What my girlfriend did not know was how long I had already endured being punched in that particular shoulder. This was the shoulder that had borne the brunt of three years of junior high school. Three years of junior high school during which I occupied one of the lower rungs on the social ladder. That meant that my right shoulder was regularly made an open target for those who occupied a higher rung on that ladder to punch.
I had taken a lesson from my parents and internalized it: "If you ignore them, they will go away." I believed this with all my heart, because I could not believe that I would be interesting prey if I just sat there and took it. In the lunch room. In the classroom. On the way into school. On the way home. Sometimes I was clever enough to switch it up, and offer my left side for the ritual abuse that was dispensed by my fellow students, but there was a telltale sign, that expanding bruise that lived there for nine months out of the year. Fist sized and purple.
Why? It was explained to me that it was because I flinched. This was probably true the first sixty-four times it happened. Acting out of self-preservation, I flinched when I say some kid's meaty paw swinging at me. By reacting in the slightest, I was told that the penalty would be "two for flinching." These two were punches delivered with laser accuracy to that same spot on my right arm that would eventually become a badge of honor that I wore for the duration. Soon it became very apparent that it didn't matter what I did, I was still going to get zapped just for being on the path from the popular table to the lunch line. I wasn't flinching anymore. I was just counting the days until these brutal ninnies were driven out by some avenging horde of righteous defenders or they simply turned inside out under the weight of their black souls.
That never happened. What did happen was I moved on to high school where I found an oasis of sorts called the band room. I could eat lunch there undisturbed, amused and amusing those around me without fear of flinching. And when I became a senior, I even found a girlfriend. We would go out on dates. I drove her everywhere in my car. And it was wonderful.
Except for padiddle. Somewhere in the first month of our courtship, we were driving somewhere in the evening, and she shouts "padiddle!" Confused, I sat there behind the wheel, and became even more confused when she reached out and punched me in the shoulder. The right shoulder. She seemed shocked and amazed that I did not already understand the rules and consequences of this ritual. Apparently, if one spies a car with one headlight, you were supposed to shout this nonsense word, "padiddle." In her version of this game, if the girl in this equation was the first to spot the one eyed monster, they were encouraged to pop their boyfriend on the shoulder. "What if I see it first?" I asked, rubbing my once and future bruise.
"Then you get to kiss me."
So in the spell of young love and believing I had a chance in this game, as the designated driver who was busy watching all forms of traffic and not the cars everywhere around us, that I let this game go on. And on. And on. It wasn't until years had passed that I heard legends and stories of all manner of variations on these rules. Specifically versions in which no physical torment was involved.
I don't play either game anymore. My shoulder has healed nicely, thank you. And very little in this crazy world makes me flinch.