As children we believed they hit home runs or scored game winning touchdowns.
Lying in bed wearing Spiderman pajamas, I heard the hard crack of my father’s belt strike my mom.
Feeling nothing like a hero , I squeezed a pillow around my head to drown out her cries.
The next day, in an empty playground behind school, Lisa Barelli read my teacher’s note informing my father I slept during class.
She pointed at her notebook full of butterfly drawings. “Maybe you’re mother wants to be a butterfly like me.”
“Nobody hurts butterflies.” A tear streaked down her round cheek. “Nobody calls them fat.”
My eyes swelled with burning tears.
Someone laughed. “Andrew wants to kiss the fat girl.”
Jumping to my feet, I stood face to face with the thick chin of the school bully.
I responded in a firm, but diplomatic whisper, “That wasn’t nice.”
“What did you say?”
Bless Lisa and her powerful lungs.
“Andrew said you better take that back.”
Before anyone could react, I slammed my face into bully’s fist and dropped like a sack of sweet potatoes.
Bully shook his fist at Lisa.
Staggering to my feet, a second punch caught the side of my mouth. I twirled like Julie Andrews on a hillside. My skull rung, but it wasn’t the sound of music.
Receiving worse beatings from my old man, stubborn determination urged me to rise.
Hard knuckles slammed my eye.
An hour later, I studied my Quasimodo reflection in the nursing office window.
Furious with my inability to fight the bully, my angry father sent me to school with my busted lip, swollen cheek, and black eye.
Standing outside the yard, fear pounded my heart. I would be the school joke.
But something unexpected happened…
Boys rushed me to pat my back. Some shook my hand.
Girls batted admiring eyes.
Apparently, Lisa told the entire school how I defended her. She spent the year telling everyone.
I became an instant rock star.
Later, in a cafeteria full of boys and butterflies, that little boy realized being a hero had nothing to do with winning.
It meant something more.
He confirmed it, years later…
On a day when he stood at his office window, watching the World Trade Center towers collapse before his eyes.
Photo of me taken by unknown photographer.