Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Of Bullies and Fighting

I stammered as I faced the sneering bully. The fear welling up inside of me threatened to completely incapacitate me, given that the bully's two henchmen had cut off my escape routes. Certain annihilation awaited as the bully approached me while calling out demeaning insults designed to destroy any residual self confidence that might have survived his preparations for this moment.

Frankly, my sixth grade mind couldn't understand the whole fighting for pecking order thing. How could beating me up help the bully move up the status ladder, given that I was already far below him?

There's a legend about the second fasted gunslinger in the West who was always looking to move to first place by challenging the fastest guy. Bullies aren't really like that. They're more often like Irving, the 142nd fastest gun in the West, who was always trying to gun down number 143 instead of number 141. (See video below.) That is, they're interested in picking on those that are easy targets.

As far as I knew, I had never done anything to offend this guy other than to simply exist, so it wasn't a matter of schoolyard honor. He had taken to hassling and insulting me for several weeks before unilaterally demanding that I appear after school one day to fight him. Never having agreed to the arrangement, I found reasons to hang around the classroom until I figured that the bully had probably lost interest and had moved onto other pursuits worthy of his nature, like defacing public property or torturing puppies.

But that delay tactic had worked against me. The schoolyard was otherwise deserted when the three thugs leaped out from behind a barrier near the tennis court. On the plus side there would be no one around to witness my cowardly defeat. But neither would anyone be available to come to my rescue.

Fortunately for me, the bully made several mistakes. One was that he held to the unwritten honor code that required fights like this to be one-on-one. His sidekicks wouldn't step in unless I tried to run. I guess I should be thankful that they didn't all just gang up and beat me to a pulp. Another error was that his setup activated my caged animal instincts. Normally docile animals can become quite vicious when cornered and threatened.

My tormentor kept goading me to throw a punch at him. I couldn't see any sense in that. I had never wanted to fight the guy in the first place and I was still hoping to find some safe way out of this mess. Why would I throw the first punch? Finally the bully ran at me and grabbed me around the middle, intending to tackle me. That was yet another mistake.

I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys that liked to play a game crudely titled Smear the Queer, where everyone tried to tackle whoever had the ball. Although I generally detested athletics, I became quite adept at continuing to stand and even move forward while would-be tacklers tried to take me down. Thus, the bully was surprised that I didn't go down.

Although my books and papers had gone flying, one hand still protectively grasped my brother's ukulele, which I regularly toted to and from school for music class. With fear-charged adrenalin coursing through my veins, my arm reacted without conscious thought on my part, bringing the side of the body of the instrument swiftly down on my attacker's head with a resounding crack.

The recipient of my instrumental whack immediately disengaged. He stood up and taunted, "Is that the best you can do? Ha! I barely felt that." Rapping his head with his knuckles, he said, "I've got a hard head." His friends laughed contemptibly, but I noticed tears in my antagonizer's eyes. He hurled more insults but seemed too wary to attack again. I was quite surprised when it dawned on me that I had actually hurt him.

Finally the bully and his toadies stalked off. As I gathered up the stuff I had dropped, I noticed that part of the ukulele back was missing and I figured that I would be in big trouble when I got home. After finding the broken piece nearby, I hurried away from the schoolyard worried about future torment from the bully and his gang as well as the punishment I would get at home for ruining the instrument.

Strangely, I felt badly about having hurt another human being, even if the jerk deserved it. This jumble of emotions was difficult for my 11-year-old mind to handle. Despite the altercation turning out much better than I could have imagined, I felt scared and traumatized as I walked home.

I was frankly surprised that neither of my greatest fears regarding the fight were realized. Dad even voiced support for my actions. Actually, the ukulele worked fine for many years afterward. It took me several weeks of continually looking over my shoulder at school, waiting for the repercussions of the fight to catch up with me before I finally realized that the bully and his cronies were going to leave me alone. They never bothered me again.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time I was engaged in a fight at school. But in every single instance the confrontation was instigated by some other persecutor. Each fight was as brief as the one described above. In fact, some of them ended without any scuffling at all, although, I always felt traumatized afterward. In most cases the bully tended to subsequently leave me alone.

I never did understand why anyone would challenge me to a fight. Sure, I could be annoying and stupid, but no more so than the average kid my age. As far as I could tell, I never gave any of my tormentors reason to want to whack me, such as delivering an insult or competing for the affections of a young lady. Rather, I had just exhibited weakness, which made me look like an easy target. Most of the bullies that pursued the matter ultimately discovered me to be somewhat more challenging than they — or I had imagined.

But public physical fighting is probably one of the mildest ways one could be a victim of bullying. Private physical and emotional bullying can be far more damaging. The physical injuries from a fight resolve soon enough, while emotional and psychological scars can cause a lifetime of recurring pain.

I will discuss bullying further in a later post.

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