Standing Up (or not) | Noah Bergland

Standing Up (or not) | Noah Bergland 1

Standing up for myself is something I never was able to do. Growing up, I never had to because my best friend was the toughest person I knew.

I was raised in a family that taught you to avoid conflict, and fighting wasn’t permitted, therefore standing up for yourself wasn’t needed.

My whole life, I wanted to help people, and physically coming to someone’s aid always seemed so badass in the movies, but whenever the time arose, I’d sit back and wait for someone else to stand up.

That all changed one day in college. I reached a boiling point, where I said I wasn’t going to take it anymore. 

My friend Matt and I were leaving a party. We weren’t doing anything special or wrong, just walking down the sidewalk, headed back to one of the places I lived.

It was the summer before junior year. We were on a street that was tucked off of 22nd and Como.

Standing Up (or not) | Noah Bergland
Photo Credit: coldwellbankerhomes.com 22nd and Como Avenue

Como Avenue was like an overflow for student housing. Students poured into what I am guessing used to be a nice respectable neighborhood until the kids showed up.

Houses started being sold for rental properties, and before you know it, Como Avenue was considered student housing to everyone except the last few residences, holding onto the past and trying to enjoy retirement. 

A car drove by with two guys in it, and they must have been looking for a fight. As they drove past, the passenger yelled, “Fucking pussies,” out the window, and Matt quickly snapped back, ”Fuck you!”

The brake lights lit up, and they were out of the car and on us.

I guess they were playing a game, and we just became their marks. They looked like two Neo-Nazi’s straight out of “American History X,” like they were fresh off of a shot of speed, their bodies moving faster than their brains could process.

Judging by the way they moved, I was guessing they’d done this many times before. We were just the unlucky souls that talked back and invited the conflict.

The driver, short and stocky, with mitts like those foam Incredible Hulk gloves from Walmart, got in Matt’s face and politely asked him, ”What did you just say to me motherfucker?”

I was terrified because, in The Hulk’s eyes, I saw hatred, and for two people they had never met. My heart started racing, and I felt a numbness in my arms.

These same feelings would return in the future many times, and I eventually learned to enjoy it because I knew shit was about to pop off, but this time it paralyzed me. As if I had just been hit in the neck with a tranquilizing dart.

Matt was trying to talk his way out of it, but there is nothing he could have said because they were looking for an excuse, and they had found it. Hulk threw Matt to the ground and started beating the shit out of him.

I won’t even call it a fight, because that would imply there were two people participating. I was frozen with fear, I wanted to help him, but I couldn’t move.

The second guy, who was in charge of keeping me out of it, was 6’ tall and 140 pounds soaking wet. You could have given him a vest and a cowboy hat, and he’d have been Woody from Toy Story.

I know what you’re thinking – I was scared and intimidated by Woody from Toy Story? The answer is yes. Because he was possibly high and extremely aggressive, and I was a pansy.

Woody yelled at me, “Don’t even think about moving, you fucking bitch, or you’ll be next,” and the look in my eyes told him what he wanted to know, I wasn’t about to do anything.

By this time, Matt was splayed out, unconscious. Woody didn’t care.

He didn’t want to miss out on the action, so he jumped in and assisted his buddy in stomping my friend.

I remember the last kick before he left, soccer style. Matt’s head just went with the blow like a drunk in a rollover car accident.

Post-beating, Hulk and Woody, lectured us on not slandering people who drive by. They got back in their vehicle and drove off, possibly looking for their next participant.

I helped Matt to his feet and asked if he was alright, and he said he was. I could tell his pride was hurt, but I guarantee it wasn’t hurt as much as mine. I told him I was sorry, and he told me it’s not a big deal, and I believed him.

But it was a big deal for me.

Something happened inside me that night, a part of me broke, and I felt so worthless for not stepping in and helping my friend. Part of it was fear of getting hurt, and part of it was self-doubt, the belief that I wasn’t strong or tough enough to do anything.

From that moment, on I set out on my own little vendetta quest, and eventually, a name and phrase were coined by one of my friends. He started calling me the Blonde Watchman, “Cleaning up the streets of Dinkytown. One douche bag at a time.”

Over the course of my junior and senior year and the year after college, I fought, maybe not always for the noblest of causes, but I didn’t care. I was sick of sitting around, taking shit from people who thought they could drive around picking fights with those that they felt were weaker than them.

I once fought a guy that outweighed me by 100 pounds, because I witnessed him sexually assaulting a girl at a party, and I told him I would be waiting outside. (I lost that fight). He actually broke his hand from punching me in the face so many times.

Bullies in the act of picking on someone half their size was one of my favorite type of people to fight with. Also, fraternity guys because of everything that I believed at the time they stand for. Or just any guy walking around a party looking for a fight.

Whenever there was more than one of us and the person showed interest, my go-to line was, “pick one,” knowing that 90% of the time, they were going to pick me. I think it’s because I usually looked like a California surfer boy in Minnesota, and this look begged people to want to punch me in the face.

As I said, something inside me broke that day, and I found a new way to deal with it, through violence. For me, at the time, it was a release of all those pent up emotions that I didn’t want to deal with. I was also insecure, and each fight built my confidence, even if it was only temporary.

I wasn’t going to therapy, I wasn’t in recovery, I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and after each fight, I felt this beautiful sense of calm and peace.

Reflecting back, it wasn’t the right way to deal with the thoughts inside my head. I wish I would have found a different way. Showing someone love and then receiving that same love in return has a much more powerful and lasting effect.

“Everybody Love Everybody,” was my old mantra, but somewhere I lost myself. It took some time, but I found it again.

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