“Where did you learn to fight?” I demanded, looking at the kindergarten teacher with grown men littered around her like leaves in the fall. I thought she was post-global warming October, but she was mid-Ice Age January when she wanted to be.
“That’s a pretty loaded question, isn’t it?” she fired back, sliding her knuckles across her shirt with a grimace.
“Pretty indignant for a little girl currently wiping blood off her lip.” She gave me a look that threatened time-out.
“Three brothers. One on the chess team, one theater geek, one transgender. I had to learn how to destroy people twice my size pretty early on. I joined a boxing club, had myself educated in MMA.” Kendra punctuated her words with a neck crack and a shake of the head as if she was trying to erase her grimace.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she snapped.
When I met her, she was no fighter. She was unbelievably shy for a girl concealing such a big personality (like biting into a Snickers bar thinking it was a plain Hershey kiss). She was lonely, self-conscious, and painfully quiet. By the end of summer camp, she was captain for team sports. She had dark hair- the kind that people describe as brown but matches a locked phone screen better than a tree- but no one cared what she looked like, because she was a dweeb. Nice girl, though. I should’ve known that women aren’t like men; we don’t change over the years as much as they do. The person in Sketchers and the one in stilettos are strangers, but wow. This was a transformation I didn’t expect.
Kendra yanked her Barbie ponytail out, running her fingers through the sweaty strands and over the dry sections as if that was her biggest concern. Then she looked at me and opened her mouth again.
“You should call the cops,” she said.
“Kendra, why’d you have to the do that?” I asked. “They were just catcallers.”
“Just catcallers? Every day I get harassed, no matter what I do. They threaten me, you know that? No, you didn’t know that, because they were ‘just catcallers’, right?”
“Why snap today?”
“I have to tell you something,” she replied, voice cracking under the strain of her words. “He woke in the dark, his feet were cold. Cold.” The words had a bite, that she must have felt; they curled in her mouth.
“My fiance. And you know what? That was the hardest conversation of my life. And news of my father’s death spread through a phone tree.”
“Don’t play games, don’t throw around taunts like I could never know what a battle-hardened warrior you are. Tell me what happened.”
“It was dark and cold and catcallers ruined my life that night. That whole thing just blurs together in my mind. I woke up in the hospital. So much pain.”
“So a group of guys gets transformed into human punching bags?”
“Yes. I have a low tolerance for people who do things like that, Garrett.”
“I just wanted to catch up while I was in your hometown. Kendra, you never cease to surprise me.”
“Like you’re predictable. You’re an artist now; how’s that going?”
“Do I look like I eat meals regularly?”
“You look like you did at summer camp, to be honest.” I had to laugh. She’d noticed it too- some people change and some don’t. I think some people are meant to be changed when they find a way to reassemble their broken pieces.
Thank you for reading this short story about change. I like it because the female character who learned how to fight because she has brothers did so to defend them, rather than learning from them or to defend herself from them.
If you liked this, you should check out my series for more stories or read some short poems of mine.