A thank you note to my bullies.
Note: The author uses lower case i as a respect for his spritual practise.
The two of you were bigger than i – mostly fatter, as i objectively look back at the pictures still vivid in my memories, but back then, all i could see was huge, frightening size. You probably bullied others, though i never saw that. But then i was always completely, desperately obsessed with not being seen by either of you. Your predator/prey faculties were well honed: i was new (my family had only recently moved to the area and i had zero friends), i was young (i had just skipped the previous grade, and yes, was an egg head), i played no sport whatsoever, i was chubby, and i was scared. Scared enough to not tell anyone.
i knew that at all costs i couldn’t tell my parents, couldn’t reveal my weakness, my inability to be brave enough to defend myself. And most of all i was petrified by the impossibility of accusing my bullies, and especially of facing the infinitely paralyzing fear of the imagined retribution.
You guys worked well together – trapping me in hallways, stairwells, and corners. And you were smart (in a feral way) – you never hit me anywhere that left marks. But, you weren’t that well practiced, not yet; you missed the chance to make a little money. i certainly would have paid you to leave me alone, and i can promise you that i never would have told on you – i was far too scared and even more ashamed. i tried my best to run when i could, but i was an easy target – especially since there were two of you. One of you was always able to cut me off, trip me or push me down.
Two mean cats with one horribly pitiful mouse. Admittedly, i was a character out of Central Casting back then: overweight, glasses, lonely, stringy hair, no knowledge of how to defend myself. Nope, unfortunately, my Pop had never put boxing gloves on my hands, had never taught me that you can live through a punch in the nose. So, i lived in fear of dying from that blow (which i could neither avoid nor survive). And, in truth, even greater was the fear of dying of shame from the uncontrollable tears that would follow being hit. So i ran. i mapped out circuitous routes. i timed stairwells. i lived within a soul-killing world of fear.
And there was the cost: being scared was hard. i spent all day fearing the two of you finding me, and then i would spend most of the night fearing the next day. Once you two got the hook of fear in me, there was no escape, no release, no relief. If i managed to avoid you today, it was certain you’d corner me tomorrow – and you would. The drive to school was a long one, we lived a ways out of town, so there was plenty of time to let that fear build. Plenty of time to physically manifest that stress. Stomach cramping, breathing shallowly, heart pounding, always trying to show nothing that might alert my parents to my sad, self-sickening plight.
God bless my parents. They had their own worries with the move our family had made, but eventually my shell cracked, signs appeared. i couldn’t maintain. At first they asked, but then demanded to know what was wrong. The crack proceeded to shatter completely; i broke down sobbing, spilling tears, snot and my painful. humiliating story. And then (double bless them) they did exactly what i begged them not to: they signed my death warrant. They contacted the Principal.
i quaked, stomach dropping straight to feet, when we walked into the Principal’s office: you, my tormentors, were already there! Meeting the two of you face to face had not been even a remote possibility in my nightmares. Immediately, the Principal took charge. He didn’t ask me any questions, he didn’t ask you two for any explanation. You guys were strangely silent, downcast and impotent (no, didn’t know that word back then, but in retrospect it fits exactly…), and maybe even a little bit scared…
i felt a shift: suddenly aware that i no longer abjectly, viscerally feared you. No longer had lead shot in my gut. My parents remained quiet, reassuringly quiet. Looking back, there was no doubt that the meeting agenda had been previously sorted. Your respective parents hadn’t been invited: you were isolated, alone, defenseless. The Principal behind his seemingly enormous desk, laid into both of you.
i remember him stating quite emphatically, unquestionably, that if he heard one word that the two of you even looked at me, he would not only expel you from his school, but would happily ensure that you were expelled from every school in the state. And, he appointed me a guardian. Startled, i realized that there was another kid in the room, a large, friendly fellow that straight away i could see was stronger and more confident than either of you. He nodded, smiling genuinely at me; he would make sure that neither of you could approach me.
i’ve been remiss, guys. It’s been 42 years and i’ve never thanked you. My bad. Because of you, i learned that i could trust my parents with my worst fears. Because of you, i learned that they would not only listen, they would do whatever they could to set things right. They would be there with me and for me. Your misguided meanness provided the opportunity to see and love my parents as the true, heroic lifesavers they were to my little 12 year old soul.
You taught me that speaking up against wrong was worth it. Very worth it. Thanks to you guys – this was, and remains, huge – i learned the crushing pain of powerlessness in the face of human cruelty. And from that pain grew an indomitable desire to help others be free of it.
But your gifts went much further, your bullying me every day for a year started me on a path of self-knowledge, empowerment and compassion that continues to guide and shape my life. The humiliation you inflicted taught me to train, respect and truly love my body. i learned from you that strength and power must always be blended with humility and kindness. Experiencing your cruelty (still) inspires me to alleviate the suffering of others wherever and whenever i can.
Thanks, guys, i haven’t forgotten.
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–Photo: Lee Morley/Flickr