When I was about eight years old and my brother Steve was about six, I beat up Danny Kellaher in defense of my brother. Danny Kellaher was probably eight years old at the time. He grew up strong and played college-level football, but how scary can an eight-year-old boy be? I was a scrawny girl with bruised shins and mosquito bites—he was taller than me and outweighed me by many pounds. I always thought of him as the biggest, toughest kid in the neighborhood, much more formidable than any of the Boeteler boys or the Herlihy boys. But I lost all fear when Danny Kellaher hurt my little brother.
I can’t remember the reason for the fight. All I know is that the boys were at the end of our block near the mailbox. (Remember those big blue mailboxes on the corner of every block, the metal bins where the boys dropped in cherry bombs? The Postal Service says that it has nearly eliminated neighborhood mail boxes as a cost-cutting measure but I think it was really all about cherry bombs.) The pummeling of my brother had begun. I didn’t think about Danny Kellaher’s size or my relative inadequacy. I became fearless. All I knew was that I had to protect my brother so I started beating up Danny Kellaher and he ran home to his mama.
That’s the image that I keep replaying in my brain now—the image of myself as a scrawny kid defending my little brother. And I think about my youngest brother Mark, shot and killed two weeks ago by his neighborhood bully. I’m still the big sister and I wish I had been there to defend him. I wish I had beat the crap out of that guy to keep him from killing my brother.