It’s all over quickly, and Jack is shocked that he won the brief fight. The bully is on the floor, equally shocked, looking up at little Jack through a swelling eye. Nearby, the other kids are looking at both boys in a new light. Jack is terrified about what will happen next. His heart must be beating a million times a minute. Will he get kicked out of school? What will his dad really do? Will the bully try to get revenge later? Jack knows that he crossed a line with everyone. His life may never be the same again.

If Jack follows the first path, he suppresses his natural instinct to defend himself until it boils over into armed rage. One day he brings a gun to a fight with his bully, ending and ruining and scarring lives until he finally takes his own. Jack is the author of another modern American tragedy, and joins the ranks of the villains.

If Jack follows the second path, his life at school begins to change. The bully tries confronting him again a year or two later, but all Jack has to do is get that look in his eye, the same one he had the day they fought, and Jack never needs to throw a punch again. That’s a good thing, because inside, Jack still knows that he won mostly by taking the bully by surprise. The bully would probably win a second round. The bully doesn’t have to know that.

The bully’s life changes too. He learns from the humiliation of losing a fight to little Jack that he isn’t as invincible as he thought he was. That fight cost him his rank in his own clique, but it also weakened the bully boys’ clique itself. No one gets out of their way in the hallways anymore. Some kids who used to fear him even laugh at him for a week or two.The clique know they’re not above the system, especially after the school chose not to discipline Jack in any way for defending himself. The bully group still runs on the edge of the rules but they no longer think that they’ll get away with everything anymore. That little kid proved that they can’t. The school backing the little kid made the little kid bigger, and made the big bullies a little smaller. Jack’s punch was an equalizer. As for Jack, he and his friends play first-person shooters, but they’re not the only things in his life. He’s good at them, but he’s good at several things and bad at several other things, like every other kid in school.

Years go by. Jack and his former tormentor graduate from high school and go on with their lives. They never see each other again after their school years, but neither of them turn out to be anything other than normal adults.

More years go by. Jack is married now and has kids of his own. He finds himself living in a decent neighborhood, but one summer night well past midnight he hears noises outside. He peeks out his window and sees an altercation going on in the street. He can’t tell how many people are involved, but he can see in the streetlights that there may be eight or a dozen of them, a mix of men and women. They’re arguing, he hears punches thrown and car doors slam and insults fly, and it looks like one man is moving his car to block the cul-de-sac. No one will be able to get in our out of Jack’s part of the street.

Jack doesn’t know or care what the man is up to.  He doesn’t care how many of them there are out there. He only cares that his family and neighbors are not going to be blocked in by anyone.

Jack is not armed, but the people out in the street don’t know that and they don’t need to. They don’t need to know that he’s scared, either. They only need to know that he exists and will not be bullied. He grabs his phone and a hefty Maglite and goes outside. Standing in his front yard, he turns on the light and shines it directly at the man in the car. The man blinks and shields his eyes with his hand, blinded. Jack loudly announces that he is calling the police, and he dials, and standing there in the yard in full view of everyone, tells the dispatcher what he is seeing.

The man reverses and moves his car out of the way. The fight breaks up, and within a couple of minutes a police cruiser arrives just as the last of the disturbers are driving away.

Police step up their patrols of the area for a few weeks to make sure none of the brawlers return. Criminals get word that the people who live on that street will not sit by. They will step up. They won’t be bullied into accepting a building threat to themselves, their families and their property.

If we trace the events of that summer night back to their origin, it all turns on how Jack dealt with his bully, and just as importantly, on how the society around him framed his response to the greatest problem he faced in his most formative years.