Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Child Fights Back: Bullying and Growing Up

He entered the classroom and headed towards his chair near the back of the room. Walking down the aisle, someone stuck his leg out to trip him and he stumbled forward. Regaining his balance, he sat down, red faced and wishing with his entire heart and soul that he could be anywhere but here. If only he did not have to go to school.

The teacher came in and began teaching which actually was a sort of relief. This morning while walking to school he saw caricatures of him drawn by classmates on street signs and telephone poles. He had not done anything to them. He knew of course that somehow he was different. At eight years old he was not exactly sure what it was, but it must be bad. This morning one kid came up and punched him in the groin, calling him a "homo." In unattended moments his conversation could be excited and he used his hands a lot. Was that what it was? He had focused on controlling his arms and learned to speak an East Texas dialect, just to fit in. Nothing seemed to work. He sighed, thinking life really was a lonely sort of thing.

It was time for recess. Running out to the playground, as he arrived on the asphalted area for playing a ball game called 2 square, one bully walked up and pushed him hard. "Queer!" he shouted. Years later he wondered if that kid even knew what it meant. Time would prove him correct of course, but he didn't know it then. Later in recess, one kid dropped down on his hands and knees behind our hapless soul, while the other shoved him and down he went, banging his head. He felt his anger beginning to rise, greater even than the ever constant fear he felt. Another school yard bully, three inches taller with long arms punched him in the belly.

As the bully started to walk away laughing, our hero felt something snap inside. He slammed his body into the bully knocking him off balance. He struggled to get up, but the child who had been bullied for so long kept punching and kicking, knocking the bully on his back. BAM a crashing fist landed right on the bully's nose and it started to bleed. He just kept punching, wild eyed, furious, with tears flowing screaming "You... Will... Not... Do...This... To... Me..." Each word accompanied with another punch before a giant hand grabbed him by the shoulder and a teacher pulled him off and sent them both to the office. That night he cried himself to sleep.

There were so many fights over the next two years. Everyone had to take their shot at the sissy boy who fought back. He was no stranger to black eyes and bloody noses. One day two kids told him they were going to catch him after he left school one day. Frightened, he took a route which led him blocks out of his way to get home. As fate would have it, his dad uncharacteristically was home that day. Usually he would have been on the road working. "Where were you? You were late."

The frightened young fourth grader then made his mistake. He hesitantly told his daddy the truth. "Two guys in the fifth grade said they were going to beat me up. I took another route home."

Daddy's eyes grew dark. "No child of mine runs from a fight. You stand up to them tomorrow. If you don't, you get a worse whipping from me when you get home."

The classes dragged along slowly the next day. Then the bell rang and out he walked. Just as promised, there they were. He took a swing at the first as he approached. It reflected off his arm. The other jumped and grabbed him, and both kids began beating on him. He tried to fight back but to no avail. Then it was over. Bruised and bloody, he walked the lonely route home. Daddy would be so proud.

Of course the child was me. One more product of bullying and an ethic that prized physical violence, especially against kids who were bullies. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived, which means I came out stronger after it was all over. I developed verbal skills to talk myself out of situations. It would be decades before i learned to love myself, but I did eventually learn. Learning to stand strong was perhaps one of the lessons of those early days at Bell Elementary. The principal seemed to understand, and there was a chair they said was just for me when I was fighting. Having said that, intervening in the bullying cycle was something that would not come till years later.

Today I have many friends and a somewhat normal life. I credit my life experiences for bringing me to where I am today. But my prayer is that young children never have to face that sort of bullying. Too many don't make it to be grownups. Controlled studies in Massachusetts shows that glb youth are 3 times more likely to have tried to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. I've not seen numbers for transgender, but my guess would be that is even higher. I'd rather have these young folks alive myself.

Tomorrow I will talk about something more upbeat. But this needed to be said.

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