalking alone.
Stalker-man threw a punch. Now, he said in the aftermath that he was aiming for the man who had confronted him, but he was looking at me when he did it. He had identified me as the agent of his problems and the person who had “turned everyone against him.” His eyes were on mine when the punch landed. He hit me hard enough to knock me clean off my feet and I slammed my head into a steel bedpost on the way down.
When I shook off the stunned confusion, I saw that two of our friends had tackled him. I learned that one had immediately grabbed him, and the other had rabbit-punched him in the face. I had a black eye around one eyebrow and inner socket, and he was bleeding from his lip.
At that time in my life, unbeknownst to anyone in the room, I was struggling with the fact that I had been molested repeatedly by someone who my mother had recently broken up with. He was gone, but I felt conflicted and worthless and in pain. I was still struggling, but I knew in that moment that I had a friend in the world who rabbit-punched a man for hitting me, and I felt a little more whole.
Later that year, I was bullied by a girl in my school. She took special joy in tormenting me during class, in attacking me in the hallways, in spreading lies and asserting things about me that were made up. She began following me to my locker, and while I watched the clock tick down, she would wait for me to open it and try to slam my hand in it. She succeeded a few times. I attempted to talk to counselors and teachers. No one did anything. Talking to them made it worse, since they turned and talked to her and she called me a “tattle” for doing it. I followed the system, and it didn’t work.
I remembered my friend socking someone in the face when he hit me. I recalled what my grandfather had taught me, and decided that the next time she tried, I would make sure it was the last. I slammed the door into her face, then shut her head in the base of my locker, warping the aluminum so badly that my locker no longer worked. She never bothered me again.
Violence is always a potential answer to a problem. I believe it should be a last answer - everything my grandfather taught me before his death last year had focused on that. He hadn’t built a bully or taught me to seek out violence; he taught me how to respond to it.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk recently about how, after the recent Nazi-punching incident, we are in more danger because they will escalate. That we will now see more violence and be under more threat because of it. I reject that. We are already under threat. We are already being attacked. We are being stripped of our rights, we are seeing our loved ones and our family reduced to “barely human” or equated with monsters because they are different.
To say that we are at more risk now than we were before a Nazi got punched in the face is to claim that abusers only hurt you if you fight back. Nazis didn’t need a reason to want to hurt people whom they have already called inhuman, base, monsters, thugs, retards, worthless, damaging to the gene pool, and worthy only of being removed from the world. They were already on board. The only difference that comes from fighting back is the intimate knowledge that we will not put up with their shit.