The First Boy I Beat Up

Boys will be boys. Girls will have to be women.

Myfirst school was a kindergarten in São Paulo, Brazil. It didn’t look like a real school, it was more like a big room full of children monitored by a tired woman. We spent the afternoons colouring, drawing and sculpting with modeling clay. And we still had playground time. Fun assignments plus playground time: we were living the millennial work life.

Once a week the tired woman would take us to a playground nearby. Slides, see-saws, sand: everything a child cared about before the iPad. I liked the see-saw and the sand, but the slide scared me. It was high, it was slippery. “One day I’ll try” — I told my friend.

The day arrived. I climbed the slide’s steps and, at the top, I froze: the slide seemed too high, so little my four-year-old body was. I needed to take a breath. Behind me there was a boy, eager to use the slide, who didn’t want to wait for my breath. So he pushed me. Not in the direction where I would be sliding, but to the left side, to the floor. My left arm was broken.

Dismayed, my mom asked me: Who’s this boy and why did he do that to you? I didn’t have the answer. Nobody did.

My dad decided to move the family to the countryside, and we moved to Cuiabá, a city in a valley in the middle of Brazil. The hills surrounding Cuiabá block the wind, turning the the city into a cauldron with daily temperatures above 40º. In a smaller city, my mom would have time to take care of me, so they wouldn’t put me in kindergarten. But, despite the slide “accident”, I loved school, and I cried everyday until they gave up and put me back in kindergarten.

Perfect Love was more like a school: there were two kindergarten classes plus one pre-alphabetization class. There were around 30 kids in total. I loved that school! I had more difficult assignments there, not just colouring, but colouring inside the borders. I found myself in those difficult assignments, I didn’t even want to go to break just to focus on them. And I had just started wearing glasses, so I was officially a little nerd.

About two months in this new school, because of my new glasses, a boy started to pick on me. He gave me a nickname: “Carolina ‘Zóculos’”(which is a junction of my last name “Zoccoli” with “glasses” — “óculos” in Portuguese). I didn’t care. At age 5 I didn’t really understand what he was doing. He would put his fingers in circle over his eyes as if those were glasses and say my name with the intention of making fun of me, but I didn’t get it. Nobody did, because nobody laughed. He was one lonely bully. But bullies can’t be bullies without a reaction, so a little while after the name calling, he started beating me up. He would call me “Zóculos” and pull my hair, or shake my arm. Again, I had no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on. So he started punching me, shaking me harder, until I finally understood that I was being beaten. So I reported it to my mom and dad.

My dad was an ex-convict and my mom, when a teenager, would be involved in fights which resulted in my grandfather paying tons of hospital bills for people in the small town of Guiratinga, where they’re from. The only reason my mom was never reported to the police is because my grandfather was a diamond miner in the beginning of the 20th century, and no one would mess with a miner back then. They would politely complain and my grandfather would politely pay their hospital bills. Were they in Canada, where Health Care is free, those people wouldn’t feel revenged. I think my grandfather got lucky on that one.

When I said to my mom and dad that I was being beaten again — there were the broken arm situation already -, they decided to give me a reality check. Based on their reality. My mom asked: “Why don’t you beat him back?” I had no answer. I had never thought of beating anyone, I didn’t have that kind of anger inside my tiny five-year-old body. I had to say something, so I just repeated what I may have heard before: “I’m a girl, girls don’t do that.” Then my dad jumped in. He said: “Carolina, the world doesn’t give a shit (sic) if you’re a girl. You’re poor (parents of poor kids love to remind them they’re poor), and the world doesn’t give gifts to poor people. You have to learn how to deal with this world, you’ll have to deal with this boy. Your mom and I won’t do a thing. It’s your choice: you’ll either beat this boy up or come back home beaten everyday.” I was scared. Absolutely scared.

Next day I tried to avoid the boy as much as I could, but it was a small school. He found me and beat me. I got home and said nothing. My mom asked if the boy had beaten me, I said no. I lied for the first time in my life, and it didn’t feel good. And it was because of this boy. He was making my days at school — my favourite place in the world — a nightmare, and now I was a person who lies to her family. A bad person. And it was because a boy had decided to beat me up.

Next day, the boy beats me up again. And the next day. I had to do something. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to beat him back. I didn’t want to beat anyone up, beating people up was not who I was. My mom kept asking me if everything was OK at school, and I kept lying.

About three weeks later, for the first time in my little life I didn’t feel like going to school, and my mom knew it was because of the boy. So she said I was going to school anyways. She caught my lie. I was ashamed. I wasn’t an innocent child anymore, I had lied. For the first time, I experienced self-loathe. And it was because a boy had decided to beat me up.

My mom left me at school — my mind was foggy, my eyes couldn’t quite focus in the shapes of things. I entered the patio where the kids would gather waiting for their teachers to take them to their classrooms. He was there, he saw me and walked towards me. He put his fingers in circle over his eyes as if those were glasses, called me “Zóculos” and punched the back of my head. My mind was foggy, my eyes couldn’t quite focus on the broom that was leaning at the wall. In a straight line I walked towards the broom. I grabbed it, I walked back towards him in a straight line, with a straight focus, and I hit the boys’ face with the broom. He started crying.

I looked at him, my eyes could focus again. I never cried when he beat me up. Behind him, at the wall, birds and hearts drawn around the words Perfect Love. I could beat boys up. A badass was born.

The Perfect Love school
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