She saw every second of it. It would turn out to be a defining moment in my life , but on this day it would be one of my most embarrassing……….
I had always been a skinny kid. I had a quiet demeanor and gentle soul. All together it would add up to bully bait. Now don’t get me wrong. Life was not an endless torture of one bully attack after another. There were plenty of kids that accepted me for who I was. Some of them even liked me. I was not a loner. I had friends. But because I was not the type to fight back , it placed a “pick on me” sign on my back. The day started like any other. I woke up , ate breakfast , got dressed for school , and headed out to the bus stop. I had to walk to the corner and then up one street to get there. As I approach the corner , I happened to arrive at the same time as another boy. I’ll call him Steve (not his real name). Steve was a year younger than me and a little bit shorter. But Steve was tough. If not physically , he was strong in attitude. He never thought twice about trying to intimidate others he thought were weaker than him. He was the prototypical bully. As I approached the intersection , Steve stepped in front of me , blocking my way. I stepped to me left , he stepped in front of me again. I stepped to my right , he blocked me again. Instead of making a run for the bus stop in hopes of outrunning him , I turned around and walked back home. I asked my mom to drive me to school….. for the rest of the week.
My mom was wonderful about the whole thing. She didn’t embarrass me by marching me to the bus stop. She didn’t call the school and complain. She just drove me to school. When Monday rolled around and I asked her to drive me to school again , she said no. So off I went to the bus stop. Was I nervous? You better believe it. But just as my mom expected , nothing happened.
As time went by I had other encounters with various bullies. Some that threatened me physically , some that were much more subtle about it. But I could never shake that shame I felt at my mother watching the brief encounter with Steve. As I became an adult , I tried very hard to come to terms with what happened. It was over in minutes yet it was with me all these years later. That’s part of the cost we pay as victims. Others may forget , but we don’t. I can be traumatic as we replay an incident in out minds over and over again. We wonder first what we did to provoke the attack. How we could have handled it differently if we could have. There are so many things that go through one’s mind when one has a very active imagination. I was lucky though. Even though there were bullies , there were also a few really close friends that helped me cope – even if they had no idea they were helping.
Not long after I graduated high school , I crossed paths with Steve again. He stopped at the gas station I was working at to get gas for his car. Back in those days , there was someone to pump your gas for you. I was that guy. We were both adults then but I was still nervous. Again , that’s the effect bullies have on the bullied. Much to his credit though , he was very polite and thanked me. As I reflected on this later I started to wonder if he regretted what happened that day. Did he feel bad? Maybe he never intended for me to run home and was a little embarrassed when I did.
The lingering feelings of embarrassment never fully went away. I think I have just come to terms with them. I’ve been able to drawn on those feeling though. There are times when I really need a little extra courage. When I do , I think of Steve. It’s my little slice of the redemption pie. My way of saying “ok. I went through that tough stuff and it is going to help me now”. It has given me the mental tools to better understand how a bully’s mind works and how to use it to my advantage. Not long ago , I was talking to my son about bullies. I told him that they do what they do to force you to respond in a certain way. If you don’t , then you have power over them. Now that’s not what they want and one should be careful , but it is a remarkable way to gain an advantage over the bully. It all boils down to power. Who has it? Who wants it? What do I need to do to get that power?
In a perfect world there are no bullies. We all get along and we all help each other. There is no jealousy. No envy. Unfortunately , the world isn’t perfect. But what can we do to get it a little closer? We can stop bullying. All of us. Right now. Say to yourself “I will not bully anyone”. Then go find someone that you know is a victim. Look that person in the eye and say hi. Talk to them and get to know them. Steve and I grew up together. We could see each other’s house from our backyards. But we didn’t know each other. Take the time to change that. Only then can we start to see an end to it. Only then do we end the power struggle and realize there plenty of power to go around.