I was 16 years old when a classmate threatened to kick my…well…butt. I had done nothing to provoke her, but for weeks in our high school hallways, she terrorized and terrified me until finally she named the day – the day she was going to find me and hurt me.
Friends warned me not to go to the promenade that Friday. She would be waiting for me, but that’s where I went every day, and I figured getting beaten up was better than living in fear of getting beaten up.
That was 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was the day I learned what I – and the world – was made of.
A crowd had already gathered by the time she arrived to find me sitting on a bench. She approached aggressively. A few friends who had been sitting next to me got up and left me by myself. She cussed and screamed at me to get up and fight. With a shaking voice, I told her I wasn’t going to. She hit me hard across the face. Another friend walked away.
Tears welled up in my eyes from the pain – and from feeling utterly alone.
Voices from the gathering crowd yelled out for me to hit her back. I wouldn’t.
Before I knew it, she punched me hard across the other side of my face. At this, the crowd began turning away. Fights aren’t fun when they’re one-sided. At that point, it’s just blatant cruelty.
She left me alone after that, “because,” she said, I “wasn’t going to play.” I saw it differently. I saw a coward whose cruelty became clear to her that day, and to everyone else who bore witness.
I also saw cowardice in those who didn’t stay with me, and I vowed never to be passive in the face of violence. Two years later, I became an advocate for animals after learning about the violence perpetrated against them on a daily basis – unprovoked and unwarranted. Ever since, I’ve been sitting next to them on the proverbial bench holding up a mirror to the one-sided fight they endure every day, and I’m proud to be their witness and their defender.
With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and author living in Oakland.