I’m well aware that when people read my posts they think, “Now here’s an upwardly mobile alpha male who’s got it all figured out.” And your absolutely right. But alas it wasn’t always so. There was a time when I was small and awkward. Sometimes I even ran afoul of bullies. Usually I would courageously avoid the bully, or, when confronted, manfully mutter something under my breath. When they would ask me what I’d said I’d casually respond, “nothing”. But I had! Oh I had. And it was nasty. Just trust me on this. I couldn’t even bring myself to repeat it here.
One bully I ran into was especially terrifying. First of all he was five and a half feet tall in the fifth grade. Secondly, he swore. And not just like, “crap” or “damn”, he used real swears. Like, the bad ones. Finally, he was mean. Like any predator he would pick out the weak and sickly from the herd. Then he would eat them. Metaphorically. I mean if calling someone queer and punching them in the stomach was substituted for chewing and swallowing then in that sense he ate us all the time. Sometimes twice a day.
He didn’t particularly like me either. I could tell because he didn’t smile when he abused me. For instance, he might grin and chuckle a little while he held some other kid in a chokehold but when he looked at me it was all dead eyes and heavy breathing. I like to think he was jealous of me. It’s possible that he wanted to be a tiny, goofy kid who read fantasy novels and drew pictures of the weasels from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” during class. It is!
Things came to a head one day when he was bouncing me off a chain link fence while explaining to me that if I ever mouthed off to him again he would kill me. So pretty much business as usual on the playground. The conflict came when a girl stepped in to defend my honor. I’ll take a lot of punishment but when a little girl comes to your rescue its time to draw the line.
She came storming across the parking lot and grabbed my tormentor by the shoulder.
“Leave him alone!”, she shouted.
I saw uncertainty cross his face for a moment, which was quickly replaced by anger.
“Don’t touch me bitch.”, he growled, releasing one hand from my collar long enough to brush her away.
It was like a nightmare. The blood surged to my face so quickly I thought I would pass out. Now, I had always considered myself one of the good guys and this got under my skin way more than him picking on me. The mixture of her compassion and his subsequent disrespect was too much to abide. I reacted before I knew it.
He had continued to bounce me off the fence as all this was going on. This last time as I rebounded off the fence I smashed a closed fist into his face. Ok, that’s giving myself too much credit. As I rebounded off the fence I balled up a tiny fist and managed to thump him on the side of the head with it. It was about then that I realized I was going to die. I did the only thing I could do. I grabbed on to him, tucked my head into his chest and held on for dear life. I could feel him pounding at my back as he tried to get me into a position where he could beat the life out of me. Meanwhile I flailed about with my one free arm, trying to make some type of contact with his head or face. I was saved just in time. The lady watching over recess that day finally reached us and pulled us apart, all the while blowing her whistle like a maniac. With a death grip on our upper-arms she marched us toward the office.
That march was almost as scary as the fight itself. I didn’t often get in trouble. I wasn’t that guy. I was hurt and embarrassed. A rowdy group of my classmates followed closely, shouting and laughing. To make matters worse the big jerk broke free at one point and managed to get in his only good punch of the fight. I was too dazed to care. I could feel tears coming and that was the one thing I really didn’t want to happen. Before I knew it we were seated in front of the principal.
Then something happened that changed everything for me. Here I was, coming off this adrenaline rush, terrified of the consequences of my actions as well as the pay back that was surely coming, when I looked over and saw the other kid. I mean really saw him. Tears streamed down his face, his chest heaved as he sobbed. Blood ran from one nostril and his face was covered in red marks. It occurred to me that I hadn’t cried. My whole world shifted a little. Had I beaten him up? Was that possible? Suddenly things didn’t seem nearly so bad. My paradigm continued to shift when the principal started shaking him by the front of his shirt, shouting at him, “how does it feel to get picked on by someone bigger than you?!” I actually felt really bad. He was just a kid. Part of me wanted to stand up for him.
In the end my parents were called and he was given a three-day suspension. I guess it payed off being the smaller, more innocent looking of the two. My only battle scar was a swollen eye. In the eyes of my classmates I was kind of a hero. At least for a couple of days. That was a lot of fun except for one incident where a couple of guys wanted to lift me onto their shoulders and trot me around the playground. That was kind of embarrassing.
I saw myself differently after that. I had fought the toughest kid in school. The kid everyone was scared of. And I had won. Maybe. Kind of. I didn’t cry at least. Either way I wasn’t scared any more. For the first time I felt pretty tough. I felt good. I never forgot that. And I never backed down from anyone again. Just as importantly I saw my bully differently. I noticed how he stuttered a little. How he blinked his eyes rapidly when he talked. How his clothes were a little shabbier than most of ours. I saw his weaknesses and suddenly I could forgive him. I realized that he was just a scared kid too.