With Fists Came Love
All Rights Reserved.
“Keep your head down and your guard up.”
This was the advice Gavin’s middle-aged neighbor Raul gave to him on his first day at his new high school. From the upper class of Brentwood to the gang-filled streets of East L.A., it was quite the change for this teenage white boy in this new Hispanic neighborhood. Something Gavin’s own parents didn’t seem to understand, more concerned about their drop in income and therefore status than the possible negative effects it could have on their only child.
Raul had also helped Gavin with wardrobe choices, finding middle ground that would not have him looking ‘too white’ or ‘too homie’, the first most likely ‘attracting troublemakers, like flies on shit,’ the second, ‘like a poser lookin’ to get jumped in.’ This was part of Gavin’s third lesson, vocab, with ‘jumped in’ being a phrase he definitely would want to stay away from, as it meant being attacked by a gang as part of an initiation. Membership that meant once getting in had no way of getting out. A terrifying thought that plagued him throughout his twenty-minute walk to school, buildings and walls covered in graffiti, some nothing more than ugly chicken scratches, most elaborate in design and color.
With his stomach in knots and his backpack close to his side, ‘you’ll wanna use it to try and help protect your ass just in case’ Raul had said, Gavin walked onto campus as inconspicuously as he could muster. Like avoiding eye contact with a wild animal so as not to provoke it he made sure his line of sight stayed clear of possible dangers, hoping this first day of the new school year would work in his favor, the aura around campus being one of adapting to new faces, new classes.
By lunch time Gavin had made it through three periods with not so much as a negative glare or imposing brush up against him. He was even able to find a good spot to sit and eat, not too isolated to look like a loser, not too close to invade anyone’s space. This made it possible for him to eat in peace, his thoughts going back to second period English class and the girl who had caught his eye seated a couple of rows up diagonally from him. His attraction had been immediate, even before the bell rang, Gavin looking forward to her name being called for roll call so he could match it to her innocent beauty, while at the same time feeling nervous about the teacher announcing his own name, Gavin Thompson, which sounded so white among the predominantly Hispanic student body.
The butterflies in Gavin’s stomach rose to his heart, their rapid flutter turning into a soothing soft wave as he now had the triad of admiration. The innocent beauty now had a name, and that voice which came from her lips, flowing out in just one short syllable but enough to have those butterflies release a flood of dopamine.
Yes, she was an innocent beauty, hair pinned high with a few strands on both sides flowing down over her neck, face perfect and free of any make-up, dress modest and reaching all the way down to smooth light brown shins, cute little doll shoes at the very end.
Being under such an intoxicating spell he had barely heard his name being called.
No one had taken any particular interest in what sounded like a foreign name among the rest of them, and so he was able to return to his wonder, his yearning. Something he was now doing over a cheeseburger and tater tots, fantasizing he and Pa’tricia having lunch under a tree. Pa’tricia. Sounded so much sweeter than the English pronunciation of Patricia.
Once the last bell of the day rang Gavin headed to his locker to get the books he would need for homework and leave the ones he had no overnight use for. His confidence had grown over the past six and a half hours, even daring to keep his head up and backpack fully on his back as he left campus and started on his way home. It hadn’t been the intimidating day he had dreaded, no bullies, or at least none buzzing his way like flies on shit, and although he had spotted a few gang members here and there, including a clique of hard-looking females, none had paid him any attention, leaving him grateful for such anonymity.
Gavin only had Pa’tricia for one class and hadn’t seen her sense. He still had that fifty minutes of gazing upon her to look forward to the following morning, but until then he’d have no choice but to be lost in his thoughts.
But just a couple of blocks into his walk and he spotted her hurrying down the sidewalk across the street. At first he thought his mind was playing tricks on him, for how could she have appeared as if materializing from his mind’s eye. But that dress, those doll shoes, it had to be her.
She suddenly slipped into an alley, and it was then when Gavin noticed the half dozen female gang members walking down the same sidewalk, looking as though they were searching for someone. They stopped at the entrance of the alley, took a quick glance to make sure no one was watching, and disappeared into it.
Gavin’s heart sank, the wings to his butterflies clipped, leaving the once beautiful creatures of emotion to fall back down to the acidic pit of his stomach where they helplessly twitched. Here he was, all day having been an invisible sheep among wolves, now having to make the decision on whether or not to not only march up in front of them, but to commit an act that was equivalent to slapping them across the face, as the center of any gang member, male or female, is ego.
Going against Raul’s advice and his own survival instinct Gavin stepped off the curb and toward the alley.
“Why you wanna disrespect us,” one of the Chicana accents asked as the six bad girls took turns throwing trash down onto Pa’tricia, who was curled up with her knees to her chest on the filthy ground of the alley.
“We offer you sisterhood and you think you’re too good for us?”
“Maybe she rolls with a different clique,” another said. “You bangin’ with someone else, bitch? In our neighborhood?”
Keeping her head low against her knees she nodded No.
“Then why don’t you just get jumped in,” a third asked, trying a little softer approach. “It won’t be long, and we’ll even go easy on you. Then we’ll have your back forever.”
With no response the soft approach turned into a hard kick to the ribs. “Fuck you then, bitch!”
This lit the fire for them all to start raining down punches and kicks, Gavin closing the distance with a sprint and as a result taking them all by surprise when he hurled his body into four of the six.
“What the fuck?! Who the fuck are you?” one of the unscathed shouted.
Gavin ignored them all, immediately bending down to Pa’tricia and whispering in her ear. “Come on, let’s go.”
She didn’t budge, face still buried.
“What the fuck, white boy? You dunno how to mind your own business?” the first girl yelled.
“It’s either me or them, Pa’tricia,” Gavin said as he placed his hand around her wrist and waited for her to allow him to take it. She looked up in surprise that he knew her name, then relaxed her arm for him.
Gavin guided it up over his shoulder and before lifting her to her feet said, “keep your face buried in my chest, k?”
As soon as they were upright the two were bombarded with fists and kicks, Gavin using his backpack with his free hand to try and shield them and his body weight to push he and Pa’tricia onwards towards the exit of the alley.
When there was finally an opening to do so Gavin yelled “Run” as he took her by the hand and started that sprint again. Within seconds they were free of the assault and taking off towards the street, leaving behind them threats like, “You’re dead, white boy! and “Our boyfriends are gonna kill you, motherfucker!”
The two kept running for one block after another until their lungs could no longer handle the burn, rushing into an outside unisex Del Taco bathroom and locking the door behind them.
After a few seconds of catching their breath Gavin said, “I think we lost ‘em.”
They looked at each other. Gavin put out a hand. “I’m Gavin.”
She slid hers into his. “Pa’ti.”
He smiled at her nickname, and at the soft touch of her skin.
“Aren’t you in my English class?” she asked.
“Why did you help me?”
“It was six against one. It wasn’t fair.”
“You’re bleeding,” Pa’ti said as she reached out to touch his face.
“It’s just a few scratches,” Gavin replied. “Those bangers fight like girls.”
This made them both laugh a little.
Pa’ti looked down towards her dress. It was torn a little so she ripped a patch off and wet it at the nearby sink. She then used the damp cloth to clean Gavin’s facial scratches.
“Thanks for saving me,” she said as she dabbed the last one.
“I’d do it every day if I had to,” he said.
Somewhere along the way their heavy breathing had shifted from panicked adrenaline to undeniable attraction, the meeting of their eyes bringing about a simultaneous magnetism of leaning in for a kiss.
Lost in ecstasy the pain of their cuts and bruises dissolved, time, adversaries, the whole world meaning nothing as they explored the magic of their first kiss, for within it they knew together they would overcome all.