The Boy and The Tree
This is not a story about politics or friends. This is a story about how we conceive forms of justice. And how a silent group is a consenting group.
It was a long time ago now, probably 1995 or 96. I was about 16 or 17 years old. My friends and I went to a house party during the summer. And when we got there, we saw a boy tied to a tree. I’m going to call him Smith, not because I’m covering my ass, but because his real name isn’t the point of the story.
Smith was known to just about everyone at the party. The boy who tied Smith to the tree (I’m going to call him Bones because in my memory, he reminds me of the bully from Monster House) said it was justice. Smith had done something — we were never told what the offense was — and being tied to a tree for the night was his punishment. We were supposed to accept it, preferably support it. Others were obviously in agreement with Bones, since Smith was wet and dirty from having drinks poured over him.
I didn’t know Smith very well myself, but I knew enough that I wasn’t shocked to see that he’d pissed off Bones and his buddies. Smith was small and scrawny, while Bones was big and strong. Smith probably hadn’t even fought back while being tied to the tree.
Me being me, I complained to Bones and told him I thought it was offensive. I was told to leave it alone of course. Smith knew what he’d done (probably theft of money or drugs) and wouldn’t be harmed if he cooperated.
I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Bones. I was kind of scared of him myself, having been threatened by him on another occasion for something totally unrelated. So I stayed silent, which I regret.
It bothered me that nobody else spoke up, at least not that I remember. It bothers me now that most of the people at this party hadn’t cared to begin with. What was happening to Smith wasn’t that bad. He’d earned it, after all.
Maybe most of those kids knew why Smith was tied to the tree. Maybe he’d wronged half the party. Memory is a funny thing, and as much as I trust mine, certain elements of that evening are gone.
I’m thinking of it now, distilled to the snapshots of poor Smith, tied up, probably humiliated and afraid. While everyone around him carried on as if he deserved it — or as if he wasn’t even there.
But I mentioned that this story had a point. And the point is this; bullies make terrible judges and leaders. When we let a bully decide what constitutes a crime and how that crime should be punished, the result isn’t justice, it’s just another crime.
As a teen, I felt helpless against bullies. And I feel helpless again now. So I’ll do now what I did then. Which is to write and talk and hope. If the only thing you can do to a bully is tell him you think he’s wrong, it’s better than nothing.