Some things in life are not funny. So in this post, neither is (Bleep). But there is a story to tell, and with any luck a lesson as well.
Three months ago, a ten year old girl in a nearby small town was so emotionally distraught at the constant bullying she received from her classmates that she hung herself in her bedroom closet.
Every day for the next month, that little girl received what she could not get in all the months and months leading up to her tragic death: Somebody to pay attention to her plight. And ever since this profoundly sad event, every week in the local media has been one story after another of bullying, or bullying awareness events, in area schools.
A lot of attention. That’s good. And some misfocused attention, which is perhaps not so good.
I’m sure there were fun times when I was in grade school and junior high. There must have been. But I can honestly tell you that every memory I have of kindergarten through 7th grade is one of two things: Wanting to be left alone…or wanting to be included.
From the tail end of kindergarten through my 1st grade year, it seems like I had about every childhood sickness known to man. Moms — when you take your kid to the pediatrician and they walk through this endless list of “has he/she had…” — well, in my case about 70% of that list had check marks in the left hand column. As a result, I was a puny kid through 3rd grade and a magnet for negative attention. I missed so much of 1st grade that my teacher Mrs. Carr told my Mom that I should be held back to repeat the year, despite my grades. My Mom refused and Mrs. Carr acquiesced. I understand now that Mom was unwilling to let me be a “victim” of circumstances (more on that later).
By the end of third grade I had transitioned from puny to “husky” (as the Sears catalog so graciously named it). And short. The daily double.
My entire grade school experience was being the random object of name calling and laughter…except for when I was being totally ignored. I was the kid who was the last one picked when we chose sides for a playground dodge ball game (yes, we played it and everyone lived to tell about it) but the first one the other team chose to gang up and pelt when the game started. And then laugh about it. If I approached a bunch of kids playing in a group, at best I was just ignored. At worst, I was the object of malicious teasing. And at very worst, another kid would engage me in conversation until the other kids decided to target both of us, at which time the first would flip sides and turn on me more viciously than the others.
Yet throughout it all, my teachers treated me no differently than the others. I’m uncertain whether that was a conscious effort, or just appreciation for a good student because I was straight “A” until sophomore year of high school. Regardless, the classroom was a level playing field. (Hint: an important point here.)
There’s no doubt my Mom knew what was going on. I’m sure I cried to her about some playground incidents, but she just kept me focused on schoolwork and being a normal kid with normal kid activities. I played (well, sat mostly) in Little League and she insisted I join first Cub Scouts and then Boy Scouts. (In the latter organization, by the way, I never felt picked on and was completely accepted by all. Hint: another important point here.) Bottom line, Mom (and Dad) praised me when I excelled but otherwise made me feel like I was a regular kid.
In 7th grade I was 5′ 1″ and 120 pounds. Every boy was taller than me, as were many girls in my class. By this time, after seven years together, they didn’t pick on me any more; they just mostly ignored me. But in the spring a mid-year transfer student changed that dynamic. He was no taller than me but more wiry, and single-handedly he made that spring a heartland hell. I’ve long since forgotten his name or exactly the things he said to me (a gift from my subconscious mind, since I otherwise have a near-photographic memory); but he figured out that I wasn’t an “IN” kid and determined that if he picked on me, the others would embrace him. So pick he did. And push. And slap. He did this publicly where other kids would see, but in places where it was difficult for teachers to monitor…such as after school while kids congregated waiting for the buses.
Being a boy on the brink of puberty I found it hard to talk with my Mom about these new challenges to my almost-manhood, and it took a good part of the spring to find the right opportunity to bring it up to my Dad. At almost the end of the school year I finally did, and Dad related a couple stories about my Uncle Tom. Tom was Dad’s younger brother who was always a smaller guy but who, culminating with a stint in the Marine Corps, always found the personal resolve “not to take any crap off of anyone.” Dad even related a couple of methods by which Tom did this. He then advised that those methods once landed Tom in the County jail, so perhaps I should reserve them for a dire emergency. Nonetheless, Dad basically told me that if I wanted someone I could count on to stand up on my behalf, that someone pretty much should be me.
Summer passed and I returned to school five and a half inches taller than when I exited 7th grade — just over halfway through the growth spurt that would occur before I entered high school. My nemesis returned as well, but at the same size as before. This, however, did not stop his “waiting for the bus” after-school assault. As we exited the school he squeezed through the doorway with me and shoved me down the steps. Only this time, rather than run away I popped up and got right in his face. ”You can’t do that any more!” I screamed. ”Oh yeah, sissy?” he retorted, “What are you going to do about it?” and started to shove me again.
Without another word I flung a fist in his general direction and smacked him squarely in the mouth, bloodying his lip. He paused for a moment with a stunned look as his brain processed the unexpected turn of events. Then, in a move I had not counted on, his fist returned the favor. At that moment my bus arrived and I rushed on board — more than anything to hide the fact that I was 2.5 seconds from crying because it hurt like bloody hell! I didn’t breathe a word of this at home, and told my mom I was hit with a baseball during recess.
I dreaded the next day with every fiber of my being, but to my amazement my nemesis never pursued me again! In fact, he DID avoid me a lot from that day forward, but when our paths did cross it was if we’d always been pals. And strangely, my status among the class seemed to change from that day as well. Not as some class hero, mind you, but just as someone who had demonstrated enough self-respect to likewise earn that from others.
One bloody lip became a turning point in my life.
The anti-bullying programs and seminars that have been occurring in area schools do have benefit from the perspective that they raise a general awareness of the issue for kids and parents alike. But like too many social programs, they supersede their value by establishing a “victim class”.
I don’t presume for one second to suggest that the solution for the broken-hearted ten year old girl was to start a fistfight with her classmates. The solution to hers and most situations is far more complex and involved. But what I do know is that these programs and seminars can suggest that these kids are objects of the bullying because they are victims…because they are different…because they are disadvantaged…and might well remain such without our protection and intervention.
I suggest that like me, these kids don’t want inclusion because somebody mandates it. That would make me…make them…stand out. I didn’t want to be special and different at twelve years old; I just wanted to be one of them, but I couldn’t be until I found my self-respect.
Kids need to know from their parents that the key to acceptance is not handed to you, but rather it flows from self-respect. And how they gain that will differ from situation to situation — but it might just take, figuratively or even literally, getting a bloody lip.
- Repaid For His Deed
- The Blessing
- Five Reasons I Know Hell Exists
- Bondage Haiku
- Pigs Don’t Know Pigs Talk Funny
- Everything Old Is New Again
- Forever And Then Forever Again
- We Are Not Ourselves
- The Road Most Taken
- A Bloody Lip
- Follow Someone
- Upside Down
- My Thirty Six Hour Vagina
- Where Are The Elephants?
- A Titleist, An Asteroid and Stacy
- Lemmings Anonymous
- We’ve Got To Stop Meeting Like This
- The Donut Nazi
- You’re Not The Boss Of Me
- A Priest, A Minister and a Rabbi
- (Bleep) Flows Downhill
- Light At The End Of The Tunnel
- A Thousand Squirrels
- Urinal Roulette
- The El To Paradise
- A Can Of Gumout
- My Penis Lies Over The Ocean
- Grandpa’s Last Stand
- Waldo Meets His Bleeping Match
- A Bran New World
- His Highness, King Me
- Flying In Formation
- Calculating America’s Future
- Don We Now
- Curse You, Soy
- Who am I? (and am I listening?)
- At What Cost