This is all my mother’s fault. I’ve always kept to myself. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that I don’t feel like I need them around all the time. You know that quiet kid from the Sandlot that just wanted to sit around and mess with his erector set? That was me in spades. Then a little while back, Mom gets it in her head that there’s something wrong with me. She convinces herself a fourteen-year-old boy like me needs a male role model to bring him out of his shell. Might not have been a bad idea if she chose anyone other than that fucker Lance.

Lance was an infantryman who came home early. Wouldn’t say why but I have my suspicions. She’d ask him to come around any time she felt I needed a lesson in masculinity. He’d say “Sure thing Mrs. S,” then come over, drink three or four of my mom’s beers and drag me out in a headlock like he was my age and not a grown-ass man. Once he had me in his pickup, the sweetness fermented. He’d ask if my mom’d gotten laid since my dad kicked it. Wanted to know if he’d had a shot. Fucker. I’d just sit there and listen to him goad me. What else could I do?

Then we’d get to his girlfriend’s house, some sixteen-year-old named Shawna. He’d go in for a bit and leave me in the truck with the window cracked. I guess that’s responsible. Shawna seemed sweet enough the time or two Lance let her see me. Once, on a particularly hot day when the truck turned into an oven, she even gave me a Capri Sun. I loved her. Of course Lance took that too.

On the drive back he stuck his fingers under my nose and told me to smell, like he was the first gorilla to have sweaty knuckles. I smacked his hand away. He grabbed me by the seat of my pants and pushed my torso out the window, dangling me by my belt. My life was literally in his filthy hand.

“You’ve got to toughen up little brother,” he said through the pounding of rushing blood. He held me like that for a minute until I stopped struggling and went rigid. Then he pulled me in and for once, the rest of the car ride was quiet.

When we finally made it back to my house he followed me to the door. My mom was already standing out front.

“Hey Mrs. S,” he said in that aspartame voice.

“Hey Lance. What’d you guys do today?”

“Just hung out. You know, guy stuff. Hey, you know what I was thinking? Maybe your son could enter into the Judo tournament with me this weekend. I’ve been teaching him a few moves and I think he’d really like it. Whaddya say?”

She looked at me, obviously surprised. Probably because I don’t know the first fucking thing about Judo, but while she was looking at me, Lance was fingering the eight inch high-carbon steel knife he kept at his hip. I didn’t say a word.

So now here I am, at a Judo competition and here’s the fuck of it. Every single person in my bracket dropped out. I’m not kidding. I’m not making this up. There were three kids I was supposed to fight. One was a no show, the second got hurt in his first bout and the one who fought him had to rush to the hospital with his dad because his mom was going into labor. Maybe I’ll see them there. So I should get a free pass right? No one to fight means I get to go home pink and unblemished? Wrong!

Lance decided to be a saint. I’d come all the way out and got all dressed up so I should get to fight someone. He volunteered to go easy on me. At least I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t pull a knife in front of a judge. I mean, I wouldn’t put money on it or anything but…

When the fight started we just circled for a minute. Lance kept grinning over his paws. His mouth guard made it slightly less intimidating. Like he was eating an orange made by Apple. Then he hit me. I didn’t see the blow coming but I certainly felt it. Even with my guard in place I could still taste blood. Then I was on the floor. A whistle sounded and I was told to get back on my feet. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t. Then I thought of the pavement whizzing inches from my face and got up. The second time I hit back. I don’t know if it really hurt him or if Lance was just surprised but I caught him right in the throat and it took a moment for him to catch his breath. I smiled.

The ref gave me a yellow card and as soon as Lance recovered, he proceeded to slam me into the mat over and over until I thought the wind would never make its way back into my lungs. I came home black and blue. I came home with a limp to make my mother proud. I came home and declared I was going in my room.

You know what I like about my shell? Piece of shit psychos don’t try to kill me in here.