Superman in Reverse.

Home never felt entirely safe after my mother’s first suicide attempt, so I developed myself into a kind of reverse superman.

I transformed from mild-mannered 13 year-old Edward (with his rudimentary grasp of Latin grammar), into tough-kid-Ed, with his rudimentary grasp of south-coast street slang.

I even kept a stash of Ed-garments hidden in a neighbor’s yard, and once actually changed clothes in a telephone kiosk.

I’d spend my Sundays at a nearby park with a loose association of bogus tough kids, where I learned to smoke, spit, and––very occasionally––kiss girls.

One afternoon I was sitting on the swings, smoking, spitting, and practicing swear words with my friends Neil and Dylan. Neil was in the midst of telling me something when without any warning he spun around and ran off.

Half a second later two big skinheads rushed past me. They punched and kicked Neil, then turned back to deal with me.

Before I could even react the two skinheads were joined by an entire gang. They ranged from about 9 or 10 years old right up to about 18, and there were some girls too. They dragged me off the swing, and began to push and kick me.

The oldest one produced a switchblade that opened out to the length of a school ruler. He then pressed the point into the side of my neck, and told me to get down on my knees––which I did. He said, “repeat after me, ‘I am a stupid fart.’”

I did as he asked. 

A skinhead girl said, “leave him,” and pulled the switchblade away.

One of the younger kids swung his foot back to kick me in the face, but the girl pulled him away too.

I stayed on my knees, staring at the ground for what seemed like a long time. I was waiting for the next thing, but when I looked up they’d all gone. The whole thing had happened so quickly I didn’t even begin to be afraid until it was over.

I went to Neal’s house. He was in much worse shape than me. He didn’t really want me around, so I went back to the park, back to the swing, and smoked cigarettes until it got dark.

Finally, and very reluctantly, I made my way home. I’d been punched and kicked, and had a switchblade a millimeter away from severing my carotid artery, but the park still seemed safer than my parents’ house in those days.