"Hey, wimp, get away from my sister. I thought I told you to stay the fuck away from her."
Indeed, Bruce Goodwin, captain of the school baseball squad, had told me those exact words. I remembered them perfectly -- perhaps because he had shouted them in my face while simultaneously punching me in the belly.
"Her" was Bruce's younger sister, Michelle, who was my age and who was my crush.
She had been a geek girl along with us geek boys. Then she blossomed beautifully, and stayed her self inside. She was gorgeous, and a wimpy nerd like me could still talk to her, make her laugh. Which I became obsessed with doing. Especially when she wore those hiphugger jeans. There was no way I could resist that.
Around the middle of August, the summer I turned 17, Michelle invited me over to take a walk with her. We used to do that a lot, but we hadn't done it much that summer. I was glad she still enjoyed it. I biked around the block to her parents' house, and down in the suburban basement who should be there but Bruce and his pals.
I was nothing but a pot-bellied geek in the judgment, spoken or unspoken, of all the athletic guys. Bruce had a sick sort of possessiveness of his cute little sis. That weighed on top of his ego-preening, which would not tolerate the idea of his sister going out with a pot-bellied geek. He had the motive, and the power, to punish my belly humiliatingly.
He had caught me, shamelessly defying him -- with his own sister. And I knew doom was coming my way fast.
But I did myself one worse: I gave him justification. Like a fool, I made myself deserve it. You see, I knew what was coming, and I was mortified at the thought of Michelle seeing me, watching me, feeling me -- as a pot-bellied wimp, as a humiliated bellypunch victim. Which is what I was about to become; I had to look tough.
So I swung a weak fist at Bruce.
Oh, I was so lame. In spite of my size. I don't even know what part of him I was aiming for, or what damage I expected to do with so feeble and slow a punch. All that mattered was the "ooooh!" reaction from his friends.
My heart sank as I realized I'd done myself no good, and in the process committed an ungentlemanly foul. And now Bruce was not only stoked to beat up my belly, he was honor-bound to give my stomach a pummeling.
Michelle watched the whole procedure with intense interest and wide eyed. Any hope I had that she might save me vanished. What a fool. She was the kind of girl a boy like me gets beat up over.
My heart sank in my throat as soon as I saw him easily duck back from my wild swing. I whiffed, and I saw his eyes light up. I had handed him my dance card for a belly-punch tango.
I braced for it, but he just smiled. I let my guard drop and tried to smile back. "I was hoping you'd do that ..." Was I off the hook? "... so I could do THIS!" and THIS was him giving me a master-class demonstration of belly-punching. The very first punch, the one that finished me off, and every punch in between went right to my belly.
I'm not fat. I'm tall and, mostly, thin. My belly just naturally sticks out. I can't help it, it's my shape. And my other features make it seem prominent. I've always been really shy about my belly, to tell you the truth. I felt really vulnerable there.
And now I'm serving it up to him like a slow round pitch over home plate.
Without moving he flicked a fist toward my face. It never got within a foot of me, nor was it meant to, but my hands instinctively rose, and I deluded myself to thinking I had dodged it. He feinted his left fist again at my face. But this time when I raised my hands and shut my eyes, Bruce took a big step with his right leg and, with a "hah!" put all his weight into a solid punch in my belly.
My breath blurted from me with a forceful UH! I stood in shock, then the sense of being penetrated and the pain of being bellypunched flooded my mind and overwhelmed whatever control I had. I let out a sound, wailing OOOOOOOO!! and put my hands over my stomach and folded far over.
My eyes felt like they were bugging out, cartoon-style. My mouth felt sick and I opened it wide. My stomach felt like a crumpled beer can, and I can't keep my hands from clutching myself as I double up from that jackhammer punch in my belly.
This is the humiliation I dread, and I helplessly act out right in front of her. I'm doubled over, making sick-baby noises, from a legitimate punch in the belly. Being mocked by the man who did it to me, and jeered by his friends.
Being not the star, no longer a potential Romeo, but being a mere stunt-man in life. Like the hapless henchmen in the old movies and comics. So easily and comically dispatched.
To be that in reality. That guy who tried to fight but couldn't take it in the belly. Forget him.
"Leave him alone, you bully," Michelle called to Bruce -- it sounded more like a tease than a demand -- "Stop hitting his belly!"
Bruce had almost a buzz cut, but I had affected long, hippie-boy hair. Let me tell you now, wiser by experience, long hair and a pot-belly are a bad combination to bring to a punch-fight.
He grabbed my hair, and in one smooth swing he yanked me from doubled over to upright and arched back. My hands naturally flew to my hair. Other than clawing at his wrists I made no attempt to resist him or fight. And now I've got my back arched and my belly stuck out, and Bruce is holding me up to the room full of his friends.
"Look at that belly!" one says.
"Stop, you bullies!"
The other boy tells Bruce, "You can see your fist-print on his belly!"
Bruce looks, sees iy, and laughs. "You give him one!"
The boy lines up his shot to my helpless belly, and swings hard, overhand, and whomps a punch down onto my bowed-out belly, near the solar plexus, and after that I don't remember anything for a bit.
Michelle told me later what they did to me. The punch in the gut had scrambled my brains. I stood voiceless and defenseless while they punched my belly at leisure. They took turns: A left, a right, an uppercut, a big overarm jab. All straight into my belly. While she was demanding, "Stop punching his stomach. It's not fair!"
At least that's what she told me.
All I know is, the next thing I remember is rolling on the floor, cradling my belly and crying, while Michelle berated Bruce.
"Look at him, he's crying," she said, as if to draw Bruce's sympathy to my suffering and humiliation. But of course they all only laughed at me.
I was lost in my own world at the moment. It was the slow, suffering world of a belly-punch bellyache. I was on my knees on the carpet. My body had folded over as far as my pot-belly would allow, and my arms cradled my bullied, beaten belly. I had no control over myself now, I was possessed by the bellypain that flooded me.
My suffering was a comical show. The old cliche: big guy who can't take it in the belly. I brought it to life. On my knees, bent forward, face flat to the floor, gripping my belly, in the agony of feeling winded. I became him. A one-punch fight-loser. A big bellywimp. Still down and sucking air long after the 10-count has ended.
He got tired of waiting. He started kicking at me, and instinctively I stood up, as best I could. But he just grabbed me at once by the collar and started punching me in the belly.
I do remember some moments from that belly-beating. Mostly I remember that horrible "splatted" feeling when the fist sank into my stomach. The terrible displacement sensation so deep inside me. That flatted feeling.
Sometimes my tormentor would give me enough time to fully pull myself together, dry my eyes, catch my breath. Then I was bound to make an effort to attack him, or else I must quit in utter disgrace. Taking my beating was better than quitting.
My efforts never amounted to anything but embarrassment for me. I was just too slow, too bulky. Even before I got the wind knocked out of me. I had learned fighting by reading about it in a book.
But Bruce encouraged me, told me to swing at him, taunted me, "swing at me!" And I would, though I knew he just wanted to show off his skill in dodging a feeble blow and counterpunching hard to the belly. He was exceptionally skilled at it, and he made me suffer for the sake of showing off.
My lunges at my rival also reminded the crowd that, no matter how cruelly he beat up my belly, I was the fool who had challenged him.
The bully would mock and berate me, while I stood breathless from his punch in my belly. The moment I found my breath again and was able to inhale, Bruce lashed out with another fist, or a flurry of jabs, and he knocked the wind out of me again with a sock in my stomach. I would groan and go back to silently gripping my belly.
It ended only when they were tired of beating my belly. It ended with a kick in the stomach that made me writhe on the floor, silent. Then Bruce told me in front of everyone, "Don't go starting a fist-fight if you can't take it in the BELLY!" and on the word "belly" he kicked his boot into mine. OOF!
They trooped out of the basement. I could tell Michelle wanted to stay, but he glared at her and beckoned for her to follow him, so, with many glances back down at me, she did.
It was, to put it bluntly, a humiliation beating.