It was the fall of 1994. “I Saw the Sign” by Ace of Base crowned the Top 40 chart, and every respectable young girl had a scrunchie collection. I was 11 (almost 12) years old, living in Boca Raton, Florida. My friends and I were playing basketball on the courts behind our villa, when these older girls showed up. They were rough, gangsta-type girls. They were only 13 or 14, but they had so much makeup on and dressed so skimpy that they looked more like 18.
I thought they were super cool, especially the main one, (I’ll call her “Jaime” for the sake of anonymity). She wore bright red lipstick, dark black eye liner, and hoop earrings. She wore a loose basketball jersey with only a bra underneath, and big, baggy jeans. She had this way about her, like she was the queen, and everyone else were her subjects. I had heard all sorts of things about her, and seen her at school, but I never up so close. (I was in 6th grade, and she was in 8th.) I couldn’t stop looking at her.
I started thinking about the time a few weeks prior when I had seen her at my first middle school dance. A boy had asked her out, and she yelled, “You better have a long tongue, motha-fucka!” For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what that meant. I was too proud to ask any of my friends, ’cause they all seemed to get it. Of course, I had laughed like I’d gotten it, too, so maybe they were as clueless me. The best explanation I could come up with at the time was that it felt better to make-out with someone who had a long tongue. Only, that didn’t really make sense, ’cause wouldn’t that make you gag? I had never french-kissed anyone at that point, so I wasn’t sure.
Finally, she caught me staring and said, “You gotta problem?”
I was just like, “Huh?” I’d never been asked a question like that before.
She said, “What. The fuck. Are you staring at?”
She said it so aggressively. Being that I was a scrappy little thing to begin with (I played contact football with the boys), it struck a nerve. I wasn’t going to let anyone talk to me like that. Not even Jaime, the queen of middle school.
So I answered with, “Hm. I don’t know. Scientists haven’t figured it out yet.”
I looked back at my friends, expecting them to be impressed with my quick-witted comeback, but they had all shrunk far enough away to make it clear to Jaime that they did not associate with me. When I turned back to see if Jaime would have a comeback of her own, I was surprised to find that my entire face felt like it had shattered, and my eyes felt like they were going to pop. Jaime’s fist had connected with my nose before I could even register that she had moved.
Exactly what happened next isn’t clear. I think Jaime waited a moment to see if I’d fight back, and when I just stood there in shock, she turned and went back to her friends, who were having a good laugh.
I had always had a really, really big mouth, and I was tough. Or, at least I thought I was. I had been in plenty of recess and backyard brawls, with boys even. Heck, I played tackle football with the boys, for crying out loud. But, I had never been punched in the face. I think it would be enough to shock anyone. I saw blood, and thought my teeth were falling out (they weren’t), so I did the only logical thing I could think of, and ran home crying.
When my stepdad dragged me back to the court to confront Jaime, she and her friends were long gone. Thank goodness, ’cause that would have been 10 times worse for me socially than if I had died. In truth, I would have preferred death over parental interference on that one.
So, that was the first time I ever got punched. The next time it happened, I was much more prepared, and I fought back. Believe it or not, living in Boca–the Jewish retirement capital of the US–was like living in a war zone, especially for us junior high girls.