I'm a Goddamn Thug
By Nim Holden
For junior high, I went to a south side public school in Chicago with about 700 angry and confused kids who thought they weren’t gonna amount to anything. Who were taught that, actually, and I was in the same boat as them. The school was pretty run down. As in, pieces of the ceiling fell off sometimes, and an entire hallway was blocked off with buckets trying to catch water from the roof.
In the cafeteria, my school had this big glass cooler where you could buy Gatorade or Pepsi or Snapple bottles or whatever else for like a dollar. Just in case you were too good for the standard milk or water.
This kid Royce—a 6’5 linebacker (massive as a bear on steroids), always bought Snapple from the cooler. He hated my guts, mostly because I sort of “stole” his ex-girlfriend Ariana, and to be honest that doesn’t even make sense because they weren’t dating anymore anyways, so that’s like saying I robbed someone by taking the couch they put in the alley because they didn’t want it anymore. But that’s whatever. Point is, he hated me.
Here’s the thing: Royce and I were the reason the school had to ban Snapple bottles. The school I went to was pretty shady, and the whole Snapple bottle situation was already a problem. Some kids would buy the bottles, chug them, break the bottle over the edge of the table (or occasionally over someone’s head), and shank the next kid who bothered them. I guess I bothered Royce. A lot.
So here’s the story. I’m in the cafeteria, sitting with my friends Travis, Ariana, John, Andre, Rick, and Victoria. I don’t wanna play like we’re some merry band of misfits, because we’re really not. Out of the seven of us, there’s six stoners, two Catholic school transfers, two self-identified whores, one poet, four theatre kids—all bonded together over a common interest in video games, memes, and Star Wars.
So you’ve got me, living it up as a theatre kid in the almost-inner city life.
Rick moved here from Indianapolis, and he grew up with neo-Nazis for parents. Like, actual neo-Nazis (as in, swastika flags above the fireplace, Fox News running 24/7, spray painting gravestones kind of Nazis). He wants to be a comedian someday, “Like Louis CK, but decent looking,” he says.
Victoria’s a St. Cas transfer, which basically means she’s got a vendetta against some nuns and probably can’t chill with you on a Sunday.
John is… think of a Mexican Eminem with Kim-Kardashian-on-a-bad-day’s personality. He’s also from St. Cas.
Andre is the only person I know who has all of Tupac’s songs memorized and can recite them in order. No one knows where he’s from; no one asks (Detroit’s a popular guess, though).
Ariana is my sometimes-girlfriend from a Georgia suburb, but she likes to act hard so she tries to play it off like she’s from Atlanta. No one believes her, though.
And Travis… Travis is from inner city Chicago. He’s a joint-hogger, and has a bark to bite ratio of 100:1.
I’m sitting at the lunch table telling Travis about how I got banned from the Target a few blocks away, when I swear my arm almost gets ripped out of its socket by Royce. He tears me off my seat by the wrist, and I slam face-first into the linoleum floor. I don’t really feel my nose break; I hear it, and I feel the blood running down to my chin.
“Ugh, the fuck is wrong with you?” I groan, and he pulls me up by the hijab and starts spitting right in my face. Well actually, yelling, but they’re kinda the same thing with Royce. Blah blah, stole my girl, blah blah, these hoes ain’t loyal, blah blah, gonna cut you, blah blah blah.
I’m gonna be honest here, I don’t give a shit what he’s saying. The guy whines more than Drake. What I do care about is the room spinning, his grip on my hijab, the blood on my face, and the makeshift glass shank in his right hand. It just figures it’s a broken Strawberry-Kiwi Snapple bottle.
I throw my foot, hard as I can, into his left kneecap. He staggers back but doesn’t fall over. I don’t think I actually did anything except make him angrier. He lunges back at me, and again, I don’t really feel him stab me, I just see myself bleeding. Somebody pulls him off right after he shanks me, which takes away the only force keeping me upright. I hit the floor. And I mean, I’ve been here for three years at this point so I’ve already gotten shanked a couple times. But this time is different. It hurts like a bitch. There’s about four cuts where different parts of the bottle went in, and they’re pretty deep too, and I’m just kinda there. Bleeding. On the floor. And all I can hear is someone who sounds like Ariana yelling at Royce, and some of Royce’s squad yelling “OOOOOOOOOH SHIT! SHE DOWN, SHE GOT CUT, SHE GOT CUT!”
The next few days were weird. I don’t remember getting picked up, or the drive to the hospital. I do remember the word ‘stitches’ and ugly green hospital curtains. I remember Travis being pissed, as in royally pissed. As in, personal vendetta against Snapple (the company as a whole) pissed. As in, personal vendetta against Royce pissed.
The next thing I remember was hanging out in the parking lot.
So I’m sitting there in the school parking lot—3 days post-shanking, 2 days post stitches, 1 day post-schoolwide Snapple ban—with the same friends I sat with at lunch on the day of the shanking (Travis, Andre, Ariana, John, Victoria, and Rick). And Andre… Andre’s got his laptop open with some cheap Pornhub video on his screen.
“It’s for research, observation makes a better writer,” he says. Being friends with screenwriters is weird like that sometimes.
“Who puts a username on a porn site? It’s free,” Travis asks, taking a hit from the blunt in his hand, tapping the laptop screen with his knuckle right at a username reading ‘WhiteKnight69’.
I wanna mention that the comment just says the words “Disappointing set design!!” Like what kinda fucker goes on PornHub and gets mad about set design? Did you expect this blonde chick on the screen to be giving head in front of a backdrop of the Buckingham Palace? Like no, you’re gonna deal with the trashy red couch and stained carpet, unless you wanna make your own damn videos, WhiteKnight69.
Andre takes the blunt from Travis and looks thoughtful for a second.
“I don’t know man,” he responds slowly, in that drug-test-magnet kind of voice.
“Why’s there a ‘Share to Facebook’ button? You want your family to know what you’re into?” I ask, watching Andre try to puff out smoke rings.
“Why do dermatologists hate that lady?” Victoria jabs her finger at an ad on the side of the screen.
“They don’t, those ads—” Travis starts explaining.
“You guys wanna hear a joke?” John cuts in, looking up from his phone. Rick takes the joint from Andre’s fingers.
“Nope. And those ads are everywhere.” Rick continues for Travis.
“Guys, I’m hilarious. Listen to me,” John protests.
“No one cares, John,” Ariana says.
We hear yelling and freeze up for a second. It’s not yelling like, “I wonder what’s going on, who’s screaming?” kind of yelling. We all knew exactly who it was. Royce and his friends are loud as hell. As in recognizably loud as hell; we could hear them coming from halfway down the street. (Have you ever heard that song “Clique” by Kanye West? I’m pretty sure that song actually plays every time they walk by).
Travis slams the laptop shut, shoving it back in his backpack right before they walk up. Royce sees us right away, because we’re conspicuous as fuck, sitting against the fence with a smoke cloud over our heads.
He stops walking about 10 feet in front of us, and just stands there. Expectantly, like one of us is gonna pull out a gun and have one of those old western standoff things. There’s maybe seven other people with him, and the chick next to him is a step above resting bitch face. It’s more like resting ‘about to kill your family’ face.
“We gonna have a problem?” Travis asks. At this is point, I’m realizing just how high Travis is. I mean, I knew he was pissed that Royce went after me, but damn, I didn’t know he was that stupid.
“I don’t think you want this problem,” Royce says lowly, and inside I’m thanking him for not just calling Travis’ bluff with a punch.
“What? What, you think I can’t swing?” Travis gets closer, three steps, raising his voice. And shit, I was thinking he might back down when the size difference between him and Royce finally registered in his head. But he didn’t. I mean ‘A+’ for determination.
“You don’t—” Royce starts.
“I’m a goddamn thug!” Travis yells, or really kinda grunts because he’s trying to lower his voice about 18 octaves. This is officially the funniest shit I’ve ever seen, because Travis actually takes a swing at Royce, and his fist hits him square in the jaw.
At first, Royce doesn’t react. He’s dead stoic, head turned to the side, almost in an “Is this bitch serious?” gesture. He doesn’t move for ten seconds. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five. Thirty. Then his head turns slowly, until he’s looking Travis straight in the eye. I swear to you, Travis saw death that day.
Royce swings at Travis, hitting the side of his skull. Hard. Travis goes down. Like a fuckin’ balloon deflating, he just crumples to the ground. Completely unconscious.
And there’s this loud eruption of, “OOOOH SHIT, HE WASN’T READY! HE WASN’T READY! HE OUT COLD! HE GONE! HE GONE!”
Even Andre and I breathe a long, “Oh daaaaaamn.”
Travis didn’t wake up for a few hours (as in, got knocked out Thursday night, didn’t wake up till Friday morning). Andre ended up taking him to his house, letting him sleep on the couch. Travis actually got a concussion. Like, a full-on, hospital required concussion. Nobody acknowledges the fact that Travis could have actually died from that hit. Nobody wants to.
Shit went down on Friday. Right after we walked into first period (Algebra I: taught by Satan), the intercom goes off.
“Andre, Joseph, Nim, Victoria, David, Ariana, Travis, Erin, and Royce, please come to the office.”
I make eye contact with Andre first, and I have never seen more fear on that boy’s face. Is it about the weed? The shanking? The punching? All of it? We stand up, and half the class lets out a synchronised, “Ooooooh, you’re in trooouuuble.”
The walk to the office is like a single file death march; Andre leading, me following first, Ariana next, and John last. Travis and Royce are already in the office, along with resting-kill-your-family-face (whose name is apparently Erin), and David (one of Royce’s friends). The principal, Spitler (also deemed by the students as Shitler, or alternatively, just Hitler), sits at the desk. To be honest, his face looks like a piece of salami — all red and splotchy and generally unappealing. I have never met a more white-trash man in my life. Like, the dude is from a Tennessee trailer park, and he decides to come up to the south side of Chicago to govern a middle school at the very bottom of the financial food chain. Why? Nobody knows.
“Do you have any idea how stupid you all are?” he spits (oh the irony) at us once he acknowledges we’re all in the room.
“Do you have any idea how confused we all are? Why’re we even here?” Royce spits back. I can almost feel the salt radiating from this guy.
“You know exactly why you’re here. You all are the reason this school’s reputation is declining!”
I can hear Andre snort to my left, and like dominoes, it starts a chain of kids pushing giggles to the back of their throats so no one can hear. Spitler hears.
“You all think this is funny?” he starts, suddenly shifting his tone from angry principal to some full on Godfather shit. The laughing comes to a full stop.
He goes in a line, pointing at all the other kids and saying something along the lines of “You cost us more money than our teachers’ salaries,” “The only reason you’re here is because your mother will make a mess if we expel you,” etc.
“You,” he points at me, “are a walking lawsuit. And you’re lucky you’re already leaving.”
He keeps going on with the same process—insult us, tell us why we haven’t been kicked out yet, glare, start over. He skips step two for Royce. After forty-five minutes of our ears bleeding, he finally dismisses us with the announcement that we all have Saturday detention for the next two weeks. Which is brutal, but not as much as getting kicked out would be. The actual reasons for us not getting expelled weren’t questioned, at least not by us.
On the way out, Spitler calls Royce to stay in the office.
The walk back to class is ominous as all hell. I can almost imagine the murder scene, crime scene tape around a bloody principal’s office and a massive kid with a snapped neck on the floor. In all truth, I wouldn’t even be a little surprised to hear Spitler killed a student. I’m pretty sure everyone at the school is still waiting on it.
The rest of the Friday progresses as usual, with a bunch of kids asking if we got in trouble. Travis says he got an extra detention because he made Royce cry. No one mentions that this is a lie.
Until Monday, none of us knew that out of all of us, Royce was the one to finally get expelled. The reasons for the expulsion were given to us vaguely—something about physical assault, bullying, failing a drug test, and a bunch of other stuff they found out about him in Spitler’s office.
It’s a weird thing. Even after a year, I still don’t know what to think about it. It’s not like I feel sorry for him—hell, I kinda wanna punch him too. But it’s weird not being around him. And yeah, I get that sounds like Stockholm syndrome or something, but think about it. He stabs me, my best friend punches him. He throws firecrackers at me, I key his car. He breaks my headphones in half, I steal his girlfriend.
In a really weird, really stupid, really roundabout way, I think Royce was almost like family.
Nim Holden is a freshman creative writing major at Interlochen Arts Academy from Chicago, Illinois. She worked as a poetry editor for The Interlochen Review. Her work has been published in the Red Wheelbarrow, and she has also performed at Chicago’s Spoken Word Café. She plans to go into the navy, and later political science at NYU. She has to force herself not to make Jurassic Park and Mass Effect references in professional settings, and prefers to write to the soundtrack of Left 4 Dead (including the zombie sound effects).