The Tiger and the Cage

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When I was with Tigress, I was taken care of. I was guarded by her unflinching ferocity. No one could mess with me.

With Cage, I was in conflict.

You need an example. I can see on your face that you want an example. Here you go:

I spent the night at her house once, when I was eight and she was seven. After we woke up we played for hours and watched cartoons. We did all the fun things you do with your favorite person in the world. When my mother called and told my aunt to send me home, Tigress asked if she could walk me there.

My family lived about six blocks away and my aunt said sure, Tigress could walk me home. We left her house and headed for mine. It was a short, uneventful walk but as we passed the third street and took the left we needed to take to get to my house, we saw a group of Kings sitting on the corner drinking and smoking joints.

We kept our heads down and kept walking. When we got past, we had little to say to each other until we got to my house, and I realized she was going to have to walk past those guys alone to get home.

I went to my mother and told her I wanted to walk Tigress back to her house, and she agreed. And thus began the long walk home. Every time we dropped the other off, we thought about the corner we would have to pass alone and we asked permission to see the other one home.

It was fun. Our parents thought it was funny, and they were content to let us walk back and forth for hours. It never occurred to them to shelter us from the gangsters who lived amongst us. And even if it was a concern, my mother had no car. They never protected us from our neighborhood gang, we needed to know how to navigate our home.

So after a few turns back and forth the gangsters on the corner started asking us questions. We ignored them and kept walking. Every time we got past them, we were relieved. Every time we dropped the other off, we got scared. This happened all day long, until finally, when I was walking her home for the last time, a gangster stepped out in front of us.

“Hey, you little bastards, what are you, girlfriend and boyfriend or something?”

I froze. Everything started to shut down on me. I was eight. These were criminals. They would slap me around if I let them. They ruled this neighborhood. They were the authority here, and we had to do whatever they said, no matter how much they had been drinking or how high they were.

“Why don’t you give him a little kiss?” another guy said to Tigress. “Just a little kiss so we can all see.”

I started to cry.

Tigress got the look. It was a face I knew very well. It signaled the end of her short fuse.

“Why don’t you kiss that guy you’ve been standing next to all day, why don’t you?” she spat.

The gangster pulled back. He looked at her for a minute and his friends started laughing.

“You should smack her one for that,” a girl said. She was tall and thin and beautiful but trashy, and she was the girlfriend of one of these guys.

“I’m not gonna hit her. She’s just a kid.”

“Damn right you’re not gonna hit me, pussy,” Tigress said. “I’ll punch you right back and kick you in the dick.”

The guy pulled back and she stepped forward. I just wanted to grab her and pull her away from them, wanted to get her out of there and get her home. Maybe we could get a ride from her stepdad and get home that way.

“She needs a good smack,” another gangster said. He took off his belt. “Or maybe I should just whip her ass.”

Tigress growled at them, and from a garage around the corner stepped a man. He had a goatee with a graying beard but that was the only indicator of age. He was built of thick, hard muscle and had a knife in his hand. His hair was black and slicked back. His chest bare and rippling. As I look back on him now, he had to have been a King. He had to have been a father to one of these gangsters.

“No one is whipping,” the man said. “Bad ass bitch like this, you don’t break. You let this kind of bitch go untamed. This kind of chicka makes hard, bold sons. This is not a girl you hurt. This is a girl you let run wild.” The man waved his hand at her. “Go on now, little one. Go raise hell somewhere else. I don’t want you on my block any more today. We see you again, and one of these fool boys runs his mouth, you are just as likely to kick him as pull a blade on him.” The man waved us off and I walked her home.

Tigress never said one word about it. She went right back to what we had been talking about the moment before they stopped us. See, that was the way she was back then. A fire unquenchable.

 

On my side of the block was Cage. Damaged, violent, he had a way of snapping every now and then and just barking out at me. He would call me a fucker every now and then and get hard on me. We would fight and it would get worked out. He was as volatile as Tigress. And he had a crush on her.

Whenever Tigress came around my house, Cage puffed up. He tried to impress her and show her how tough he was.

That kind of move only brought out the fierce competitor in her. Any rise in power she saw as a challenge. When he tried to run fast, she ran faster. When he tried to show how strong he was, she would do it better, faster, and longer.

They raced bikes. She beat him—on a loaner. It wasn’t even her bike and she beat him.

He tried to beat her in basketball, but that was impossible. In high school she was one of the greatest basketball players city wide. She got recruited by the Army basketball team. There was no way Cage was going to beat her.

Foot race went to Tigress.

Rock throwing, Tigress.

When they arm wrestled and she destroyed him, he finally reached a boiling point.

“I ought to whip your ass!” he yelled.

“That would be great. I was trying to think of something else I could beat you at,” she snapped right back.

I tried to step in but it was too late. Cage swung and hit her in the cheek.

I came up ready but she was faster. She swiped one arm between his leg, wrapped one across his neck, and with the ease of a mother hefting a babe, she ripped him right off his feet.

Tigress roared as she held him off the ground before body slamming him to the concrete.

When he hit the ground, I thought she had killed him.

“Oh fuck!” she said.

He lay on his back gasping for air, and I was starting to get worried. After he fought for air for many frantic moments, I looked up at her and said, “What are you doing?” I could still hear him gasping and groaning. “You really hurt him.”

She laughed a quick, nervous giggle and shook her head. “I didn’t do nothing.”

“You picked him off the ground and body slammed him, Tigress!”

Just then Cage drew in a deep breath and yelled. He swiped his arm aside, shoved me off him, and fought his way to his feet.

“You fuckin’ bitch!” he screamed. His neck stiffened, turned beet red. I could see veins standing out as he screamed in rage.

I looked up at her. “Run!” I said.

She turned and ran. She made for the broken boards in the fence between our two yards, passing under them as he broke out running. She cut through his yard and ran alongside his house, headed for the street.

He rushed after her screaming, “Going to kill you, bitch!” I think those were his words. She ran across his front yard, between our houses and right back to my backyard where she had thrown him to the ground like a tantrum. He was hot on her heels, and she ducked under the fence again and ran back across his yard.

He chased her around his house a dozen times at least. Each time he slowed. Every now and then, he stopped and headed the other direction, but she always predicted it. She would start running again, and the chase would start up again. All the way around the house, one complete circuit at a time. Cage screaming after her, Tigress giggling like a child with a secret as she ran.

He finally ran out of power. He slowed to a stop and took a knee. She came running up behind him and laughed.

“I can run longer than you, too,” she said.

All he could do was cuss.

I wonder sometimes why I love a strong woman at her best. But when I look back in my life for the moments when a strong woman made an impact on me, I never have to look any further than Tigress.

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