Bullying is ugly. Bullying ruins lives. It even ends lives. Although I experienced mild bullying in the fifth grade and more serious bullying in the eighth grade, Bully at Ambush Corner was inspired by an experience I had in first grade.
In my classroom, Bobby, a pint-sized, freckle-faced bully, swaggered around terrorizing my classmates. Most of the time his focus stayed away from me. Whew! But seeing him pick on others made my stomach flip. One day after school, he took aim at my shy best friend. I don’t remember what he did or said, but I do remember how it made me feel—furious. When she started to cry, I knew my friend couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up for herself. I had to defend her.
I am not proud of the way I chose to do so, but my six-year-old self hadn’t learned many fighting-back techniques. I stomped up to Bobby, said, “Leave my friend alone,” clenched my fist, and, POW!, plowed him right in the eye.
As with many bullies, Bobby didn’t like being force-fed some of his own medicine. Did he punch me back? Nope. Did he kick me? Uh-uh. Did he push me? He did not. He burst into tears.
That’ll show ya, I thought.
Then Bobby yelled at me. “My dad’s a boxer,” he shouted, his tears and his nose flowing, “and he’s going to come and beat you up!”
Oh no! The sheer terror of it. Even more shudder-worthy than his bullying.
I should have scampered home and told my parents of Bobby’s threat in the hope they’d protect me. I didn’t, because it also meant confessing that I’d bopped him. I also didn’t sleep well that night. Bobby’s dad stalked my dreams—a gigantic, smashed-nose, older version of his son, muscles rippling and forehead bulging, coming after me and pounding me to a pulp.
The next morning I sneaked into the classroom unpounded, with no bloody bits and bruises. I knew punishment might still be coming though, because even if Bobby’s hulk of a dad hadn’t come after me yet, Bobby might have squealed to his parents, who might have phoned the school to rat me out. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle soul a first grader could hope to have, but our principal? The thought of being sent to her office stabbed me with an icicle of fear.
I felt my teacher’s eyes on me during the morning pledge and flag salute. Then she made a few announcements, looked right at me, and said how important it was to be kind to each other and that there was to be no hitting, even little girls punching little boys. My head pounded; my heart raced; my stomach churned. Bobby had tattled. I was in for it now. But my teacher merely allowed a tiny smile to tug at the corner of her mouth and went on with our day. Nothing more was said. Ever.
I never stopped to think that punching Bobby made me a bit like him. I only knew that after I socked him in the eye he quit bullying the other kids in my class. Perhaps they and their parents would have been grateful to me had they known the part I played in taming Bobby. Perhaps even my teacher was grateful. As for me, I’m indebted to Bobby himself. Without him, I might not have written Bully at Ambush Corner. As I wrote, I wondered what it would be like to have a boxer for a dad. What if, like the boy in my story, Bobby really wanted to be peaceful, but his dad urged him to stand up for himself? Or worse, what if Bobby was bullied at home and was only imitating the behavior he knew, or taking his misery out on others?
I have more stories of the other times I was bullied. I also have a story about how I was part of some bullying behavior. In those days, bullying was mostly ignored by adults. You accepted it as a part of growing up, something you had to endure. That didn’t make it hurt any less or make me any less ashamed of the part I played in inflicting it.
Today’s headlines indicate that not only is bullying still around, but thanks to today’s technology, people are finding new ways to taunt and batter others, with their words, if not with their fists. What has changed is that now we admit that bullying is cruel, widespread, dangerous, and that it needs to end.
Everyone has a story about bullying. I’m hoping this blog will be a safe place for you to come to tell yours, to find community, and to feel you are not alone. All ages welcome.
This post’s question for you is: Do you remember the first time you were bullied or the first time you bullied another person? Share your story in the comments section.
And come back again soon.