In Bucking the Pecking Order (read me) I wrote about how there existed a natural kid pecking order in ‘The Alley’ – dictated by grade level or age. It was one of the great natural existing rules created by Alley Ancestors; a rule which aided the survival of the entire Alley Tribe because it eliminated internal Alley Prison Riots and ensured our numbers remained large and strong. Within the families though was a different story. Normally age level dictated a natural pecking order, but occasionally one larger, younger sibling challenged the ranks. I saw this happen amongst almost all of our families in The Alley – usually it was the larger families where tensions ran high due to our being imprisoned together in cramped quarters. Today, there are laws against such cruelty against children.
Within our own family, there were a few occasional skirmishes. How could 9 kids separated by only 8 years at both ends not end up with an occasional tif? In Prytania Boys Will be Boys, (read me) I wrote that I never started a fight, meaning I never once threw a first punch. The same held for fights within the family ranks; I never threw a first punch and only once did a younger sibling take a swing at me.
All of my step sisters were healthy and strong girls, very active in the Hamilton Mini Circus. Toni was the oldest amongst the Russo clan and I among the Wyatt clan. I was the oldest of the entire Brady Bunch. Toni was easily the alpha amongst the Russo kids. She developed early, was relatively big as a child and very strong.
Today I don’t even recall what our argument was about, but I remember very clearly that I was being ‘challenged’ the day it occurred. I think I was 17 at the time this incident occurred. Toni was almost two years younger but just as big as I was, (I am very massive today, don’t you know). I vaguely think our spat occurred perhaps because Toni was thinking she was standing up for one of her younger sisters. Perhaps I had made a remark in teasing about one of the other girls, hurt her feelings and Toni came in for the rescue? As I said, I really do not remember this part.
What I do clearly remember though was Toni issuing me a verbal challenge of some sort and then my feeling like I had to defend my position in the pecking order. We both squared off in our dining room. Our parents must not have been home, else what was about to occur would not have happened. I can remember a couple other brothers and sisters being present. Toni approached me. I stood my ground. She reared back and with a strong right hand, she slapped me hard across the left side of the face. I saw it coming and could easily have blocked it, but this was a dual so I just stood my ground and took the full force of her slap.
My turn – I mentally measured the force and speed of Toni’s slap and then returned one of my own to the left side of her face. I can recall thinking that I didn’t want to hit her with full force – I tried very hard to hit back with the exact force of what I received. She took the slap, just as I had done and then she slapped me again, harder this time. Once again, I just stood there, took the stinging quick slap and immediately returned my own. At that, I asked “are we done?”
Apparently we were not as Toni’s reply was another slap to my face with what felt like a full force punch. I remember being more mad at that than anything because I had hoped our exchanges were over. Seeing the look of anger and determination though on her face, I quickly assessed that we were not so I hit her back a third time. This time though, I hit back with a measured slap I knew was harder than what she had just dealt to me and one which was almost as hard as I could slap. My open right hand met her left cheek with a surgical precision, (just as hers had), and with that I remember knocking her head fully sideways.
The dual was over. Toni resigned her attempt to gain the alpha male role in our little Brady Bunch, started to cry and left to lick her wounds. All was not over though as next my brother Steve stepped up next to threaten me. I don’t remember what was said – just that he had issued a verbal threat to me and I replied with a dare. I remember telling him that I didn’t start the fight with Toni and that I would let him take the first punch at me too. Steve was like me in that he didn’t start fights either……so he backed off. Tensions were high that day, but the main event had played out and the outcome that was supposed to occur, did occur. The pecking order had been established long ago by natural order. The ranks had been challenged and then returned to what they had been.
Toni had been alpha in the Russo clan up until she moved in with the Wyatts so I can relate and understand her feelings – I would have felt similarly in a reversed situation. After the fight, she was left with feeling beaten and I was left feeling guilty. I had always loved Toni. In fact, I always felt the Russo girls were my sisters. When I talked about them, I never called them my “step” sisters; I referred to them as sisters.
I remember our being cold with each other after the fight – all of the girls were cold to me for a short time after that. Perhaps I could have handled it differently, I don’t know. If she had tried to tackle me or punch me, maybe it would have gone down much less forcefully. There’s something extremely degrading though about being slapped in the face. If any of you readers out there have been slapped in the face by someone you care for, say a spouse, then perhaps you know how it makes one feel diminished, no longer ‘equal’.
Toni recently had to fight her own personal battle and I’m happy to report that she has slapped it silly! Way to go, Toni – if you hit it half as hard as you hit me, it never had a chance.
I cannot speak for her but like me, I believe the Three Stooges slapping contest was put behind her and logged in our memories as something neither of us is proud of and if given the chance, we would choose to have as a do-over. Like everything that occurred in our humble little family of 9 kids, we took things as they came, we learned from the experiences and we moved on. We had to learn to be tough – it was all just part of growing up on Prytania.