The Face of Bullying
by Ben A. Vanguarde
Bullying was something, like the rest of junior high, graciously consigned to the suppressed memories section of my mind for the last fifty-some years. Lately, it’s been brought up by a certain group for its own protection and benefit. I have observed that such social engineering may dampen, but does not remove, this malaise upon society. I offer that there will be some good results produced but the lasting and ambitious promises of elimination will never be achieved.
As an example, using another social engineered cause strikingly and effectively promoted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in the 1960’s my uncle was arrested five times for drunk driving which resulted in two crashes with injuries. His license was suspended and thousands of dollars were spent on attorneys to keep him out of jail, resulting only in overnight stays. Today the penalties are much more severe, including the loss of the driver’s license for life. However, the news media remains replete with stories about death and the destruction of lives and property caused by drunk drivers.
I submit the problem of bullying is just as insidious and just as illusive to stamp out.
As an elementary and junior high student I was the tallest. I embraced my Catholic upbringing, particularly the “turn the other cheek” part which, looking back, made me a big target. I wore glasses and really, could barely see without them. My father bought me a set of boxing gloves and a speed bag, which I used for a day or two, and still had no idea how to defend myself.
Finally, I had had enough and agreed to meet my best friend, I thought, on a Saturday morning, away from our parent’s houses, to duke it out. I knew I was bigger and slightly stronger and the first two blows landed in my favor. Then he punched me, collapsing my windpipe (throat), and I had to sit down to recover my breath. The battle was considered a draw but, most importantly, no one challenged me again in elementary school.
In junior high the taunting resumed by many more boys. I suffered bullying for two years from boys much bigger and stronger down to one skinny punk named Paul. I asked a friendly teacher what I should do and he had no answers. In ninth grade I decided this would be the end of it; now, I was one of the big and strong boys. I decided I would wait for the next provocation by Paul and kill him. Not just hurt him, but strangle him with my bare hands.
I looked about for weeks but I could not find Paul or his friends. I even mildly sought them out by they remained invisible to me. After six weeks I gave up looking for Paul, after the thought occurred to me, what would happen to me if I had actually killed him? I thanked my God for protecting both of us. I never saw Paul again. By high school, the bullies were all gone. They could drop school at 16 and most did, probably to pump gas and later be drafted.
My three kids encountered bullying and I taught them to fight back. It worked, mostly, until the bullies dropped out.
This is not the end of my essay. Growing up in the same neighborhood for ten years, second to twelfth grade, I had two wacky friends, Kenny and Tommy. Kenny was pompous and thought he was descendent from a Roman emperor. Tommy struggled with his masculinity. He liked and sang “girl music” and was a bit flamboyant. Tommy cut his wrists a few times and seemed to wear the bandages as a badge. In high school Tommy and I did theatre in some productions together. I was glad because he had a car. To us, Tommy wasn’t queer but “That’s just Tommy.” Twice, I stood with him to talk down a taunting bully in high school.
My first year of engineering college was away in Melbourne while Tommy finished twelfth grade. Just before I returned I received a letter that Tommy had finally succeeded slashing his wrists. I was numb. I knew it finally ended Tommy’s pain but it created devastation for Tommy’s adoptive parents, who I knew and liked, but never went to visit afterwards.
After nearly flunking out of engineering college, I went to our local junior college and, for some reason which escapes me now, joined a fraternity. Once, some fraternity brothers I did not know well invited me to go with them to nearby Dania Beach. They were headed to the parking lot of a queer bar to beat up some queers. “We’ve done it before. The police don’t mind.”
Despite the revulsion, my mind painted an imaginary picture of peaceful Tommy walking out of a bar into the darkened parking lot to be beaten by these thugs. That is the face of bullying.
This essay was prepared for the Bullying Contest hosted by justme626, a friend and respected author. Peruse her work when you have the time.
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