The summer before the third grade, my family moved to a new community across town. This meant a new school and new friends. The only two friends I remember from the new neighborhood were Jeannie and Heather. I don't remember exactly how Nicki and I made friends with Jeannie, but I do remember it was a tenuous alliance at best, the first iteration of many love/hate relationships I would experience in life that would later include some boys and most refined carbs.
Jeannie and her family were complicated; I recognized that much even at my young age. She and her two brothers were always in some kind of trouble either at school or with their mother, who was frankly terrifying, always screaming at her kids or any innocent kid within earshot. One day when I was walking to see Heather, Jeannie's mother jerked her front door open and yelled that if I ever passed her house again, she was going to squirt me with the hose. I never did figure out what that was all about, but thankfully, she never followed through with her threat.
There were times when Jeannie and I got along great. Then again, the only physical confrontation I ever got into my whole life was with her. On a gray November day after school, she set up this insane series of hurdles on the sidewalk that included a full-sized trashcan and a bike, among other things. She bragged about how she was going to pull it off, then made a big dramatic to-do that included lying prostrate on the sidewalk in prayer before undertaking this daring feat of athleticism. Nicki and I sat on the sidelines alternating between biting our lips and rolling our eyes, but knowing one thing for sure: Whether she cleared the hurdles or not, this was gonna be good.
She bit it. Hard. Looking back, it's pretty amazing she wasn't seriously injured considering the collision with the bicycle left her splayed out all over the concrete. We knew it had to be painful, but it was also a gloriously slapstick moment. Without so much as a feigned gasp or an obligatory "are you alright?" Nicki burst into hysterical laughter. The next thing I knew, she was flat on her back with Jeannie jerking her by the collar trying to slam her head into the ground.
Nicki has always been the tougher of the two of us. Still, as wimpy as I was, there was no way I was going to stand by and let anyone beat up on my little sister, either. There was a brief deer in the headlights moment during which I wondered if I had enough time to run home to get my dad but I quickly realized Nicki would be pulverized if I went with that option (freezing was, and still is, my first reaction in a crisis, and let me tell you, this is not a good trait in a mother). So, I stuffed all my fear down with as much indignant rage as I could muster and ran screaming to the rescue by leveling a single "karate chop" with my pipe-cleaner-thin arms in the center of Jeannie's hunched back.
The rest is a blur, but it went something along the lines of Jeannie turning her fists of fury in my direction and Nicki having to rescue me. This might have been the first fight for the Scolaro sisters, but it certainly wasn't Jeannie's. Nevertheless, we outnumbered her, plain and simple, and she had to give up.
Nicki and I walked home a little bit fearful (what if she sought revenge?), but mostly proud. Sure, Jeannie was scrappy and she had a scary mom. Yes, her big brother was a hoodlum who burned down the woods across the street. But today, we were the tough ones. Walking home through the cold, we weren't the goody-two-shoes who, just a few weeks ago, had dressed up as a mail man and Laura Ingalls for Halloween. No, we were fighters. We were triumphant.
And we were still laughing at that hilarious fall.