“Daddy, did you ever bully anyone, and did anyone ever bully you?”
The question came out of nowhere. Chloe and I were enjoying a daddy/daughter date at a local coffee shop. We’d been telling funny stories and talking about acting, and we were in the middle of discussing how gross bread-and-butter pickles are when she asked it. I took a sip of my coffee and thought about it. It didn’t take long.
“Both, actually. In the same year. When I was in seventh grade.”
He was a new kid, and he picked me to bully. And as luck would have it, he was in most of my classes. Daily, he would mock me. About everything. Anything that I did, he made fun of it. Outside of class, he would find me and trip me up, shove me, or just ridicule me some more. I remember going to school each day, hoping that he would be absent. Those days were the most glorious days of my seventh-grade life. For one whole day, I would be free from his persecution. Unfortunately, he had really good attendance.
The days he was late were the worst. First thing in the morning, I would look back and see his empty chair, and a smile would come over my face. I could relax. Then he’d walk in with a late pass. I would slowly sink in my seat, waiting for the inevitable. This went on for the entire year.
“Why didn’t your friends stop him?”
“I guess the same reason I never stepped in when I saw someone else getting bullied. Better to be a bystander than a target.”
“Why did he bully you? Was he a bad kid?”
“I thought that then. But maybe he was getting bullied somewhere else, or maybe there was another reason that I never knew.”
“Humph.” She took another sip of hot chocolate and then looked up. “So if you were being bullied, Daddy, why would you bully someone else?”
“I guess I thought it would make me feel better.”
“Who was he?”
He was a friend. And he was far lower on the popularity totem pole than I was. Maybe at the bottom. I don’t know why, though. It could have been his looks, or that his family didn’t have a lot of money, or that he was socially awkward, or maybe it was just because he was different. For some reason, though, he was the one that no one wanted to be. Not even me. And he was my friend. We worked together, laughed together, and even silently felt bad for the other, I suppose. But one day, I forgot how much we had had in common.
It was recess, on a particularly trying day. My parents had talked to the principal about the bullying, which led to a meeting in the office with the principal. The principal yelled at my bully, he apologized, and we were sent back into the classroom. Instantly, he called me my name and told that me that he was going to get me back for getting him in trouble. He didn’t leave me alone the rest of the morning, and it seemed that the other students laughed even more that day.
At recess, I walked alone for a while and then took up with a group of kids that weren’t really my friends – they were more popular than I was – but I was with them that day. I don’t remember what we were doing, but at some point, the boy I would soon bully showed up. Everyone was goofing off and started making fun of him.
I wasn’t part of it at first. But I was there and didn’t say anything, so I guess I was just as responsible. Then at some point, I joined in and even began leading it. I remember the others pulling aside, almost as if they were spectators in the coliseum: the royalty watching the lower class duke it out. Only, he didn’t fight back. I followed up my taunts with a shove, and he fell. The other kids laughed – and finally, it wasn’t at me. For a moment, I felt vindicated. All the bullying that I’d had to endure that day, and every day before that, faded away. I was the victor.
Until he started crying.
I stopped, the bell rang, the other kids left. As he lay on the ground, I stared at him. He was yelling at me.
“Was he using bad words, Daddy?”
“Yeah. He was really mad. And embarrassed. But mostly hurt. I was supposed to be his friend.”
“What did you do then?”
I walked over to him and said I was sorry. He got up and ran back to class without saying a word, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I knew how he felt. Unfortunately, I was the one that made him feel that way. I remember thinking that I just wanted, for one moment, to not be the one who felt powerless. The funny thing was, at that moment, I had never felt more powerless. I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for him, for myself, and trying to apologize. It didn’t go well, which I could understand. Even at 12.
“Did he ever forgive you?”
“At some point, I think he did. I don’t think he ever forgot, though. I know I didn’t.”
“Clearly, Daddy, you’re telling me now.”
I smiled. “Yes, yes I am.”
“It was pretty mean of you to do something like that.”
“Yep. I felt horrible afterwards.”
“You probably should have.”
“You’re right. So what do you think I learned that day?”
Chloe took a drink of her hot chocolate and looked off in silent contemplation. Then she said, “That no matter how bad you feel, you can’t make yourself feel better by hurting someone else. And you have to stand up for people. Maybe kick the bully in the knees.”
Um, yeah. That about sums it up. Not sure about the knee part though.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.