A true story from 1992:
I worked a few jobs, saving money for law school. During the day, I edited coupon books at Entertainment Publications in Troy. At night, I worked as a mechanic at the Sears in Oakland Mall. I lived with Nick Zalinski in a small apartment in Royal Oak. Life was good but a bit hectic.
One day in the Spring of 1992, I showed up for work at my day job in Troy. In my right hand, I held my brown bag lunch. In my left, I held the keys to a small blue Chevette that a friend and co-worker had sold to me (Thanks, Margaret White). I wore my usual office casual attire: khaki pants, black turtle neck. I was trying to grow a ridiculous beard that made me look like a baby pirate. I never looked forward to my hours in the cubicle farm that awaited me. Sometimes, even now when I have a stressful dream, I am lost in that corporate hamster cage.
Anyway, on that Spring day, I was 22 years old. Angry. Confused about the direction of my life. Unsure about this whole law school thing. And perpetually exhausted. I could never get my hands clean from the mechanic job. I smeared the proofs of my coupon books. The printing folks in the office were constantly cleaning up for me. Again, thanks Margaret White.
As I walked to the building, I saw a man shaking a young woman violently by her shoulders. He towered over her: 6’3″, black t-shirt and jeans. He was over 250lbs with shoulder length brown hair. He looked about 27-28 years old.
This was happening about 40 yards from where I parked my car. They were on the sidewalk, near the mirror glass exterior of the building. From where I stood, it looked like two assaults happening at the same time.
I recognized the young woman (23 years old and a college graduate). She was a co-worker who will remain nameless. It was a poorly kept secret that her boyfriend beat her. She would wear heavy make up to hide the bruises. Ladies in the office would often be seen making a fuss over her when she had a particularly bad encounter with her boyfriend. I had only worked there for six months, but I knew the stories. There were no secrets.
I could hear him yelling as he shook her. The word “bitch” reached my ears. My keys and brown bag lunch hit the asphalt near my car. I sprinted toward him. His back was to me. He did not see me storming up behind him.
I grabbed him around the waste and half heaved and tossed him away from my co-worker. He stood up to fight me, and I had an out-of-body experience. I watched my hands in slow motion pummeling this man in every open area of his body. I don’t remember breathing. I just remember flailing away with huge hooks, left and right. He staggered back against the mirrored windows, holding his hands in front of his face. I hooked around his hands and hit his left eye socket and temple. I could feel the blood in my ears. I was screaming something incoherent as I beat the man into the dirt and shrubbery that adorned the east window sills. As he fell, I continued to hit him and scream. I was spitting and foaming with rage. The man tried to shield himself, but his clothes were caught in the shrubs.
I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders. My co-worker, Rick, who was my age but much taller than me, was yelling for me to stop. Please stop. Rick was always the office clown. A big grin, a ready joke, a full head of red hair and matched by a Cheeto-colored mustache. Even in my rage, I recognized my friend and stepped backwards.
I went to the young woman and walked her inside the building. She was crying hysterically and sobbed out the words, “He said he’s going to kill me!” Once inside the door, I turned around to see Rick beating the guy down. I jumped in between them, and I pulled Rick back. The man in the black shirt ran for his car and peeled out of the parking lot. The Troy police showed up a few minutes later. They took perfunctory statements and left.
The work day was filled with gossip and replays. Apparently, the entire second floor (where our cubicle farm was) witnessed the incident. One co-worker did an animated pantomime of me punching upwards (I didn’t realize that the man was that much taller). She insisted that I had jumped to throw my punches. I honestly could not remember. I could only remember the seething rage. It was opening a door into the darkest part of my soul.
Late in the day, Rick pulled me aside and said, “You were screaming ‘NEVER TOUCH HER AGAIN!!’ at the top of your lungs. I thought you were going to kill that dude.” I told Rick that I was pretty sure that the blood on his pink polo shirt was from his own turn beating the guy down. I felt a little defensive at the suggestion that I was out-of-control in that moment. But I believed what Rick told me, and I was curious as to why I could not remember WHAT I was screaming. My friend had to tell me. Weird.
That night, Rick and I stayed with the young woman at her parent’s house. These were the days before restraining orders and stalking statutes. Her parents were on vacation, and she was alone in a small colonial in Sterling Heights.
Rick sat in the front room, trying to keep her calm. She swore that her ex-boyfriend had a gun and would be driving over any minute. I sat in the kitchen by the phone, waiting to call the police. The butcher’s block was within reach.
The phone rang. I answered it:
Ex-Boyfriend: “You’re the guy who attacked me today.”
Ex-Boyfriend: “You know I can beat your ass, right?”
STP: “I am here.”
Ex-Boyfriend: “Why are you there? Is [she] afraid? Do you think you can protect her from me?”
STP: “I will call the police. They are looking for you.”
Ex-Boyfriend: “You sonofabitch! You fucking snitch.”
STP: “If you get here before the police, I will carve your heart out.”
I slammed down the phone. The night passed without incident.
The work week dragged on. The ex-boyfriend was never “caught”. The Troy police did not believe that it was worth the man hours.
In the aftermath, I made two decisions. First, I was going to be an attorney. Second, I would learn how to fight properly.
At the time, I had a dear mentor, George Pickering, who would listen to my stories and experiences, and, like magic, extract some wisdom from the chaos of my life. I relayed the series of events involving this young woman and my inability to remember what I was screaming as I beat a man into the dirt. George looked at me and said simply, “You are a really angry person. You might want to figure out why.” He was not judging me—George was simply pointing out the obvious. He was also on his third bourbon, and he did not mince words.
And, so, I had a lot of work and writing to do. Decades of it. I did go to law school. I did study Shaolin kung fu and jujitsu.
However, I did not find peace until I engaged in forgiveness and love. My friends and teachers showed me a better way.
In the days ahead, we will all be tested. Our heart strings will be plucked. Our emotions will be manipulated in social media. Please remember to forgive. Please remember to love.