Gabriel Morris in India

Gabriel Morris in India
A mysterious cave in south India.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confessions: The Story of a Fight That I Started

This is going to be the story of the one and only fight I've been in in my life.....And I started it. I punched a guy repeatedly, a guy who had been my friend for sixteen years. As you will see, however, there was a lot of context to what ultimately ended up in a physical confrontation, that ended with us both being hurt pretty badly (though he was injured worse than I was).

For the sake of this story, I'll call him Oliver. Oliver and I, as I said, had known each other for sixteen years when this incident occurred, which was over three years ago now, in May of 2012. It's a little hard to say the level of our friendship before this happened. We were pretty good friends for sure, not super close by any means. We were introduced to each other by a girlfriend of mine at the time, who I hadn't been with for long after that. But Oliver and I had stayed in touch, at times bumping into each other in the course of our various travels. He had eventually settled down in southern Oregon, and so whenever I passed through then I would stop by for a visit for a day or two; and we'd been on some backpacking adventures together.

This time I stopped by to work on his land where he was now living outside of a small town in southern Oregon. He had a farmhouse surrounded by fields, a greenhouse and a lot of projects going. He needed help and offered to pay me $15 per hour. Plus I could stay there for a while in my own bedroom as I helped him out. Pretty good deal.

The problem was, he was in a shitty, stressed out mood much of the time that I was there, and he quickly started to dump that on me. I'm not going to stick to vague generalizations in the course of telling what happened, but will be very specific. I will also state here that I'm not going to leave anything out which I might have done that played a part in what ultimately transpired. This is my best attempt at telling the whole story, as best as I can remember it three years later.

On the first day of work he gave me a general run-down of things, which included encouraging me to ask any questions about the work if needed, to be clear about how things needed to be done. Keep that in mind, as it relates to what would happen later. Also sometime in the first day or two he mentioned that he was running pretty low on funds. I offered to loan him almost all of the money I had at the time, around a thousand bucks. I was left with just a hundred bucks or so in the bank. But I trusted him to pay me back (which he did) and I didn't need hardly any money while I was there.

So as I said, Oliver was in a crappy mood a lot of the time. He had his reasons, he had a lot of work projects going on, was waiting for money to come in, etc. But beyond that, I will say that from my perspective he had a severe lack of awareness of his own actions and attitude and how that would be felt by others, and that was ultimately the problem.

The first incident between us came within the first couple of days. One of the jobs Oliver had asked me to do was to pull weeds out of an area behind his greenhouse. Later that day, or maybe it was the next day, I was in the house when he burst in all of a sudden, and in an aggressive tone said to me, “Hey, thanks to you I just about twisted my ankle. You didn't fill in the holes you created after pulling the weeds out.”

Here's the problem with this accusation: he never said anything at all to me about filling in the holes after pulling the weeds out. He'd asked me to pull weeds, which I'd done. This wasn't on his immaculate front lawn (there was no front lawn, the house was surrounded by grassy, hilly, bumpy fields and with a large gravel turn-around right at the front door). The area where I'd done the weeding was a relatively flat spot behind the greenhouse, which then turned into more bumpy, grassy, hilly fields. There were bumps and holes and ditches and clumps of grass sticking up all over the place back there. It wasn't an obvious thing by any means that I was supposed to fill in the holes from pulling the weeds, especially considering those holes were pretty small compared to all the other holes and bumps and whatnot that were all throughout his yard.

Any way you look at it, it was his responsibility to explain the job that needed to be done. And it was his responsibility to pay attention to where he was walking in his own craggy field of a yard. But, none of this occurred to him obviously. I was the one who had screwed up, and it was clear that he wasn't in a mood such that he was going to take any constructive criticism on the matter. It was the first such incident, and I didn't want to blow it up into a bigger thing by confronting him on it. So I let it go, and said that I'd go ahead and fill in the holes back there at some point.

On to the next incident, a day or so later. We had been out gathering dirt for his garden and had come back to his land with a truckload of good soil. It was myself, Oliver and another guy who I'll call Jake. It had been a pretty good day, so I thought anyway, of working with the guys (there had been a few other guys working out where we collected the dirt, on a different property a ways away). We were all a bit tired from shoveling dirt all day up to that point. But other than that nothing too much seemed amiss. Oliver did seem to have a few things on his mind and had been quiet in the truck while we were driving back. I remember there was a hill off in the distance that he'd previously mentioned climbing to the top of. Out of curiosity, and also to try to fill the void of the silence, I asked him how long it had taken him to climb to the peak. But he didn't answer the question. He said I could take a guess based on looking at it. Okay, whatever, so he was still in kind of a crappy mood.

We got back to his house and Oliver and Jake were working on emptying the dirt out of the back of the truck, while I was doing something else. When I'd finished what I was doing, I came over to help them out and, trying to figure out what I should be doing next, I casually said to Oliver, “So should I grab the other wheelbarrow and start helping you guys?”

Oliver shot back in a harsh tone: “Don't ask any more questions.”

Now, I have no idea what was going through his head. But I had been in no way, shape or form pestering him with unnecessary questions. I'd been working on my own separate job from the other two guys, finished what I was doing there, and needed to know what I was doing next. He was the boss, he was paying me to work for him, and I didn't know what what to do. It was a simple, necessary question related directly to the work at hand.

He was out of line with this in so many different ways. First, there had been no indication I was aware of that he was annoyed with me for some reason, other than his refusal to answer a simple question in the truck earlier. After that we'd continued the rest of the ride in silence for the most part. Regardless, he and I were friends. I'd done nothing vaguely out of line. He was simply in a crappy mood, was lost in his own thoughts and thinking about what he needed to get done, etc. and for whatever reason he had apparently decided that I was an acceptable target for his stress, and that I should put up with him taking his crap out on me.

And there's the fact that one of the first things he'd said about the work was for me to ask any necessary questions to make sure things got done right. There was the fact we were friends, this was no way to speak to a friend, and if he had a problem with me of some sort he could have presented it in a way such that I was given the chance to understand what the heck was going on and respond to it, rather than basically being treated like a slave who was supposed to do whatever he said. And there was the fact that I had no idea what I was doing next and simply needed to know what to do. I was in a perfectly decent mood, I thought we'd all been working together pretty well. And then out of the blue, with no advanced warning, he sees fit to order me not to ask any questions in his presence. I am by no means an advocate of violent solutions, but in all honesty, he pretty well deserved to be punched right then and there. Or at the very least, confronted in a very direct and aggressive way. Because his attitude was such that he wasn't going to listen to anything that he could brush off. It was clear that he had no awareness to see how far out of line he was, how unreasonable his words were, how it would feel to the other person to be ordered essentially not to speak. This was a clear violation of my rights, which I in no way deserved. The problem here was with him, period.

I was left stunned and didn't know what to say in reply. Jake was there working and clearly any attempt to confront Oliver about his behavior was only going to blow up into a bigger confrontation, with Jake having to witness it. I decided in that split second of confusion to stuff my desire to give him what he deserved and tackle him, and instead went back to pitching in as best as I could. Things calmed down after that. But I was definitely left pissed off, and I was ready to confront him if there was another such incident. I had zero fears around standing up to him. That wasn't an issue for me. It was rather that I was doing my damnedest to take the non-confrontational route here if at all possible. Because I knew that he didn't have the self-awareness to see any fault of his own and that any talking back was going to result in a blow-up. I was willing to take a little shit, and not take it too personally, if things didn't go too far, if there was some way to get around a big incident. Especially if Oliver could cut the bad attitude and the dumping on me and get back to just having fun working together, which was what I'd been expecting for this job all along. But, I would only let the crap go so far.

I think the next incident was the following day. I'll mention here that despite Oliver blowing up on me about the weed holes behind the greenhouse on the first day, filling in the holes was no longer a high priority and he'd had me doing other things. So the next day, my job involved wheelbarrowing loads of heavy dirt (not the nice light soil we'd been working with earlier) from one place to another a couple hundred feet away. It was through one of the bumpy fields. That in itself wasn't much of an issue though. The problem was that there were metal watering pipes scattered here and there (about 3-4 inches high), and one of them went right across the area I needed to get through. There was also a small pond in the way, which I could have gone around and avoided the pipe, but it was easier to take a more direct path.

Now, other people who were working there had been running their wheelbarrows right over those metal pipes all day long. But, I thought it would be both better for the pipe, as well as easier to get over it if I simply piled up some dirt on either side to create a bit of a ramp. So I took a couple shovel fulls of dirt over there and piled the dirt up on either side. It took a minute or two to do, and it worked great, the wheelbarrow went over the pipe much easier.

So I was working away, taking these heavy wheelbarrows of dirt back and forth, when Oliver came out of the house. He rusheed by me, and I forget exactly what he said first, some comment about what I was doing I think. But anyway, for some reason I happened to point out that I'd piled up some dirt to get over the pipe.

He shot back, in an ordering tone, “Just go around the pond!”

I responded by trying to explain that it was easier to go directly across the field because the ground was muddy around the pond, there was more stuff to avoid, etc., and that what I was doing was working fine. The problem was, he simply had no capacity to listen. He didn't hear what I said at all. He was just further annoyed that I talked back to him and didn't simply follow orders. He dealt with things as if he was the boss and that was all there was to it. The fact that we were supposedly friends didn't matter. The fact that I was another man (and two years older than him) and didn't appreciate being disrespected and ordered around somehow couldn't compute in his head. But this was just the way he was and had always been to some extent: things were supposed to be done his way. He hated compromise and couldn't take criticism for shit.

Once, a few years earlier, we were driving back from a camping trip after a long day of backpacking. We get in the truck and he starts driving like a bat out of hell back down the gravel road to get back to town. He's literally skidding and fishtailing around every corner. Finally I asked him if he could slow down a little. He wouldn't. Completely refused. He told me “I'll let my record speak for itself.” By that he meant his record of not having been in an accident, I presumed. This was irrelevant. His driving was nuts. I was a delivery driver myself up in Portland and knew what it was to drive faster than the norm. But I wouldn't drive like that with someone else in the car, and if my passenger made it clear that they had an issue with my driving, then I'd at least give that a moment's thought. But he couldn't do that. He chalked it up to that I was a pussy who just couldn't handle it, so it was my problem, nothing to do with him. And he continued driving like a maniac the whole way back.

Another quick example: I'd arrived there in southern Oregon earlier that week by getting a ride down from Portland with someone else, who was driving through the night on their way to San Francisco. And so they would be passing through the town where Oliver lived early in the morning. We arrived at 5 am or so, and I got out. Oliver knew the situation, that I would be there waiting for him to come pick me up in the morning, since he lived about 15 minutes out of town and I didn't have a vehicle. He said he'd come into town and pick me up. I certainly didn't expect him to pick me up at 5 in the morning. Or at 6. Or at 7. Or at 8. I was, however, assuming that he would come down to get me sometime that morning, so that I could get back to the house and get a little sleep during the day, since I knew I would be exhausted from not sleeping all night. I eventually got a text message from him around 8 or 9 in the morning. He said he had a few things to do first and then he would come into town and get me.

That didn't happen until 3 in the afternoon, despite knowing that I was there sitting on a park bench exhausted after driving through the night, despite the fact it was just a 15 minute drive to come into town. All I can say is, if it were me, I would have rearranged my schedule a little, popped into town and picked my friend up, if it was going to be hours before I was finished up with whatever I had to do. I wouldn't leave someone hanging like that, knowing they hadn't slept all night. I didn't hold it against him at the time, not a huge deal, even though it was a rather unpleasant eight hours spent hanging out on a park bench wanting to go to sleep. But this was typical of him. He did things on his own time, and you had to work around whatever his plans were.

So, back to the story at hand. I'll not get too lost in the details on this one, but just say that we ended up in an argument this time. He was yelling at me to do what he wanted me to do, which was drive the wheelbarrow around the pond in order to avoid the pipe. And I was trying to explain that I had this other solution figured out that was working, and was an easier way to go considering all the heavy loads of dirt I had to haul. I forget what the end result of that argument was. I think I eventually just decided to do it his way. But again, I was left pissed off. His blatant disrespect, utter lack of consideration and total blindness to his way of dealing with perfectly normal circumstances that didn't require aggressive behavior, was definitely getting under my skin.

The next day we settled up in terms of money, and he paid me back both for what I had loaned him, as well as all my hours worked up to that point. This was something of a relief because, the way things were going, I was preparing myself to have to leave at any time. At least I knew that I would be doing so having been paid what I was owed. It was becoming more apparent that Oliver had a chronic problem and that there was nothing I could do that was going to get him off my back. Letting it slide wasn't working. Confronting him wasn't working.

It wasn't really my desire to leave, however. For one thing, we were friends and I was hoping that there might be a solution such that he could see the light of day and simply find it within himself to communicate to me from a place of mutual respect and consideration, as anyone would want. I don't consider him a bad guy at heart, but a guy with a big ego, some arrogance and insensitivity, and some real blind spots in terms of how he treats others at times. So I hoped that we might ultimately be able to straighten things out. Also, I will freely admit that I wanted to stay because I was making money at a time when I didn't have much, didn't have any other jobs lined up and it was a good situation in terms of the practical circumstances: getting paid and having a place to stay rent-free.

The next day, Oliver had a massage scheduled in the evening. He was driving into town and then had a couple other things to do, so would be gone for a few hours and get back late. There were a few things he wanted me to do, including some clean-up around the front of the house and washing the patio. He explained that whatever I did, the most important thing was to make sure and turn off a certain faucet, because if left on then the pressure from that faucet would create problems elsewhere.

I worked late into the evening, until it was starting to get dark. It had been a long day, and I was exhausted. I did, however, turn off the faucet as he had explained, cleaned up after myself, put away all tools, etc. There was however another hose I had used, which needed to be removed at some point from where it was and re-attached somewhere else where it belonged. But it wasn't crucial, he hadn't mentioned it in his instructions that evening, I was wiped out, it was getting dark and so I decided to deal with that the next day. Unfortunately, that would become a major issue the next day.

Finally, we get to the day of the fight, when things got completely out of control.....The next morning, I got up and went down to the kitchen to make some tea. The tea kettle was almost empty, so I went to fill it up. But I couldn't remember if he normally used tap water or else bottled water for tea. I started filling up the tea kettle with the tap water. Right then I heard Oliver coming down the stairs. The way he'd been acting lately, I was genuinely concerned that he might make an issue out of it if I was using the wrong water in the tea kettle. So I stopped filling the kettle and put it on the stove before he made it down the stairs. I heated up the water and made some tea for myself and then was sitting there drinking it.

Oliver then goes to make some tea for himself and discovers there isn't enough water left for another cup of tea. Rather than doing what anyone else would do and simply putting some more water in it and heating it up, he confronts me about it in an aggressive tone, implying that I'm selfish and irresponsible for not filling up the tea kettle all the way. I didn't feel like getting into it and explaining the fact that I didn't fill it up all the way, because I thought he was going to make an issue out of whether or not I'd used the right water. That would have been a pretty personal criticism of him, that no doubt wouldn't have gone over well. I basically blew him off and said I'd fill it up all the way the next time. I should also mention here that I made eggs for breakfast that morning, and I made enough for both of us and his breakfast was there waiting for him.

We ate breakfast and over breakfast we discussed the plans for the day. He had a number of jobs in mind for me, and we agreed that first thing is we would walk around the property and he'd show me everything I could work on. Then I'd get started and basically work on my own for the day. Sounded good to me.

I finish breakfast and I'm ready to get started working. I go outside and start washing several pairs of gloves that he'd asked me to wash previously. Now, I forget if I was washing them in the gravel parking area, or else in the grass. Whatever it was, he yells out the window of the house at me: “Wash them in the gravel!! (or else in the grass, whichever one I wasn't doing).”

He's definitely pissing me off big-time with his picky-ass, degrading attitude, and I have a strong feeling something major is going to go down today. I'm ready for it. He isn't going to get away with this behavior for much longer if he keeps it up.

After washing the gloves, I'm still waiting for Oliver to come out so he can show me all the jobs I'm going to do for the day. I remembered the job that needed to be done filling in the weed holes behind the greenhouse from earlier in the week. He still hadn't made that a priority all week, so it obviously hadn't been as big of a deal as he'd made out at the time. He was just pissed that he'd twisted his ankle, and then taken it out on me. But I was ready to get on the clock and get started doing something. So I went up to that area and started filling in the weed holes. Real basic, there was dirt all around, it was just a matter of taking a shovel and pouring some dirt in the holes. It was pretty boring though, and there were other things that needed to be done that were more important and also more interesting work. So I was basically just killing time waiting for Oliver to come out and show me what else needed to be done.

Oliver came out of the house and started rushing around doing stuff. After a while, when he rushed right by me at one point, I simply spoke up and said, “Shall we go check out those jobs I'm going to be doing?” That was it. That's all I said, one casual sentence. We'd agreed earlier back in the house that that was what we were going to do first thing, get me started on a list of projects. Unfortunately, that was when all hell broke loose.

At first he completely ignored me and didn't answer the question. He storms into the greenhouse, and then I hear him talking to himself. The talking then turns to yelling. He's yelling at the top of his lungs about how no one ever listens to him, people don't do what he tells them to do, etc., ranting and raving like crazy. He goes on and on, screaming almost at the top of his lungs for a long while, maybe ten minutes, while I'm right next to the greenhouse hearing all of it. And all of his anger is clearly directed at me.

He then storms out of the greenhouse, comes over to me where I'm working, glances at what I'm doing and then he screams at me at the top of his lungs, “You're doing it too perfectly!!!!” Of course this was complete and utter bullshit. I was simply getting shovelfuls of dirt and filling in the holes, as he'd asked. He then yells at me to stop what I'm doing, don't do anything, and wait there until he comes back and tells me what to do next.

I haven't blown up at him yet basically because I'm trying to think things through and figure out how to deal with this. Do I head-on confront him? I know that he won't see how out of line he is in the slightest, and this will result in a huge incident. With his attitude, there's no way around it. Do I just pack up and leave? I'm seriously considering it. But at the same time, I'll be completely honest: I don't want him to get away with this. I want him to hear from me. I have no reservations about confronting him. I've simply been taking the path of patience and compassion to the best of my ability, in the face of someone who was supposedly a friend. But he'd gone way over the line, and it was clear that confrontation was the only thing that would get through to him.

I stop working as he storms off back to the house. I stand there for a little while leaning on my shovel, trying to make up my mind what to do. I'm not ready to leave. He's going to get a taste of his own medicine and his own shitty attitude. The big confrontation is about to happen.

I go out to the gravel parking area, and I start raking the gravel. This was another job that was on my list of things to do. I know it's probably going to piss him off that I'm not following orders and waiting in subservience for his next command. But anybody will agree, that you don't order a guy to stand there and wait for you to come back. That isn't how you treat people, period. I'd been way too patient with him and I'd only given him the wrong idea in the process, that he could get away with ordering someone around.

I'm raking the gravel when he comes back out of the house. As expected, he immediately gets pissed off about it and orders me to stop. I'm not going to get into the specifics of what exactly what was said in the argument that ensued, both because I don't remember exactly and because it doesn't matter. In short, we got into a massive yelling argument there in the gravel parking area. We were a good ways apart from each other, maybe 30 feet or so away, yelling at each other at the top of our lungs. This went on for a long time, I have no idea how long. Maybe 20 minutes or so. It was a never-ending argument that clearly had no resolution, for one simple reason: he couldn't go anywhere near the completely obvious notion that he had turned into a massive, disrespectful asshole, and that I shouldn't have to put up with that, when I had done absolutely nothing wrong in the whole time I'd been there.

At one point, Oliver glanced over and happened to see the hose lying on the ground, the one that needed to be connected elsewhere. Upon seeing that, he seized on it as proof that I was the one who was out of line and was doing things wrong. He threw his hands in the air, yelled at me some more, berating me for not moving the hose, and then called me an idiot.

That was when I finally lost it. I ran at him across the gravel parking lot. Somehow he didn't see it coming. I got to him and started punching him hard. I have no idea how many times I hit him, maybe five or six, before I backed off. He was completely taken off guard, despite the fact that he should have known that a guy running at him in the midst of a yelling match probably wasn't coming over to give him a hug.

So after I back off, he starts yelling at me again for hitting him, and then comes back at me in fighting mode. I won't bother trying to recall the full details of the fight. From that point, to the best of my recollection, it was more of a continuation of the argument with fists raised and trying to get some jabs in, but not many more blows landing. I don't remember if I hit him again or not. The only thing I recall he landed on me was a kick to my front leg, that didn't hurt much at the time, but which would turn into an issue later. It would hurt for the next two weeks, to the extent that at one point I was wondering if something was broken. But ultimately it healed on its own.

After more arguing and threats to kick each other's asses, etc. we calmed down. He seemed to finally get the message that he had provoked things, as he acknowledge that sometimes he could be a jerk. He invited me into the house for a beer, we essentially made up, and it seemed that my approach had basically worked. Nobody got hurt too badly, so it seemed, and I was pretty darned certain he would adopt a different attitude in dealing with me in the future.

We went back outside after the beer, walked around the property and he showed me the things I needed to work on for the day. I got back to work and all seemed to have been resolved. Later that evening we went into town, went to a music festival that was going on, went bar-hopping, met up with some of his friends, played pool, etc. He was too drunk to drive. So I drove us back home at around two in the morning and we went to sleep.

The next morning I got up a bit late, maybe around ten, and came downstairs. Oliver was lying on the couch with a serious look on his face and with his hand rubbing his chest. I said good morning and he said it back, but he definitely sounded a bit serious about something. I got started making breakfast. Eventually he said that something was hurting in his upper chest and he wanted to take the day off. It became clear he wanted some time to himself. I asked him straight up if I should plan to work for the day, or if maybe it was best if I take off. He thought about it for a couple seconds, and then said maybe we should take a break from things and see about my possibly coming back to work for him later on.

I packed up, he drove me into town, paid me what he owed me for the previous two days work. I wished him well and hoped that his injury would heal up soon, and he dropped me off. I then started hitchhiking south to go visit my mom in California.

A few days later I got a call from him. He was hurting pretty bad. He said he had to hire someone else to come out and do some of his work for him that he wasn't able to do. He asked me if I would be willing to cover the cost, since it was a result of the injury from the fight. I asked him to give me some time to think about it.

I thought about it, and I wrote him a long letter. Basically, I told him the same story as I detailed here, in an effort to show him how his actions had provoked the fight. He didn't seem to have any awareness of his responsibility. I did, however, agree to pay him $250. I sent him the letter in an email. He didn't acknowledge any responsibility in response to the letter. I sent him a check for $250, and hoped that was the end of things.

About 6 weeks later I got an email from him. He said that he'd had racked up $1,700 in total costs due to the injury, between medical bills and paying other people to work for him, and asked me to cover it. He still didn't acknowledge in the slightest his role in things. Far from it. In his final message to me, he actually told me that if anything, he'd been “too easy” on me. He said that the other guy, Jake, had confirmed that I was the one who was out of line. The problem is that Jake had only been there for the one incident in which Oliver had ordered me to stop asking questions. Who knows what their conversations were, but Oliver was also Jake's boss. I'm sure it was something along the lines of Oliver ranting about me to him, and Jake agreeing with him that I had probably been causing problems. Of course, Jake couldn't know or even have imagined Oliver's behavior on the day of the fight in particular, as no one else was there.

In the end, I sent Oliver another $350 in addition to the $250. In my last message to him I said that if he wanted any further payments, then he could get in touch with me, acknowledge some responsibility and we could work something out. But if he was going to leave things with saying I deserved even more insane crap from him, with no indication of what I'd actually done wrong to deserve this, then he could pay his own bills for a situation he created through his own belligerent attitude.

Sometimes, when you taunt a bear, you get mauled. Don't blame the bear.


  1. If what you say is true, then you shouldn't have sent him any money. I can't believe you didn't just walk away from it.

    1. Believe me, I was about to walk away and just get the heck out of there, and then he completely pushed me over the edge. I do appreciate your saying that I didn't owe him any money.

  2. You should have walked away from him/his work after receiving the first payment knowing in no way you would've changed his personality + you weren't liking his bossy nature! Hope your 'friend' recovered from his chest pain on a permanent basis.

    1. That would have been easier to do if he had been only a boss and not a friend for the past fifteen years. But I too hope he recovered from the injury.