Another Bully Story
Forty-five years later. How to forgive.
Sam, my brother-in-law, knocked at my door. “Hey Charlie, Carrot Top is next door, attending some sort of shrink gathering. I guess Janice told him you were here at the house. Anyway, he’s at the wall and wants to say hi.”
All Sam and my sister Janice knew was that me and Carrot Top were schoolmates. This would have been in 1960. Now, 2007 a piece of my past, most unexpectedly came to call.
Mind-boggling how life is. The old terror quickly resurfaced. My brother-in-law and sister had no clue or at least no memory that Carrot Top was my personal own bully when I was nine years old.
We’d just moved from Nicaragua. After eight years there, my parents thought it best to return to Guatemala, my birthplace. My parents’ hotel in Managua was under attack from the Marxist rebel infiltrated union. My parents received anonymous threats and then and there decided it best and safer to leave.
Living in Nicaragua I lived out in the rough Nicaraguan countryside. I grew to be a most self-reliant boy, rode horses since I was four. In my back pocket was my slingshot. My pocket knife in another. My friends were a small group of boys from the colony across the street from our home. It was the de facto truth I was the unofficial group leader. It was my way or no way. Not to give the impression that I was a dictatorial boss. This wasn’t the case. Basically, if the guys stuck with me it guaranteed them adventure around the colony and countryside.
I was the one most likely to come up with the crazy ideas which daily after school kept us chin deep in exploration and discovery. An afternoon hunting snakes and toads, eating mangoes high up in the trees, riding horses, knocking down bees’ nests to eat the honey, building stuff in my big brother’s tool shed was all in a day's activities. My level of activity just happened to be greater than my pals. They recognized this and followed along.
When we left Nicaragua for me it was nothing less than being literally uprooted from my deep and very happy roots in Nicaragua. How often this same story plays out. The family decides it has to leave its current home, parents make the decision, no questions entertained, at least not in the fifties. Pack the car with stuff, family, and animals and you’re gone!
Guatemala was freezing to me. The climate was a shock after the thick, humid heat of Nicaragua. Guatemala was jacket country. My new school was a brand new set of challenges. My classes and academics were of a higher quality than was our school in Nicaragua. I was behind and struggling before I ever hit the ground.
The most unsettling was having lost my group of pals overnight and being placed in a new classroom with total strangers. There may have been one or two who came forward and showed a friendly side. Remember, I was used to having my way and calling the shots. A group of guys immediately challenged this in my class. This group was led by a guy named Carrot Top nicknamed so because of his sharp, red wavy hair.
Carrot Top was best described as stocky, barrel-chested, his bottom jaw always open and hanging, showing crooked teeth. If he spoke it was usually to utter grunts and insults and his laughter was not different from that of hyenas.
He had a thing about shoving smaller guys into a corner and making them swear allegiance or beg to not get sucker punched. He very much filled the visual and behavioral description of a then-popular cartoon bully named Slugo.
He was a force to be reckoned with. His English was terrible, and I soon realized this was one of his weaknesses. His strengths included having most of the boys under his authority and could order them to do anything. Carrot Tops’ larger-than-life presence was fearsome, especially when he faced you nose to nose and when he sneered and insulted me his spittle covered my face.
I became the source of his attention for several months after I started classes there at the school in Guatemala. He waited for me outside the classroom before it started; he waited for me outside again at the end of class.
After school let out, he’d lurk around the entrance looking for me. I learned to sneak around him and get to my bike.
I was at a loss. Anguished and terrorized. There were other long since bullied fellow students sneak up to me and looking around to make sure Carrot Top wasn’t nearby confided with me they felt bad for me. I realized then I was going to have to come up with a defense system.
The red-headed prick was just too damn big for me to physically take on. Even if this was a Hollywood movie, there’s no way the writers could’ve had me suddenly burst with radiating power and kick turds out of the guy. I had to come up with something else.
An aside here: I remember our class teacher, Mrs. Sardo, her stale perfume could have killed chickens. Sometimes I saw her looking directly at me and Carrot Top while he shoved me against the wood walls. She chose to stay out of it. She did nothing of the matter. I’ve always wondered about that. I do have some reasons but these go beyond the reach of this story.
One day I spied two twin boys, huge guys. Oddly enough, I remember they were from Massachusetts. I knew they were two classes above me. One day they both greeted me as we passed in the hallway, which in those days was outside under a rain roof.
I ventured one day to strike up a conversation, and soon I’d made two new friends. It wasn’t long before it occurred to me I might be able to recruit my two new friends as protection. That’s exactly what I did. I told the twins about Carrot Top. They told me to make sure to come to them next time shithead pushed me around.
Nothing comes without a price and they asked me to help them with their Spanish courses. They never once asked me to pay up.
One afternoon I broke free from Carrot Top’s shoves and called out to the twins across one of the grass-grown inner yards of the school.
They quickly had Carrot Top against the wall, as he’d done to me countless times. “If you ever bother Charlie again we will come looking for you, you understand?” When Carrot Top delayed a prompt answer, he was slammed up against the wall once again. It seemed to me that my bully was about to cry. The corners of his lips quivered.
After that, my life changed. I don’t think I even told my mother about this latest development. Before long, some of the other previously oppressed classmates broke free of their psychological chains and we formed a large group of friends.
There was one time in class I ridiculed Carrot Tops' bad English. He snarled and spun around to face me, and I held him fast in my gaze. He soon looked to the floor and away.
I only did that once, and it made me feel like a worm.
Very soon, Carrot Top simply became as though a non-item, a presence hardly felt. A bully destroyed. In recess when we played soccer instead of deciding who played what and having to swallow his loud insults, he asked me and others if he could play.
As for Mrs. Sardo, there was something about me that really bugged her. There was no question. This was besides the fact that I was, by choice, a terrible student. I asked my mom about her and she didn’t know her, said she wasn’t part of the friends she had. There’s a story here too but in the interest…
This is classical detent at its best, you know the oppressed versus the dictator. The ‘good’ power that keeps things hanging in a precarious peace. Though there is a parallel to my experience I won’t unwrap it as it really doesn’t add to this story.
The following year, my benefactors had left Guatemala. During summer break, I’d grown several inches taller and wider. As a ten-year-old, I used to take my rifle into the mountains to camp and hunt. Yes, the moment came when Carrot Top once again awoke smelling victory. And knowing the twins were gone, he came for me.
It’s amazing what a couple of inches of growth can do to a bully when standing nose to nose.
“So Charlie, are you going to go say hello, he said he really wanted to see you just to say hi.”
“Oh, I guess, okay Sam. You never knew that jerk used to push me around, did you?” I was sorry to bring it up.
“Actually, I knew about that. Remember, Carrot Top is my cousin. It might be a good thing to just say hello.”
From my Mother’s wall, I looked over into the next-door yard. A group of well-dressed people holding refreshments and talking in groups, the shrinks attending a seminar were on a break. Standing there alone in the freshly mowed lawn there was a middle-aged, broken-down man, hair gone to gray. His bully-like torso long since dwindled and bent. His eyes, surprisingly, still had a predator's look.
For a short moment, we just took each other in. Carrot Top said. “Hey Charlie, it’s good to see you.” His voice warm, sincere. Did I see a brief sadness?
“Yes, it’s been a few years, right?”
Perhaps it says something not so good about me as a person but despite all the years gone by it still remains a challenge to let bygones be bygones. Forgiveness and its absolute necessity come to mind.