The snow on the ground was stained crimson with blood; that’s what I remember about the first fight. Since then, I’ve noticed that all of my fights take place during the winter. Maybe it’s because I like seeing blood in the snow, the stark contrast between the white and the red. Maybe it’s because the cold reminds me of the steel in your eyes. Mother, it was snowing when I threw my first punch, and you cried because you believed something as pure as snowflakes should not land in a world so violent.
The boy that I fought had bony fists. He thought that the name Perth was too masculine for a girl. I can still hear his prejudice. I refused to back down, because I knew. I knew that the back alley was waiting for our blood. The sky must have been holding its breath in anticipation, because it did not start snowing until we made our way into the alley.
He was wiry, and had been trained. I remember the crowd surrounding us in that back alley while we circled each other. The first jab he landed hit me square in the face. I remember the sound, like compression. I remember the pain. I watched as the blood pooled in the snow. My nose still isn’t aligned properly. He got at least half a dozen more solid blows to my head and my torso, so strong that I could feel the bruises blooming even as he pulled away. I was watching though, and when I saw my opportunity, I took it. It was the strongest punch I have ever thrown. I broke his nose, a revenge of sorts. His left cheek bone fractured under the weight of my knuckles. Two of my fingers were broken. After, Reese looked up at me with blood in his teeth. I couldn’t feel the pain. My breath was white in the frigid air, and the blood was already being absorbed by the snow, as if it belonged there. Like paint splattered on a canvas.
I know that my fists are not designed to kill, and I am not quick on my feet. I only won that fight because of something Father taught me. Mother, you know the story; he left when I was only small. You woke up one morning to find the sheets beside you cold. I can’t remember him giving me any good advice other than this: fist fighting is an art. In order to be good, you have to appreciate it.
I did not understand until I saw him in a fight. I must have only been six or eight, but I watched the two men as they threw blow after blow. Mother, please do not purse your lips – I watched his fists fly, his skin turn purple, his blood pour into the snow, but it all led to this. I watched as he was beaten, but I could also see that he was calculating. He was analyzing the fight like a writer analyzes their poetry, developing his plan like a photographer would develop pictures. And then, the finished product: all it took was one blow. The man he was fighting is still nameless in my mind, a lost fact. The bruises on his cheek and the limp in his step were not lost on me, however. I remember the blood splattered on the brick of our house. You cleaned it up with pursed lips. You didn’t say anything.
I remember that after my first fight, I came home and you bandaged me up. You were angry with me, but once again kept quiet. You pursed your lips and dabbed at my swollen eye. That night, I had a strange dream. In my dreams, the whole world was bleeding, and my knuckles were bruised. Blood rained down from the sky, the rivers turned red. My knuckles, still aching. Don’t you find it funny, Mother, that my life has taken after that dream. My knuckles are still bruised and cut from all of the dreams and people that I’ve destroyed.
The second fight was a year after the first. You must understand, Mother, that I have always tried to stay out of trouble. I don’t long to see bruises on my skin. My bloodlust does not consume me. In many ways, this fight was different. It was in the schoolyard, not an alley. The boy’s name was Tucker. He assumed that because I am a girl, my fists cannot wreak havoc.
It was the first time that anyone had ever used my gender against me. I wanted to prove him wrong so badly. Fists flew soon after. It wasn’t Tucker’s blood that stained the snow, though. I could feel the hot liquid rushing out of my nose, my mouth, my lip. To me, the memory of that fight is a sharp iron taste, hot anger and the lingering sense of injustice. I lost. No tears fell from my eyes – I refused to show weakness, in case it was branded as “girly”.
You picked me up from the Principals office. I had fractured my wrist, and suffered a concussion. There was an ice pack pressed against my face and rage in my heart when you showed up. My teachers had chastised me, telling me that a girl like me is bound to get hurt in a fight. In that moment, I had wanted to see their blood in the snow. You arrived with pursed lips again. This time, disappointment wasn’t the cause.
We were hidden away in the safety of our car when I finally let myself cry. The snow-heavy pines and your steel eyes were the only ones that saw the tears fall.
Mother, have you ever felt the sharp sting of injustice? Have you ever experienced pain and rage at the unfairness of the world?
When I grew old enough to understand, I asked you these questions. I remember the thunder flashes lighting up your steel eyes in the darkness as you told me your story. Your struggle was of a different variety than mine; you did not fight with fists and teeth and force. Still, my blood ran cold at the thought.
The third fight happened just the other day. My days of fighting are long past – I am a woman now. My fists are supposed to be dainty. I am supposed to bat my eyes and shut my mouth when I want to see blood on the snow. The man was anonymous to me, just another face in the crowd, until I felt his hand on my waist. That man pushed me into an alley, different than the first. His hands were broad and rough. He was careless in his strength. I still have bruises in the shape of his fingerprints. I stayed soft and docile and delicate, until he pushed me to the ground. With gravel in my mouth, and the metallic taste of blood on my teeth, I saw your eyes. Piercing grey, like steel. Gunpowder. Mother, it was the thought of your eyes, so strong and sure, that caused me to fight back.
My fists became indestructible. I left that anonymous man broken in the alley, a crumpled shell of a person. I walked away with my head held high.
Mother, when I came to you that night, there were tears in my eyes. I was broken and bruised in a far worse way than ever before. You pursed your lips, and cleaned my wounds.
Mother, I see the steel in your eyes. I will not apologize for the steel of my fists.
Chelsea Houston is a full-time high school student, and part time literature enthusiast. She is a feminist, tree hugger, and people lover. You can find more of her writings at http://naivestars.tumblr.com/.