The first time Jonathan swings his fists, he’s eleven years old. He’s in first grade, reading on the playground steps when he overhears someone saying,
“My mommy says a lot of people in this town are bad.”
“Jamie Butler, Anne-”
“My mom says Joyce Byers was a tramp in high school and she still is,” one boy says. Connor.
“What did you say?” Jonathan asks, dropping his book.
“What did you just call my mom?”
“I said a tramp . My father says all she did was go down on every boy in high school, especially that sorry excuse for a police officer, Jim Hopper.”
Connor ends up with a bloody nose, and Jonathan ends up at the principal’s office.
“I’m so sorry about my son’s behavior,” his mother says, a cigarette in her hand. “He’s never been one to fight, I don’t know what came over him-”
“Joyce. Your son punched the son of one of the highest donors to this school. What if he sues?”
“I will ensure that won't happen. In fact, I will drive Jonathan over to apologize as soon as possible to apologize. Right, John?”
“I’m not sorry-”
His mother puts her head in her hands, groaning. “I can’t do this right now. I can’t. Please. Please just apologize.”
He wants to help his mom in any way he can, so he concedes and sighs. “Okay.” As they walk to the parking lot, his mother looks at him.
“What came over you?”
“I was defending you, he called you-”
“Baby, I’m used to that,” she says. “I just, I don’t want you to become like those boys who use their anger instead of words. Can you try not to fight?”
“Okay.” He hangs his head. “Am I in trouble?”
“If you do the laundry tonight, I’ll let you off the hook,” she says with a smile.
As long as she’s smiling, Jonathan is happy.
The second time Jonathan fights is at thirteen years old, his brother nine. He’s in his room, shifting through the radio channels, when he hears his father in the other room.
“What the hell was that?”
“I’m sorry-” comes his little brother’s voice. Concerned, Jonathan gets up and walks into the kitchen.
“What’s happening?” he asks, sending a suspicious glare his father’s way.
“This one begged to leave a baseball game I paid big bucks for!” his father yelled. Will has tears in his eyes and says nothing as he stares at the floor.
“Will doesn’t like baseball games!” Jonathan yelled back. “He gets overwhelmed! Maybe if you payed attention-”
“Oh I pay attention! I pay attention enough to know that I raised a bunch of queers! Especially Will!”
And without thinking, Jonathan slaps his father across the face.
“What the fuck?” his father yells. “Where the hell did you learn that kind-”
“Say that again, and I’ll do it again,” Jonathan says with gritted teeth.
“What is happening?” he hears his mother yell, as she walks in.
“This son of a bitch slapped his own father!” Lonnie yells.
“He called Will the word again-”
“Get out.” His mother says angrily. “I can’t believe you, Lonnie! I thought you were going to try to spend time with your own fucking son!”
“You all are a whole bunch of ingrates!” Jonathan’s father yells.
“Go spend a few nights at a motel, Lonnie. I don’t want you here.” his mother tosses his wallet at him. “Just get out.”
“Fine!” his dad slams the door and Jonathan and Will run into their mother’s arms.
“I’m sorry for fighting him, Mom,” Jonathan says. “I know you don’t want…”
“Thank you for protecting your brother,” Joyce whispers, pressing kisses on her sons’ heads. “Why don’t we watch a movie tonight, and Jonathan we can talk about the fighting tomorrow.”
Will comes into Jonathan’s room that night with a sniffling nose and puffy eyes. He crawls into the bed, nuzzling his head against Jonathan’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Jon,” he whispers.
“Sorry for what?”
“It’s my fault that all this happened,” Will whispers.
“Hey, hey!” Jonathan sits up. “Don’t do that. It’s not your fault. He’s an asshole, Will. I’m sorry for you having to see me slap him.”
Will nods. “I wish I was as brave as you.”
“You are, bud. You do your own thing and you don’t let other people dictate who you are.” He puts an arm around Will’s shoulders. “I’m lucky to have you as my brother.”
And when his little brother contently falls asleep next to him, Jonathan smiles. He will do whatever he can to protect this. No matter what.
The fourth time Jonathan fights he’s sixteen years old, standing in an alleyway with people who hate him.
“I always mistook you for a queer,” Steve says. “But I guess you’re just a screw up like your father.” Jonathan takes it, huffs as he begins to walk away. He wants to fight but Nancy is crying now, and that would only make things worse-
“That house is full of screw ups.” Jonathan stops as Steve continues. “I mean your mom… and I’m not even surprised what happened to your brother. The Byers? They’re a disgrace to the entire-”
His fist swings and hits Steve’s face as the boy falls back. Jonathan knows he’s fucked up, but who cares. Let him be a screw up, a creep, a loser. He won’t be known as anything else, so who gives a shit? Steve’s an asshole, he brought up Will, the only true friend Jonathan has ever had-
He keeps hitting, he can’t stop. Nancy is yelling now, but he was bound to fuck this thing up anyway. He doesn’t care. Maybe this revenge act on Steve for calling her a slut will make up for him being a fucking creep. Maybe this is twisted redemption, they can call it even, and she can continue to be happy. He hopes so.
The next thing he feels is his face against the cop car, as Nancy puts her face in her hand, as the cop yells “We got him!” and Steve and his coward friends flee.
He closes his eyes. Just another screw up, in another fight.
Monster after monster he fights them. He feels better, more energized. He’s using the energy for good, where good is clearly defined as good versus evil, the clear evil, drooling and killing. Now he can actually feel like a hero.
The last fight he gets into is at the Augusta Local Mall, when he walks in with Eleven. She’s been sad lately, starting high school without her friends, and he knows she enjoys shopping, so he picks her up that day and drives her there, playing her favorite music in the car.
She smiles a bit as they walk in, the crowds laughing and music playing. “So I’m thinking we can have some lunch and then go to Forever 21, yeah?” he asks.
“Can I get cheese fries?” she asks, biting her lip.
“Of course.” They walk over to the food court. “Shoot, I think I left my wallet in the car. I’ll be right back. Stay put, okay?” El nods.
He runs to the car as fast as he can, and when he gets back, he sees El, glowering at a boy her age.
“I said no ,” she says. “Go away.”
“Come on, it’s just one school dance.”
“Go. away.” She glares at him.
“I’ve been nothing but nice to you! Why are girls such bitches now?” the boy groans, and Jonathan runs up to the line.
“What’s happening?” he asks. “Who is this?”
“Who are you?” the boy asks.
“My brother. Go away,” El says, and the boy reaches for her arm before she slaps it away.
“What the hell? She said no.” Jonathan steps towards the boy. “I’m giving you sixty seconds to run the hell away, kid.”
The boy smirks. “Or what?”
“You see these scars?” Jonathan holds out an arm (from a possessed man’s attack at the hospital, but the kid doesn’t need to know that). “I’d best get out.”
The boy slowly nods and walks away. Jonathan smiles. He’ll fight for his family, but he’s glad El is safe and he didn’t have to this time.
“Thank you.” El smiles.
“Anything for my little sister.” Jonathan pulls her into a hug. “Now how about those cheese fries?”