When I was about 11 years old my family lived up on a hill that ran along a highway. In order to get anywhere off the hill you had to cross this divided highway and my mother was never fond of me venturing across that road. I was not the type to stay at home though so I frequently took my bike down the hill and into town. In today's world I would never dream of my little one going out on his own let alone cross a major highway without me, but this was 1980-something and times were different. Besides, if I remember correctly, I never exactly told my mother I was leaving most of the time anyway.
At the bottom of the hill, just across the highway, was a small gas station where I would stop and buy candy and soda and generally unhealthy things. I went there a lot and was quite familiar with the store and where everything was located. There were two doors, an exit directly beside the cashier and an entrance on the other side of the building. I suppose it was set up that way so that when you came in the store you were forced to walk past almost every aisle before reaching the exit. Smart store layout.
One day I took my bike down the hill and across the highway to get a Charleston Chew and a Coke. Two of my favorite things at the time. I had nothing to do that day and remember being extremely bored. I think I took the trip more to just get out of the house then to actually get the candy. As I walked into the store and was locating my treasures, I noticed a middle-aged black man looking for things too. He didn't strike me as particularly memorable, just an ordinary man picking up some things. He got to the cashier just ahead of me and when he did a white man in, what today would be called a "wife-beater", ran past me and grabbed the black man by the shirt. "I thought I told you to never come in here again!", he screamed. I immediately froze and became more scared than I can remember. The white man began beating this black man to a pulp. I distinctly remember the blood spilling on the floor and all over the white man's shirt. The boy black man never had a chance to defend himself. He was crumpled on the floor and receiving punches and kicks from this white man who seemed possessed. The beating continued and the cashier was just as stunned as I was and no one seemed to know what to do. It became obvious to me that the white man was drunk and for some reason I concluded that he didn't know this black man, he was just a racist who had gotten drunk and found a black man to beat. I can't remember what prompted me to think that but for some reason I made that conclusion fairly quickly.
The beating continued for many minutes and the white man never let up. I remember thinking that he was going to kill this man not 5 feet from me! At this point an intense anger built up inside me. It was the first time I'd felt that way. An intense anger that I could do nothing about. I was going to see this man die for no other reason than he happened into the wrong store and the wrong time and there was nothing my little body could do about it. That helpless frustration has stuck with me all my life. I honestly think that day changed the course of my life. I felt that feeling many times later in life and I never seemed to be able to deal with it appropriately. My reaction, as I did that day, was to get away. Run away as fast as I could. I have always thought that day was when I made my "fight or flight" decision for life. I was caught in an intense situation that demanded an action and I chose to run. I would do that a lot throughout my life.
I remember that feeling of anger stuck with me for days after that event. I hated that white man. I hated him in a way I couldn't handle. I didn't know how to handle it. I wanted to find him and his family and make them pay for this. I didn't want him to just be punished, I wanted him to suffer. Truth be told, as I sit here on my porch writing this I still feel that way. I wonder sometimes if I couldn't search the police records back in Ohio and find out his name, track his ass down and finally let that little boy in me have his revenge. Maybe one day I will.
At some point along the journey of this life I learned how to deal with those frustrating moments. I learned (am learning) how to not run away but to "fight" in a proper way. I know now that it's healthy to do that. I just wish I had learned it a little earlier in life.
I should forgive that racist bastard someday. I'm not sure I could though. He beat that man mercilessly in front of my younger self and was the first to show me real, unprovoked hatred. He taught me that evil existed in the world. Worse yet, he brought out hatred in me. I supposed I could have done without that for a few more years.
Thanks for listening