Saturday, April 23, 2011

Imagine my surprise when violence turned to to be, occasionally, the answer

I believe I indicated in an earlier post that, while my sharp tongue often got me into trouble, it only sometimes got me out again.  Honestly, I can only think of two times in my life where I was subjected to what I would consider real bullying, which happened during my 5th year.  And honestly, even these incidents, as you'll see, were pretty tame by comparison to what many kids go through.  This lack of antagonists -- at least, in the physical sense -- wasn't due to any innate coolness on my own part.

To the Victor, Baby!
By all accounts (and I know you'll find this hard to believe), I was a bit of a dork.  Really.  If I had pics online, I'd prove it.  I walked funny, my head bobbing up and down like a freakishly tall duck.  I was always a little tall for my age, but really, though broad-shouldered, I was also pretty lanky.  In short, nobody's idea of a tough guy.  To add insult to injury, I was smart, and with a tendency to prove it every chance I got.  Looking back, winning the Spelling Bee may not have been the best move as far as self-preservation was concerned.  On the other hand, I won a Brand Spanking New college dictionary, with my name engraved on the cover (seriously, and people thought I was a dork!  I know, right?)!

You'd think having the biggest dictionary in class would earn a guy some respect.  Not so much.  The first of my run-ins -- and honestly, the one that hurt the most, emotionally, happened in the 5th grade.

I've always been a pacifist of sorts.  It wasn't as though I had anything in particular against violence, per se, I just thought fighting over the things kids were fighting over in those days was kind of stupid.  I never liked fighting, and in fact, when the other kids would circle around a pair of dust-raising boys in the midst of battle (consisting mostly of rolling around on the ground together and not landing any hits that I ever saw), I was the kid trying to break it up and get them to shake hands.

Still can't believe people thought I was a dork.

So the first incident of bullying I can really recall happened after I stood up to a friend of mine. Or, somebody I had thought of as a friend before the incident, and later befriended again.  Neither here nor there. What happened was this:

Not Zach.
This "friend" of mine, Kevin, was belittling a classmate during one recess.   I can't remember all the details.  Zach (who, yes, we called "Lego Maniac") wanted to play with us, and Kevin didn't want him to.  The dialogue ratcheted up at some point, at which time I told Kevin to leave him alone, and then walked away.  As I walked Kevin followed behind, kicking me.  It wasn't a major event, bullying-wise, except for two things.  One, as a friend, I was deeply hurt by his behavior (most people, I didn't care about one way or the other, but I've always revered my friends).  And second, this was the first time I remember ever hitting back.

Actually, I turned around and backhanded him, knocking him flat on his rear -- and to this day, I'm unsure about whether or not I meant to do it.  Either way, he got in trouble -- he was used to it.  I got a slap on the wrist -- more discipline from school than I was ever used to.  And by the next week, we were friends again, and Zach was more or less permanently a part of our group.

The second incident I remember had to do with a more ongoing issue with, oddly, another Kevin. This Kevin had been held back at least once (I still suspect twice -- he was that big, and that dumb).  So we don't get confused, we'll call him K2.  This guy was your classic small-time bully, not particularly to me, but to pretty much anyone who wasn't a close, personal friend.  He wasn't often violent, and when he was, it was mostly shoves or trips.  Mostly, he liked to point and laugh at people, steal their sandwiches, and generally make a nuisance of himself.  I don't remember him ever blacking anyone's eye or giving too many wedgies, but it was mostly because he outweighed most of us by about 40 lbs and when he said "Jump," you apologized for not reading his mind and jumping sooner.

Until the Speed Ball incident.

Also, the torture device of choice
for a certain 5th-grade bully.
If you remember anything about elementary school, you probably remember a lot about recess.  Like the fact that, when it rained, "recess" consisted of the kids finding things to do in the classroom while the teacher more or less ignored them.  One of the most popular indoor activities was the Speed Ball: a projectile on a two strings that would rocket toward the opposite player when you tugged your ropes outward.  It was like catch, but without skill, or the tendency to break things.

The toy was so popular that a good portion of indoor recess was spent waiting for your turn with it.  Really, it was that spinning the globe around for an endless 15 minutes.  So, like most of my classmates, I waited in line.  On this day -- a day when the teacher happened to have things to do outside of the classroom -- K2 was in line behind me, and I had not yet taken my turn.  I was, however, next.  So K2 decided he was done waiting.

"I'm next," he said.

"I've been waiting," I said.  "You're after me."

K2 didn't like being told no.  The conversation broke down from there.  He said things.  I'm fairly certain I said less-than-complimentary things about him.  He responded by pushing my face into the oncoming Speed Ball.

I haven't really explained everything about this toy.  Not only was it propelled by one kid pulling two ropes in opposite directions, it was also made of plastic and, depending on who was doing the pulling, also pretty doggone fast.  In this case, fast enough to tear a small strip of skin off my cheek.  Really.  I still have a small scar.

My own response to this incident was... less than pacifist.  And this time, definitely on purpose.  I grabbed him by the shirt, lifted up and out with every ounce of strength I had, and threw him over a desk.

Okay, I'm probably romanticizing that a bit.  More likely, I pushed him very, very hard, and he simply fell over a desk.  But hey, it's my childhood, and I'll remember it how I want.

I didn't get a standing ovation from my classmates.  K2 and I didn't become the best of friends, nor did he develop a new respect for me.  But he never bothered me again.

Of course, the real question remained: was I left alone because I had proven I could stand up for myself, or simply because I wasn't worth the effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment