Bullies … Fuck ‘em All
My lifelong hatred of bullies, and how it affects my life
When I was seven years old, I was at the bus stop, waiting for the big yellow beast to arrive and swallow me up, along with the other kids from the houses close to mine, then regurgitate us into the doors of McGavock Elementary. My best friend at the time, a kid (with the odd nickname of “Bimbo”) who lived in the house catty-cornered to mine, across the street, was carrying a slender stick (what we called a “switch”) around, swinging it like a sword. Donny, whose mother was a German girl who had married a GI and moved to the US with him, was wandering around, minding his own business.
Bimbo was a year older than me, and a little bigger. Donny was a year younger than me, and quite a bit smaller.
Suddenly, as Donny walked past him, Bimbo lashed out with his switch and smacked Donny across the backs of his legs. Having been switched, many times by my mom or my grandma, I knew exactly how much that hurt. I also knew that Bimbo swung that switch at Donny because he knew that Donny would crumple down and cry, rather than hitting back. The stupid, sadistic grin on Bimbo’s face as Donny began to cry sickened me. I saw red, like I never had, before, in my young life.
The next thing I knew, I was punching Bimbo, over and over. Minutes later, when the school bus arrived, the driver had to pull me off of my former friend. (I never spoke to Bimbo, again.)
It infuriated me, and still does, to see a bigger kid picking on a smaller, weaker kid.
A couple of months into my fourth-grade year, my family moved to a small town in western Kentucky, and I got to experience being the new kid in school, for the first time. I was fat kid, at that time, bookish and a little shy. And, I was totally unprepared for the bullying I encountered in Gilbertsville, Ky.
Eventually, I blended in, made a few friends, and mostly escaped the notice of the kids who had bullied me when I first showed up. Then, just as I was able to relax, we moved one town over and I started attending my third school in the same year. (It took me a long time to realize how stressful this must have been for my sister, who was in 7th Grade!)
The kids in Calvert City were cliquish, and insular. I finished Fourth Grade, and went through Fifth Grade, and never was accepted.
I remember one day, on the playground, I walked over to a group of kids who were hanging out in a ragged circle around one of the “cool kids”. As I stood there, quietly, just trying to blend in, the cool kid nonchalantly turned to me and punched me in the face. I was stunned, and confused, to the point where I didn’t even respond. I just stood, trying to understand what it was this kid had against me.
Of course, that lack of reaction was taken as cowardice, by the bully and his friends, and I was tagged as a sissy for the remainder of the time we lived there.
During the summer between my 5th and 6th Grade years, we moved, again. This time, we moved back to Tennessee, to a small town named Savannah, about 100 miles east of Memphis. Once again, I got to be the new kid in town. (One odd thing about Savannah, Tennessee: I lived there full-time for the next seven years, until I went to college, and I was always the “new kid”, an outsider.)
My experiences in Kentucky had hardened me, a bit, and I made a habit of fighting back when picked on. Sometimes, I would physically push back. Other times, I took the bullies on, verbally. Eventually, after a 7th Grade fracas in which I knocked another kid out, I was mostly left alone.
Left alone, until I advanced to high school.
I made it a point to call out the big kids picking on the smaller kids. I challenged squads of jocks to come and fight me, one at a time, in front of groups of other students. They never took me up on it, and I let them and everyone else know that I felt contempt for the fact that they hunted in a pack, like dogs, but would not face me one on one.
As I moved through my high school years and became an upperclassman, I let the younger kids around me know that I would have their backs, if they were picked on, and my little group of friends and fellow marching band members followed suit.
As I moved into adulthood, bullying became less of a physical thing, and more of a mental exercise. Bosses, cops, and many other people in positions of authority tend to edge into bullying when dealing with others.
I like that about as much as I liked Bimbo hitting Donny with a switch. This has not helped me advance at work, in some of the places I have worked.
I think, though, that it helped me be a good supervisor, when I held management positions. Having experienced the total lack of concern that bullies show there victims drove me to develop an acute sense of empathy which, at times, works for me but, at other times, might allow others to take advantage of me.
My friends definitely know I have their backs, and I’ve had bosses who felt very threatened by the fact that I don’t automatically bow to those who have power over me, socially or professionally. (That probably hasn’t helped me, career-wise…)
I have a bit of a problem with authority figures, in general, because of this.
And now, with a classic bully holding the highest office in the land, I am perpetually stressed by the fact that I can only stand by and watch him treat the country the way that the local kids treated me as a new kid.
Fighting back against that kind of bully is a little more involved than duking it out on the schoolyard.
Often, when Trump or his followers do or say something terrible, I feel like I did that day I got punched by the kid on the playground; so stunned that all I can do is stand there, wondering why that just happened.