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Bully Pulpit

Bullying has been in the news a lot lately. That's a good thing. It needs a spotlight shown on it, so the bullies can (hopefully) scurry into the shadows like cockroaches with the light turned on them. And, maybe, they'll take some time to contemplate their actions and words, to reflect upon how what they do to others is awful and, sometimes, nearly unforgivable. I speak from experience. I was bullied nearly all through public school. And, in turn, I tried to bully once, to assert some sort of elusive power, and it hurt just as much as being bullied, myself. The cycle of discord among our young is nothing new, but that doesn't mean it should continue.

Starting around 4th grade, things began to change in school. Up to that point, I had -- dare I say it? -- been a somewhat popular kid. Sure, I was the subject of nicknaming -- "Chicken Legs" was my christened school name (and, yes, there was indeed a time when I earned such a nickname) -- but that was just playful teasing. The problems began in earnest in 4th grade. All of a sudden, certain other kids seemed not to care for me too much. A few nasty comments might be thrown my way during class. Disquieting, but nothing major. By 5th grade, things were much worse. Things were so bad that the approach of recess became like a pendulum swinging over my head. I started using my allowance money to pay the 'good' kids to protect me from the 'bad' kids. My parents found out. That didn't go down so well.

Middle School was filled with ups and downs. 8th grade was like an oasis. Things were, for whatever reason, great. It helped to make up for the hell that was 6th and 7th grade. More physical attacks while outside on school grounds, more verbal intimidation and -- brace yourselves -- a robbery that was attempted to be framed on me. Yes, one day in 7th grade, my Math book was stolen while I was away from my desk. A few days later, a classmate's purse was also stolen. Unrelated, you may think? Well, some fine, wonderful students took it upon themselves to tell the adults that they thought I took the purse. As they sat and snickered, the teachers looked worried, and then did the only thing that they thought appropriate -- they called-in a juvenile officer.

I will admit that the incident was one of the all-time low points in my time at school. True, I had been verbally and physically bullied for the previous few years. I'd felt my safety had required paid protection. I'd started hiding behind the stage in the school auditorium during lunch, so that I didn't have to deal with more abuse during the lunch hour. But for these students to do this, to increase the severity of things so much, was like a punch to the stomach. That's how I felt as the officer circled around me in a little room at the school. Me, seated, and he, big and tall, walking constantly around me. I hadn't taken the purse, nor did I know who did, and that became obvious. After several minutes of questioning, he let me go. As I left the offices, the group of kids who'd been bullying me the whole year, and who tried to finger me for the robbery, stood and sniggered.

A week or so later, I headed to Math class. By this time, I'd gotten a new Math book, to replace the one that had 'disappeared' from my desk. Lo and behold, as I walked into the classroom and toward my seat, what should be sitting on my desk but the stolen Math book. And the stolen purse. Game, set and match to the bullies. When it comes to cruelty, they had the market cornered. This incident made me lash-out and take vengeance, not upon my abusers, but on someone I knew was easy pickings. Someone even less popular than myself. In the mind of a young person, solace can sometimes (erroneously, of course) be taken by doing unto others what has been done to you. I pushed a kid. For no reason. He looked stunned and unhappy. I immediately felt terrible. It had only made me feel worse, and I later apologized to him.

High school saw a further disintegration in quality of life. I've talked about it in other posts, so won't dwell on it here. Suffice it to say, between the gay slurs, the basketballs to the head, the threats of being beaten-up, and the incessant taunting during class, it all became too much to handle, and I finished my last semester on home-bound. I did not attend the class graduation. There was utterly no desire to do so, as you might well imagine. I was just glad to be finally be free.

You see, dear reader, I know what these kids today are going through. Maybe you do, too. Bullying isn't anything new. But maybe now, with such a national and local spotlight being thrown on it, things will change. I certainly hope so. It's no way for a person -- especially a young person -- to live. This is why so many who are bullied (myself included) contemplate not living. And, you know what is perhaps the worst thing? Many of the bullies who made my life hell for so many years have turned into pretty decent people. They were, in many ways, kids being kids. And that is perhaps the cruelest reality of all.


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