Bullies have been around forever.
History, politics, societies, religions have been riddled with bullies.
Bullies feed on people.
They seem to feed on perceived weak, gentler people; but they get their real feeding frenzy from weak onlookers… weak kids, weak adults, weakness in positions of authority. Weak-minded people who cannot think for themselves… with weaknesses so deeply seeded that they cannot escape their weakness and their fear of the same thing happening to them if they speak up. To protect someone being bullied. To rally against the bully against all odds.
Weak people who take the easy way out. Say nothing. Do nothing. Go about their lives. Live with themselves. How? I’ll never know.
Weak people who may even enjoy watching someone be bullied, terrified, humiliated, shunned or have the shit beat out of them – mentally, emotionally, physically – but not ready to be bullies. Learning, storing knowledge. Discovering the perks of being the bully from the outside while it grows like a disease from the inside.
Weak people whose parents may have said the famous words: Don’t get involved. It’s not happening to you, so don’t get involved. This mindset creates weakness. And fear.
It’s easy to be outside the circle in someone’s torture. It’s safe and comfortable, but unforgivable. At least to me.
But let’s get back to the story.
Watching the bully inflict mental or physical abuse is bullying, too.
The watching and the often sad eyes and heart of guilt over doing nothing is bullying.
If only we could teach the onlookers to DO SOMETHING. SAY SOMETHING. Gain strength where there’s unimaginable weakness.
I know about bullies because I remember so clearly… so clearly like it was just this morning, being a victim of a bully. My piece of paper will never be “fixed” because that moment is so clear. Even now. 45 years later.
Sadly, more than once in my life I’ve been the target, the victim of an unquenchable bully.
One bully went on for years, a bully in authority, a bully who fed like a shark on weak onlookers. But that’s a story for another post. Maybe. Maybe never.
But the one I write about today was a high school bully.
I still remember his name. I won’t say his name here because maybe he’s changed. Maybe he regrets his high school antics. Maybe. Just maybe.
Or maybe that moment became locked into MY memory, but not his. He may have wrinkled and scarred so many pieces of paper that his trash can of pain was sent long ago to the dump. Disposed. Discarded. Gone.
I still remember his face. His height. His laugh… not particularly good looking, short, destructive.
He was a “big” man on a big high school campus because he was a good hockey player. How this meant something then and continues to mean something in our society still will always be a puzzle to me.
This boy walked the halls like a hero. Not a hero on a journey quest for heroism remembered for good. He walked the halls with permission to be loud. Obnoxious. Permitted. With an entourage of fans, cheerleaders, fellow hockey players.
I didn’t stand out in high school. I wrote about it here when I decided to attend my 40th Class Reunion – my first one – in 2010.
I walked along the halls with my classmates and friends from class to class. I giggled and sometimes agonized over crushes. I once called out my junior year English teacher, the hockey coach, no less… for giving me a totally wrong grade.
But mostly, I was just me. Didn’t bother anyone. Just loved learning…
But one day, as classes were changing, this boy, this hockey boy, was walking the opposite way and brought up a squirt gun from his side, aimed point-blank at my face and pulled the trigger.
I still see this in slow motion. You can’t do anything. It happens so fast. But in slow motion, too.
His face. His grin. The gun. The stream of water. My soaking wet face. Hair. My shock.
The laughter of his minions.
I think the water would have been nothing without the laughter. The laughter leaves such destruction.
Like trying to unfold and smooth a piece of crumpled paper.
I know he continued to do this all the way down the hallway because I could hear the gasps of the victims.
And then the laughter from those sad, little people on whom he gained his great strength to do such a thing.
I remember being horrified by such simple, simple little things that create such angst in teenaged girls. It was in the 60’s, days of thick eyeliner and straight hair. All I could think was what about my running eyeliner and my naturally curly hair was going to go all curly on me. Such innocence.
I wanted to go home.
I wanted to tell someone.
Someone in authority.
But then what?
Teachers were in the hallways, monitoring. Why didn’t they do something?
I did nothing.
I fixed my eyeliner. My hair got curly.
I’ve never forgotten the humiliation.
I’ve never forgotten the laughter of this boy and this boy’s minions.
There is most probably not one soul on this beautiful earth of ours who remembers this moment of mine. This day. This incident.
But I do.
The scars of humiliation are forever.
Even in this tiny, tiny incident in the entire scope of my life.
Bullies do this.
They have permission from too many people to do this.
After high school, I saw this boy many, many years later when he had become a man and was a referee at a hockey game I attended. I froze to my core when I saw him. He didn’t see me. Hell, he didn’t even KNOW me.
I watched him. I wondered about his life. I wondered if he still had minions.
Then the hockey game was over and I made myself put that squirt gun moment in some box in the back of my head and slam the cover shut.
But I can’t forget. The paper is crumpled.
We must, must, must – as parents and teachers and society – get into the minds of the onlookers as well as the bully to stop this epidemic of bullying that has crept into every place we know.
We must, must, must teach this Lesson of the Blank Paper.