Breaking My Neighbor’s Leg

One winter, when I was eight or nine, the high school boy next door, who was much smaller than me, started regularly knocking me down and stealing my hat on our way home from school. I came home the first time it happened, with my pants and my books slushy wet, and lied to my father about forgetting my hat at school. This kid later that evening threw the hat on our little patio knowing that my dad, who worked all night and who was always home to greet me at the end of the day, would be sure to see.

My dad and I settled into this routine of shame silently, like fathers and sons often do with things that hurt too much. Then about a month into this dreadful experience, my father dragged me out by the arm to get the hat. He stood with the hat in his hand and screamed at the boy’s house that I was here to fight him. The boy yelled back at him from inside the house, “that I was too chicken to fight ” but he did not come out. He did continue to knock me about for a while but stopped the hat routine. My dad and I never spoke of it again.

Three years after the confrontation on my patio, that hat-thieving boy, his brother, some neighborhood kids and I were hanging out on a hillside on a back lot. We were wrestling and I threw that boy down a hillside and broke his leg. Sure I was to be punished, I later that evening told my father while he was reading his paper what I had done. He said without looking up, “It serves him right.”
As an adult when I came home to visit my parents, I ran into this kid, he too now a grown man. We sat on that same patio and talked about growing up the way we had, never mentioning our unique story. He was a sweet and gentle grown up. As we shook hands and said our goodbyes, I grabbed his hat off his head and walked back into my old house. He never came around to ask for it back. I left it later on the patio.