Bullying is a very real and present problem in our society – but it is not a new one. It has only been made new by the ever present existence of social media and societal attention to the problem. It has been made manifest by facebook, twitter and our ever-alarming reliance on our personal hand held devices. Suicides, murders, beatings and malicious woundings have become mainstream in our daily lives, living out their everyday dance along with American Idol on the Today Show and other such icons of our American culture.
What can we do about it? There are so many things that we, as educators, can do about it. There are so many things that you, as parents, can do about it. But, at this moment in time, I am reminded of my own childhood. I was small, intelligent and rather bookish. The only thing that has changed since then is I am rather large, less intelligent – but still rather bookish. I would really rather have a great book, a few friends and my family around me than be the star of the football team. Or the star of anything, for that matter.
But it was my fate, as an early teenager, to meet a young man who hated me with every inch of his soul. Always a target, I managed to avoid most beatings by remaining quiet, out of sight, and out of mind. This changed abruptly with the insertion of an eighteen year old delinquent into my life. Much can be said about the circumstances which resulted in him being kicked out of school, sent to a foster home and forcibly enrolled in my school. I’m certain that his home life was not the best of environments for a young man to be in. His inevitable bruises and black eyes were tantamount to his treatment, yet that was a small comfort in the hell into which I was plunged.
My first beating at his hands was when I was thirteen. There was a very cute girl in my school that I was quite smitten with, although she was a bit older than me. One evening at a parent/teacher conference she and I were going over our homework when I realized that we were not alone in the classroom. I looked up to find the bully, looking much the worse for wear, in the room with us. He shut the door. “I’m going to kill you, faggot.” I really didn’t know exactly what a faggot was, outside of the fact that it generally referred to a piece of firewood. It was several years before I grasped the term. All I knew was that I was seriously in harm’s way.
But it is not in my heritage to back down, or to avoid such a conflict. Standing maybe five-eight, weighing in at maybe one-hundred forty pounds, I had split wood, carried water, dug postholes and farmed all my life. I was actually dangerous and didn’t know it. My Dad always warned me against conflict, but tempered the advice with: “He who gets there with the most, first, wins.” I carried his advice to the letter. I drove across the room in a fury, with red in my eyes, and hit him as hard as I possibly could.
Did I mention he was perhaps fifty pound heavier than me? Four to five years older? Accustomed to violence on every side? I barely made a dent, but a dent I did make. He was shocked, and astonished, carrying his shaking hands to his bleeding nose. I mistakenly thought for one moment that I had won, that maybe I had carried my threat of violence through on some note into his abused soul. I was wrong.
Minutes later my cute little wanna be girlfriend was screaming through the school, convinced that I was being killed. I wasn’t so sure myself. I was being pummeled, kicked, beaten and bloodied all in a giant mess of a fight that I never wanted to be in the first place. But, I stubbornly stood my ground as best I could. After all, I was in shape. I was a farm boy. I had helped kill pigs and chickens. I had hoed the ground with the best of them. My dad called me Abraham, after my penchant for splitting wood. I was tough. I fought him, bleeding and determined, as best I could.
I was beaten.
The teachers and parents drug him off me, spitting blood and cursing at the younger kid who had defied him in front of the other students. Oh, yes. We had witnesses. The other students, held terrorized on his watch, were silently watching.
But I didn’t quit.
So began our war, always with me sullen and beaten, bloodied and winless. I would fight him anywhere, under any circumstances, without a care for how it would turn out. I think he began to tire of my endless antagonism – but he started it.
He was also destined to finish it. On Fridays, we would meet during the summer at a makeshift basketball court located a few miles from my house. We all had motorcycles, of some sort; mine usually faster than anyone else due to my Dad, who was a wizard at engine modification. Seriously, he could make a fortune, if he so chose, in scooter modifications. We would meet after work, since all of us worked, even as teenagers, and play full court pick-up basketball until we were exhausted, or until the lights went out.
One evening, in late June, the bully arrived more terrible than ever. His face was a mass of bruises and his limp was evident. He had been beaten. Brutally. He was also determined to take it out on me, the runt of the bunch. But this summer was different. I had been working: Hard. Hours upon hours of sledgehammer and maul work, reducing big rocks into smaller ones and stumps into firewood. I was tough. Different. Confident.
I made a line drive to the basket and was bumped hard. For the first time, I didn’t shy away from contact, but retaliated, fighting to the bucket and I was rewarded with a swish and two points. I ran backwards right away, ready for the fight. He gathered the ball and drove straight at me. I feigned left, went right, and stole the ball. He came for me. His face in a storm of rage, with purple and blue bruises mottling his countenance. I weighed my options, hefted the ball and with three deliberate steps aiding the blow – smashed him in the face with the basketball.
To this day, they still talk about that moment, as does he. We called the emergency squad and my Dad from a neighbor’s house, and he kept most of his teeth. He was treated for a concussion and released. I will never forget the moment, when my Dad took my hand and led me out of that emergency room, a room that I had so often frequented due to my passion for motocross and a general lack of good sense. I looked back at the bully, reduced to nothing, and saw his dad slap him across his already swollen face.
I am forever grateful to my parents for a safe, loving and caring environment. Thank you, so much. To all of you educators – take pity on the rowdy, the unloved and the uncared for. They need your help.