Man, kids can be brutal to one another. The teasing, the beatings, the relentless harassment – I remember being on the receiving end of some of it, and seeing it happen to other kids and not having the ovaries to stand up for them.
As an example of the former, there was this girl Helene who lived down the block from me, and if I walked “the short way” to and from school, I would have to pass her house. I dreaded passing that damn house, because I knew that if she saw me, she would have something rude to say, or she would snatch my little knit cap off of my head (hey, it was the ‘70’s) and play “keep away” with it, or try to trip me. I don’t know why I didn’t think about hitting her, or having my Dad talk to her parents (which no self-respecting kid wants to happen, but hey, they could have been animals too). All I know is that her torments were completely unprovoked by me, and were awful enough that all these years later, I remember them.
I had forgotten all about her, until one day I drove down that street and saw her house. I was instantly filled up with anger when I saw it. That little bitch. I’ll bet that if we ran into each other as adults, she would probably act friendly, overcome with some misremembered nostalgia. Bullies sometimes have the ability to completely forget their awful acts, and are shocked that you remember them less than fondly. There were girls in middle school who were so cruel to me and my best friend, that I thought that the “Mean Girls” in the movie of the same name took some tips from them. This huge group of girls would come across the school yard during the lunch period, surround us, and call us names and say terrible things to us. There were other girls that would follow us home after school, spit at us, grab our things away, and threaten to beat us. It wasn’t constant, but it was often enough to make me loathe the other girls in our school, and to be so angry with the teachers who saw what was happening on school property, yet turned a blind eye. Some people think it is just a right of passage, but I thought it was undue harassment then, and still think it now.
In my adult life, I ran across a girl I knew was in my school, and we were friendly enough back in the day that we had a cordial greeting. However, to my shock and dismay, it turned out that she had married the boy, now man, who had been my brother’s tormentor. I remember my brother crying out his name in his sleep, and cursing at him in words that only adults used. This kid was absolutely evil in his relentless torments of my brother, and I loathed him for it. I found myself seething with renewed anger when I heard his name, which was unusual enough that there could be no mistaking it. I cautiously made mention of this to my brother, curious to see how he would react to hearing his name again. Was he more mature than me, and wouldn’t care a bit about his childhood bully, or would he remember his torments and be angry all over again?
Apparently, my brother and I are made of similar stuff in this department, because he instantly recalled “what a douche” that kid had been, and was not in a forgiving mood. You often hear about people being able to forgive all kinds of egregious wounds inflicted by others, things much more terrible than childhood bullying. I admire these people and the peace it seems to bring them.
There was a boy who lived across the street from us, I’ll call him George. George was a just a little slower than the other kids, and was kind and trusting. Today, I guess they would have called him developmentally delayed, or learning disabled. I could tell that his house held secrets and illness just as mine did, but their mistake was letting their secrets spill outside of the house in ways that marked them as “other” to the neighbors. Their yard was mowed only twice every summer, which made them a mark of derision from the adults, and poor George being slower made him a particular mark by the other neighborhood kids. It also didn’t help that George and his older brother were both heavier than the other kids, and not very attractive. I vividly remember one day, when the boys decided to make George some “chocolate milk” my mixing dirt and sand in with milk, and making him drink it. My heart broke to see him take a big gulp, and then how the boys laughed as he spit and coughed up the gritty, nasty drink.
I remember George being the target of so many jokes and verbal taunts over the years, and although I don’t think I was cruel, I remember avoiding him and trying to get out of conversations with him, because I was embarrassed that he seemed to take a particular shine to me. My ordinarily very loving father even took to teasing me that George was my little boyfriend, to my particular horror.
To my surprise, I ran into George many years later, and he is such a nice man. I didn’t bring up his childhood tormentors, but I did apologize to him if I had hurt his feelings or ever been cruel. He looked absolutely shocked that I was worried about hurting him, because he didn’t remember things that way at all. He is happily married, moved out of the area, and has a fulfilling job. He seems to have a measure of peace that I have not yet been able to achieve. I’m so glad for him, and I hope that he is not still reminded of the torments of his childhood. If anyone had a right to be bitter about being bullied, it was George.
I know that some people don’t think that the current awareness and crack down on bullying is the right thing to do, that it is coddling the kids who just need to toughen up. Well, when it gets to the point where it is interfering with their schoolwork, their feelings of self-worth, their sense of security, or making them want to kill themselves, I’m glad to see that schools and others are starting to step in and try to quell the incessant bullying crap. I don’t expect it all to stop, and I certainly don’t expect to live in a fantasy world of butterflies and angels, but a little recognition for the kids who are being cruelly taunted or worse is a good goal.