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There was an incident that happened relatively early in the junior high experience that added to my apprehension about the opposite sex and ensured that I would make all efforts to keep a safe distance from all females for the foreseeable future. It happened during the summer in the middle of baseball season. I had sustained an injury to my thumb and had to sit out a couple of games and decided to go to the ballpark anyway, this time in the rare role of an observer.

I rode my bike to Jim’s house and the two of us rode together the remaining two and a half miles out to Municipal Park where the ball fields were located. We weren’t all that keen on watching a game, but were more interested in seeing who we might run into out at the park. We wore our usual cool outfits; jean shorts (cut off so short that the pockets stuck out like rabbit ears from under the front of the jeans), tennis shoes  (no socks), and “muscle” shirts, although in my case muscles weren’t apparent and they could have just called it a tank top.

As we approached the park, I noticed in the stands between the Little League and Babe Ruth fields, one of the cheerleaders, Christie, sitting and watching a ballgame. As we parked our bikes against the fence and cooly sauntered over to the aluminum bleachers, Jim began talking with her, as if she was a normal human being, while I stood next to him, as invisible as I could make myself. She did acknowledge me, “Hi Ronnie”, and I elicited this response in kind, “Hi”; but the bulk of the conversation was between Jim and her (the reason I was the silent type, besides being shy, wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say, but more a result of whenever I did say something it usually came out wrong). After the formalities we decided to stay and watch one of the games.

We could have watched the game from any number of locations; two sets of bleachers, behind the backstop, over by the dugouts, but we ended up in the stands, sitting one row behind Christie. As much as I love baseball, the distraction sitting in front of me kept diverting my attention away from the action on the field. Not only was there a visual attraction, but the smell of sweet perfume didn’t help my situation in the least. Even with all my efforts to appear to be watching the game, trying to be as subtle as possible, my eyes kept returning to stare at her as she sat in front of me; she likely being unaware of the attention. I wouldn’t dare be caught  staring, but I was.

During the game she would occasionally turn around to chat, the usual small talk about who was going steady with whom, and were we looking forward to school, and this led me to relax a bit and become emboldened, my tongue loosening as the evening wore on. The more she talked to us the more comfortable I became, and eventually, as was common with me, my mouth got the better of me. At one point she talked of a particular player on the field, whose little brother just happened to be sitting next to her (I hadn’t caught on to the connection), and in an effort to show off, I smarted off with some derogatory comment about said player.

Not anticipating what was about to happen, I noticed Christie quickly turning around to face me, her anger evident from her neck up, the color red dominating her demeanor. Before I had time to react, her right hand forcefully slapped me on the left cheek; hard. The sound could be heard throughout the park and I’m sure that everyone stopped what they were doing, even the players on the field, to see what was going on up in the stands.

At that exact moment time seemed frozen, since being slapped by a girl had never happened to me and I didn’t quite know what to do. If it had been another boy, then I would have done what I normally did, strike back, but this was a girl! What now? I sat there for a while, silent, trying to figure out exactly what it was that I had said, while Christie turned back around and continued to watch the ballgame, as if nothing had ever happened. Jim looked at me as if to say, “Why did you have to go and say that, you dummy?”

From that moment until we got on our bikes to go home, I didn’t say another word (finding the ballgame interesting all of a sudden), clamming up being my normal way of pouting. On the ride home, Jim did his best to counsel  (and console) me on the proper etiquette involving girls, what you could say and not say to avoid offending them, and I dutifully listened, nodding my head in response.

Reacting to the evening’s circumstances, I made up my mind that I was done with girls, at least for the time being, and I retreated back to my previous strategy of observation from a safe distance. I never felt completely comfortable around Christie again, always sure to keep a sharp eye on her right hand whenever I was in her presence.

*This story is an excerpt from Always a Little Heathen, to be released in the fall of 2014.