I was in seventh grade when Steve Bratlin was quarterback and Head Boy at Grant Junior High in Littleton, Colorado. Head Boy was Grant’s equivalent of 9th grade valedictorian. The teachers loved Steve, and he wasn’t shy about sharing his elevated status and intellectual prowess.
There was a picture of the Head Boy and Head Girl by Grant Junior High’s front office and main entrance. The girls looked at Steve’s picture and dreamed about being his girlfriend. I dreamed about throwing darts.
Steve’s face was lean, symmetrical and perpetually tan—a perfect match to his body. His father wasn’t a dentist but his teeth were straighter and whiter than any kid I knew. Steve’s dark brown hair fell across his forehead in a motionless wave. When he removed his helmet after a football game, his unruffled wave spoke for him—Another win? It was easy. 150 yards passing is nothing.
Steve had what my brother, Brad, calls a “smirky smile.” He knew how to use his smirky smile to send messages: You’re charming and witty, I’m charming and witty, and you’re brainless and unworthy of my attention.
Girls loved Steve’s smile. They envied me because he lived across the street and spent time at our house. The only reason Steve spent time at our house was to impress my brother, Brad. Steve was a great athlete but Brad was a greater athlete. Brad was a sophomore playing Varsity baseball and basketball. Brad was loved by teachers, girls, and his teammates because he earned their respect.
I loathed Steve Bratlin because of his cruel teasing. Unlike my brother’s other friends, who teased me in the open, Steve’s teasing was for my ears only—“Hi, baby fat. Maybe you can get your fat to go in the right places.”
“Look, its Brad’s baby sis. Wearing a training bra yet?”
"You didn’t make seventh grade cheerleader. You won't make the Pom-pom squad ‘cuz you can’t lift your legs high enough.”
The verbal taunting was mild. Steve threw things at me—a basketball, water balloons and small rocks. He was an Adonis who knew exactly where to aim.
One Saturday evening in September, 1972, I decided to tell Brad about Steve’s cruelties. Brad would make him go away.
Fifteen neighborhood kids, including Steve, were playing Wolf-Wolf, a legendary hide and seek game invented by my brother.
I was hiding in the lilacs beside our clothesline when Steve grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the bushes.
“Let go of me,” I hissed.
"Why should I?”
“I said let go!” I tried to break away but Steve grabbed me by the forearms.
I stopped resisting and had an adrenalin surge simultaneously. The end result was I threw Steve Bratlin on the ground.
He jumped to his feet and came after me. I punched him in the face and his nose started bleeding. Steve looked over his shoulder. He was more concerned about witnesses than the blood on his hands. I looked in his eyes and he looked in mine. We were both shocked. There were tears in his eyes and none in mine.
I called Brad today to verify my facts.
“Do you remember Steve Bratlin?”
“Oh, yeah,” Brad answered.
“Wasn’t he Head Boy at Grant? I know he was quarterback."
“I don’t know about Head Boy. That was after I was out of Grant. He was definitely quarterback…all the way through high school. He and Ray Antilla. Steve was a year behind me.”
“Oh, I forgot about Ray. He was captain of the 1976 Littleton High School State Championship Hockey Team.”
“I know,” Brad replied. “The final game was down at the Olympic Training Center in the Springs. You were there, right?”
“Wasn’t that the same year you girls won the state championship?”
“Yup,” I answered. (I made the Pom-pom team in junior high. I also made Littleton High School's very competitive Pom team. We won the state championship in 1976 and 1977. Something the football team never managed to do.)
“Do you remember how much crap Steve gave me?” I asked.
“Not really,” Brad said.
“You don’t?” I was shocked at his answer.
“No,” Brad said. “But I saw Steve awhile back. He’s been divorced a couple times. He still has that smirky smile. He’s selling time shares in Florida.”
“So, you didn’t tell everyone what I told you...that I punched him and gave him a bloody nose?” I asked.
“No, I didn't,” Brad responded.
“Really?” I asked.
“Nope, it wasn’t me.”
“Huh, that’s weird,” I said. “I always thought it was you."
“It wasn’t,” Brad responded. “I can’t remember yesterday but I remember Bratlin was called a pussy for years.”
A very large grin spread across my face. “That’s interesting,” I responded. Maybe my friends had spread the word after all.
“He was called a pussy all the way through junior year in high school,” Brad added.
My grin froze."Why did it stop?”
“Because Steve beat the crap out of Vince. He and Scrans were the main guys raggin' on Steve. Nobody called him a pussy after that.”
After I finished talking to my brother, I realized for the first time in thirty-eight years that not only had I won Steve Bratlin’s respect, I'd cost him his. And I'd done it without my brother's help.
There were no official judges, but the bronze medal in my hand had just turned to gold.
Causes Jules Jacob Supports
CASA of Southwest Missouri, Master Gardeners of the Ozarks, University of Missouri Master Gardeners, Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocates Association...