The Sunburn by Aaron J. Shay

Today, I am a musician, performer and writer. Today, I am generally peaceful in my demeanor, a little cautious in life but active nonetheless. I do not fight. I do not like the idea of fighting. Even if it’s verbal fighting, I tend to avoid it.

In junior high school, I was resoundingly nerdy and unpopular. I collected Pokémon cards, joyfully got out of bed in the morning to play Nintendo before school, wore uncool clothing and generally reeked of nerdiness, the kind of nerdiness that longs for acceptance. The people at school who I considered to be popular and cool were regularly poking fun at my clothing, my habits, my music, et cetera.

This is a pretty par-for-the-course story for a white, middle-class guy, with nothing terribly surprising or out of the ordinary. In light of that, I trust you to imagine the rest of the details from there, perhaps drawing inspiration from such notable classics as “The Breakfast Club” or “ParaNorman.”

This is the setting for my first fight.

One spring day, I came to school suffering from sunburn on my back, its cause long since forgotten. What I do remember, though, is that it seemed as if slapping my back had become a new national past-time overnight. As if it were a new, national back-slapping holiday. As if a memo had been sent out from the principal instructing everyone to slap me on the back to make sure I knew that they liked me. As if there was a God and he wanted me to suffer for having pasty, fragile skin and a reckless attitude towards sunscreen. The day was frustrating, to say the least.

The last straw came when one of my classmates decided to jump on my back and hump me on my way to my next class. If this seems like a strange kind of entertainment to you, well, clearly you haven’t spent much time around 12 year-old boys. My assailant probably didn’t know about my sunburn, but I doubt it would have changed his mind or altered the events that followed.

The attack only took a few seconds before I shook him off, but afterward, I was overwhelmed with frustration and pain. I took a moment to breathe in a little, and then screamed an absolutely incoherent stream of curse words at him, and then I launched towards him in full fight-mode. Of course, I wasn’t so much punching or kicking as I was lobbing appendages in his general direction. I doubt any of my attacks did so much as leave a bruise. In short order, a teacher separated us and took us to the principal’s office where I cried and cried and I couldn’t stop crying and apologizing and crying.

But to be honest, if I got in a fistfight today, I’m not sure I could do any better than I did back then. Writing is much easier. And it’s usually less embarrassing.


[Aaron J. Shay is a singer-songwriter based in Seattle, Washington. You can find out what he’s up to by following him on Patreon.]

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