Do you remember what you said to me at our twenty year high school reunion, “buddy”?
“I’m really sorry for bullying you…but you have to admit, you really had it coming.”
I understand that time passes, we grow, we change. You’ve turned your life around; even become an educator at the very junior high we attended. As you’ve intimated in our one and only conversation since those days that standing on the outside, surveying bully and bullied, that you’ve gained an understanding for what you did and claim that you can see how far reaching the damage can be to those bullied.
And yet you still have the temerity to state “[I] really had it coming”?
I had it coming?
How so, Mr. “So-Called-Reformed-Bully?” You, with your back-handed apology, think you know what bullying does to a person. You think I asked for it? You think I was weak? What you didn't know was that in my first two years of school I was a very violent child. You never knew that when teased or cornered I would attack my peers with such savage, emotional fury the type of which only an enraged child can muster that my opponents would get seriously hurt; one of whom eventually ended up in the hospital. You never knew of the shame I would feel from my parents and the only teacher I adored and respected back then…of how they so thoroughly shamed me into never raising my hand in violence again. How I was practically forbidden to defend myself as my parents didn’t clarify the difference between violence and self-defense; how I could not retaliate for my opponent's (read: your) protection, not mine, for the rest of my scholastic life.
All I wanted to do was mind my own business, show up to my classes, do what was required, and leave. You and your cronies went out of your way to seek me out to heap your daily dose of verbal and physical abuse. I carried all my heavy school books…yes, ALL…in my backpack to minimize any possibility of your cornering me at my locker. I learned your (and your buddies’) class and lunch schedules so as to navigate the hallways with the minimal possibility of running into you. I minded my own business on those rare classes we shared, but that didn’t stop you from surreptitiously tying my belt loop to my chair so that when the bell rang, I almost cracked my skull open after my chair slipped from under me due to the force of my getting up.
You never knew that during school days I would wake up with a feeling of anxious dread. You never knew the toll it took on my self-esteem…how the rest of you could go about your lives willy-nilly and how I had to stay in control. Every hit, every punch, every verbal epitaph I received…all undeserved, yet stoically (at least outwardly) endured nonetheless because, in the back of my mind, the shame would return; shame in and shame out without expression or release, impotently drowning in my own salty sea of sorrow.
And that pain stays with you…no matter what the age or how much time has passed. It stings with the freshness of yesterday. It becomes a part of your make-up. It infuses so much of your decisions in life whether consciously or otherwise. You take up self-defense classes. You bulk up your body by adding muscle to your frame. You gain an empathy for those that the “too cool for school” set has written off and discarded. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and trudge forward. You harden. You compromise your ability to trust to keep from being betrayed. You distance yourself from others to keep from feeling pain again. You become a person who becomes virtually unrecognizable to the person who you used to be. Yes, to some degree my own transformation is due in part because of you and your ilk. However, you should consider it a source of shame, not pride. Yes, one can move on from those experiences, learn from them, and let them go. But despite that, the pain still remains as prevalent as a scar. It heals, bur remains.
When you said your “apology”, I gave you such a look that your own eyes registered momentary apprehension, and even perhaps a bit of fear; one which heightened when I approached you, stepped into your personal space, and told you where to shove that apology. In that tiny, uncertain moment, you had but a miniscule taste of what I had felt for years of painful adolescence. I hope you carry that with you for the rest of your days. Maybe then, when you see it happen to others under your academic watch that you really make things right. Maybe then, I can believe you finally truly understand. And maybe you might come to realize that of the two of us, you were the one who was really asking for it.