Over at Shotgun Honey, Thomas Pluck has a wrenching short vignette on bullying. It’s short – go give it a read. I can wait . . . Great, huh? So here’s the deal. Tom’s coughing up five bucks to an anti-bullying organization for every comment you leave over at Shotgun Honey. Make him pay. I’ll tell you what. Leave a comment here and I’ll cough up five bucks, too.
Thing is, I know bullying. I started to leave this story over at Shotgun Honey as a comment, but it got a bit long, so I just linked it to here (that still counts as a comment, Pluck, so cough up.)
I was born six weeks premature and with congenital hip and leg defects that had me in leg braces and ortho shoes through third grade. I was also, as my family tended to be, the biggest kid in the class. Since I was pretty much immobile, there was a cadre of kids who thought it was some kind of badge of honor to count coup on my ass — they’d run up and shove me or hit me and then take off, knowing damn well I couldn’t catch them. With all that shit on my legs, my balance wasn’t great, so I spent a lot of time on the ground listenting to kids laugh at me while I watched some little fuck run off. Had some bad days over that, but I have to credit my parents, especially my mom, for helping me keep perspective and for not letting me descend into self pity. She’d give me a little space to whine about it, but then would cut that shit off, telling me that these were the only legs I had and, god willing, they’d work better someday. She also signed me up for swim team early on so that, despite the fact that I couldn’t run and could only sort of walk, I was staying in good physical shape. In a pool, I was fast and graceful and whole – I was everything I couldn’t be on the ground
I was fortunate that my dad was a doctor and was able to recruit some outstanding medical care – actually revolutionary-at-the-time medical care – care that almost completely healed my issues (my feet still point out a bit, and my left leg is still a tad shorter than my right, and they had to irradiate the growth plated on my right leg or I would have ended up 6’4″ on one side and 6′ on the other, but all and all, things worked out great. I actually went on to be a jock through my school days).
So, the treatments worked and the first week of the summer between third and fourth grade, the braces and ortho shoes came off, the tennis shoes went on, and I was given the go ahead to test my legs. I played baseball for the first time. Basketball for the first time. Football for the first time. I ran my ass off all summer. I remember walking up really early one morning and feeling restless. I put on my new PF Flyers, went out in the back yard and just ran back and forth across the yard until I collapsed in the grass, exhausted. I guess I was crying, because my dad was watching me from the kitchen and came running out, thinking my legs had gone out on me again. I told him I was just so happy.
I went back to school in the fall with a shit list — not every kid who’d ever taken a shot – I mean even some of my friends had – but that core group, that asshole tribe of punks that had made me their regular bitch ever since Kindergarten. Because now, in my PF Flyers, I wasn’t just the biggest kid in the class, I was also probably the fastest. I caught up with three of them the first day, another one the second. On the third day, I was called in to see the principal — Sister Mary Roselle, with whom I’d always gotten on well.
“Danny,” she said, “what’s going on? We’ve never had this kind of trouble with you before.”
“I could never catch them before,” I told her. She knew about my history.
She looked at me a moment and then held up a single finger. “Once each,” she said. “Any more than that, then you’re just a bully, too.” Then she smiled a little. “Besides, I know those boys. it would do them all good to get taken down a peg.”
I nodded. That made sense. That was our deal. Once each. I’d caught up with everybody in the first couple weeks, everybody except this one Jeff kid — he was fast and he was careful. But that also meant he was living in a kind of exile. He couldn’t be on the playground, he couldn’t hang with anybody at lunch. Finally, about the middle of September, he turned himself in — just walked up to me and said “Get it over with.”
With him just standing there looking humiliated, his head only coming up to the middle of my chest, and with everybody watching with that same atavistic Lord of the Flies expectation I used to see on their faces when those punks used to surround me, suddenly I felt like a bully. I should have just let him go. I should have made some kind of speech about how this was all bullshit – I mean I could feel that inside me, but I was 9 and i caved in to the expectations. I hit him once, hard, in the stomach, and he went down in a fetal heap on the ground and lots of the kids laughed at him, mostly his friends, the ones that used to help him torment me.
Looking at him on the ground and listening to his goading friends, I felt something I never had before – at least not in association with anything like this. I felt ashamed. Jeff and I got to be pretty good friends eventually.
That was it. That was the end of my list. But for the rest of my years in school, if you were some big kid who got your rocks off by picking on some little kid and if word got back to me, your ass was mine.