That’s what I thought, all day long, that fateful Yearbook Day my freshman year of high school. I was going to find him in the gym at the Yearbook Assembly during 6th period and KICK. HIS. ASS.
See, every fall the Yearbook Committee ran a photo contest, encouraging students to turn in summer vacation photos. Whoever they deemed had the coolest shot got their picture in the annual. That summer, my family went to the Grand Canyon. I turned in a pretty awesome photo of me, standing right on the edge of the sandstone precipice, wearing cut-off blue jean shorts, a Western print tank top and cool sunglasses.
Unbeknownst to me, they picked my photo and, when they handed out our yearbooks that spring morning, I squealed for joy when I realized I had a full-page spread! April B., my very best friend, was just as thrilled as I was and threw her arms around me in excitement when she saw my picture, in full color glory, there near the front of the book. For a freshman, this was big time!
Well, Kurt Sanchez, popular and preppy, apparently didn’t view my win the way we did. Kurt and I had never really seen eye to eye. This was 1993, and I had always been a little too alternative for him, in my plaid shirts and Doc Marten boots. A little too mouthy – Southern girls were supposed to be demure - and certainly not one to back down when he tried to throw his “My daddy’s a rich-ass lawyer” attitude around at school.
Kurt was also known to be a fairly talented cartoonist. In true, satirical style, throughout the day, in every annual that he signed, he flipped back to the page sporting the picture of me on vacation and, with his brand new Sharpie marker, he drew giant boobs on my chest and, beneath my feet, a fat arrow pointing directly up between my legs with the caption “The GRAND Canyon!”
What a dick.
I might not have found out, except that he happened to get his hands on April’s annual too. When she saw what he had done, she came to me in tears. See, Kurt didn’t know April very well, probably wouldn’t have cared even if he DID know, but April’s family life sucked. They were seriously poor and her mom told her that if she wanted an annual, she was going to have to pay for it herself. April had been babysitting for months to buy that yearbook he just trashed.
To add insult to injury, this was April’s last year at our school. Her parents were getting divorced and over the summer she would move away, transferring to a different school on the other side of the county. We had spent many a Friday night that spring crying on my bed, brokenhearted that we wouldn’t be together anymore. Kurt had just destroyed a picture of her best friend and ruined her hard earned yearbook in the process.
I was pissed for April and I was pissed for ME. Fuck that preppy asshole. I was about sick of that whole damn crowd treating everyone who wasn’t a football player, a cheerleader or a groupie with complete disdain. Who did he think he was?! Who did they ALL think there were?! It was about time someone taught him and the whole nasty bunch a lesson. You can’t fuck with people and think there won’t be consequences!
I told April I was going to punch him in the face. In his sneering, leering, disrespectful face. That spring I had taken a self-defense class so I knew I could do it too. Kurt wasn’t much taller than me, and he was wiry, so I knew I had a chance. She told me not to hit him. Even with eyes still red and puffy from crying, she asked me to calm down. To leave it alone and not get myself in trouble. But, she was a lot sweeter than I was and I had the fire of righteousness burning in my chest.
I bided my time until 6th period and marched to the gym. My friends kept up a will-she or won’t-she banter the whole time, so now I knew I HAD to hit him.
Throughout the whole yearbook awards ceremony and the Senior/Faculty basketball game, I waited. I sat on the bleachers in the sweaty, overcrowded gym, heart hammering, jaw tight. I needed to do it when the time was right, when it was less likely to be noticed. I could feel that my chest had gone all splotchy as I watched Kurt laughing with his cronies, carefree, unaware that someone just a few rows away wanted his head on a platter.
And then, too fast, the assembly was over and people started pouring out of the gym. It was now or never. I yanked April’s annual out of her hands and stalked over to Kurt, shoes squeaking on the waxed wood floor. He stood with about four other guys but I squared off in front of him. He looked at me quizzically.
Jerking the yearbook open to the offending page I stared him down.
“Did you do this to April’s yearbook?” I asked him, lowering my head like a bull about to charge.
For a second he looked embarrassed, unsure what to do when so blatantly confronted about his juvenile behavior, but then I could see the cool guy veneer virtually wash over his face and he hid his discomfort with a grin.
“Yeah. So what?” he responded.
I dropped the annual to the polished floor with a resounding thump. My fist balled up, thumb on the outside, just like my self-defense teacher had taught me.
“So, you can’t go around ruining other people’s stuff!” I yelled and I hit him square in the jaw.
It was a solid hit – it seriously hurt! - and I’m sure I looked about as shocked as he, and everyone around us did that I – an Honor Roll student, the editor of the school writing journal, a GIRL – had actually punched someone in the face!
Kurt Sanchez reeled back a little, hand to his jaw, and his friends gasped, completely unsure how to react. Then he came up spluttering, furious.
“What the hell!” he cried. And, leaning toward me menacingly, hissed “You wouldn’t do that again.”
Wrong. At this point I was committed.
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” I smarted back, head tilted in surprise that he’d think I was done.
I pulled back and socked him again, aiming for his nose this time, but getting his cheek.
Now he was really pissed but I was ready for him. He took two steps in my direction and we were a breath apart. I think he was about to grab me. In my mind’s eye I was going to take him down, knock his shit head on the gym floor for all the times he and his friends had acted like they were better than everyone else, like they could treat people like dirt with impunity. But his buddies had other ideas. They grabbed him by the arms and started jerking him backward, away from me, urging him to calm down as he fought them off.
“What, are you SCARED??” I taunted as they dragged him back toward the gym door. The look in his eyes was napalm. Honestly, if they hadn’t grabbed him, I probably was about to get MY ass kicked.
Now my friends grabbed me too. April picked up her yearbook from the floor.
“Leave him! Come on!” they were saying, dragging me out the other door as the bus bell rang.
It had to be serendipity that there were no teachers around for that “fight.” No administrators to drag me up to the office, call my parents, suspend me from school. When I stepped into the sunshine I was damn near breathless with exhilaration. I’d done it. Stood up for my friends, for myself…and I wasn’t even going to have detention! Talk about getting away with some shit.
Word spread quickly about what I had done. The A-List boys started stepping out of my way in the hall and the cheerleaders looked at me with a touch of fear and a hint of respect. They might not have been inviting me to their sleepover parties, but they weren’t tittering at me behind their pompoms anymore either! I feel like they kept their mouths shut and their eyes down a little more, those last weeks of school. I was just a nerd girl with a point to prove, but I think they’d all suddenly realized that they didn’t know what ass kicking lay behind the eyes of any of the band geeks and drama freaks they’d been picking on since middle school.
Fast forward three years, to when Kurt and I were seniors, about to graduate. We had pretty much avoided one another since I hit him in the gym. But, fate wasn’t going to let us stay apart anymore. He and I were the winners of the senior superlative for “Most Talented” students that year. I told you he had some art skills. And we had to get a picture taken together…for the annual.
The Yearbook Committee invited us to a local park where they were taking all the pictures. It was a fall afternoon, sun shining through the golden leaves when we arrived. Kara, the yearbook photographer, looked from me to Kurt as we stood next to each other on the path.
“Now, I’m not going to have to break anything up am I?” she quipped.
Gawd. I could feel myself blushing for being so batshit crazy three years before. I raised my eyebrows in chagrin and looked at Kurt. The funny thing was, he was looking at me with embarrassment too. I think we both knew our behavior had been less than stellar.
“Naw, I think we’re good,” I said, and bumped him with my shoulder. He laughed, a quick nervous laugh and we both grinned. Too funny that after all those years, he was still afraid I might go all Chuck Norris on him again!
We walked together, a little awkwardly – everything is awkward in high school - to the covered bridge at the center of the park. When the photographer asked me to hop up on the railing, Kurt smiled shyly and offered his hand for support.
“Well, would you look at that!” Kara exclaimed. Goober.
At the yearbook assembly our senior year, we had come full circle. Kurt and I stood side by side at the front of the gym when they announced our award, laughing, on even ground.
As we left for the busses that afternoon, one of my friends said “Do you remember…” and, rolling my eyes, I thought “How could I ever forget?"