I don’t know what has me thinking about childhood bullies tonight. But that’s where my mind is going for some odd reason. Kids today have bullies of course, but I’m not sure they are the same kind we had when I was growing up.
I was a kid in the 70’s, a teen in the 80’s. I lived in a small rural Mid-West community, a village actually, too tiny to even be called a town. We lived on roads, not streets and those roads were dirt and rutted with deep potholes and washboard bumps that rattled your teeth when you rode your bike over them.
In our neighborhood, which I guess could very loosely be called a “suburb” we had our own gang of jackasses who made the lives of shy little kids like myself miserable. These boys were older, probably in their early to mid teens. I was around ten and I hung around with the other kids my age and younger. I steered clear of the bad boys. They scared the shit out of me.
There were probably around eight of them all together, all tough guys, with feathered long hair or crew cuts. They wore jeans with chains hanging out of their back pockets and white tee shirts and did stuff like smoke cigarettes and swear and sneer and crack their knuckles at us younger kids. One look from one of these morons and you nearly peed yourself.
One particular day, that is burned into my memory, I was out riding my bike with one of my friends. I had her on my handle bars, such as you did in those days, and we were pedaling along down the dirt road behind my house, perfectly happy, when what did we come upon? Four members of the bully brigade, all on their bikes, parked in the middle of the road.
I should mention here that although I was a shy kid, I was also a little mouthy and very stupid. Because when I pedaled past these ogres, they made some comment and brilliant me came back with, “Shut up!”
You did not tell these boys to shut up. Especially if you were a scrawny ten year old girl.
The road dead ended so I had no choice but to turn around and ride back and they were waiting for us.
No, scratch that. There were two of us on the bike but those bastards were waiting for ME!
This time there was no going around them, they had their bikes and bodies smack dab in the middle of the road so I had no choice but to stop my bike and my friend got down from the handlebars.
The biggest, Jamie, looked at me with cool, dark eyes. “Did you just tell us to shut up?”
I don’t remember if I even said anything. I think my tongue was paralyzed and my eyeballs had gotten so big they now took up most of my face.
My friend didn’t say anything either. She just stood there, frozen, mute. She was younger than I was and was probably even closer to pissing than I was.
One of the other guys now spoke up, looking at me with a smirk. “That wasn’t very nice, now was it, boys?” This one scared me the most. For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but he had a pretty bad reputation in our neighborhood for beating the shit out of people on a regular basis. He was actually kind of cute, but at that moment I wasn’t crushing on him, that was for sure!
They wouldn’t let us go past. They sat there on their bikes and talked about how they were going to knock the shit out of us. They said all this to each other very casually, like they were making dinner plans. I don’t know how long we stood there or exactly what all they said. I just remember how I felt. I was freaking terrified. They probably would not have touched us but we didn’t understand that they were just messing with us. It didn’t matter. I was literally in fear for my life, figuring they’d find my battered and bruised body afterwards in one of the deep ditches that lined the roads.
Finally I started to cry, which seemed to give them the twisted satisfaction they wanted. With a subtle motion of his head, Jamie let me pass and I booked it out of there. I’m ashamed to say I left my friend in the dust as I rode like the wind home. (don’t worry, she made it out unscathed!)
I can’t remember if I ever told my parents about what had happened. I don’t think I did, I was embarrassed that they had turned me into a blubbering little idiot. It was not one of my finest moments but it’s also a moment I have been unable to forget.
Those boys all grew up to be middle aged men now. I’m sure they are all married with children and possibly grandchildren of their own. I think a few of them are actually dead. When I was in high school I was reacquainted with the cute bully, who then was perfectly nice to me. WTF? It was all I could do not to ask him if he remembered scaring the shit out of me when I was ten. But I didn’t. I guess I was too entranced with his looks to care.
They weren’t the first bullies I’d ever encountered and they also weren’t the last. Even as an adult you run into bullies, in the form of bosses or other people. It’s sad, but it still happens. But I no longer allow jerks like that to take away my power. I almost feel sorry for them, because I’ve come to realize a person has to really hate something within themselves to be so hateful to another human being.
So I can’t forget my bullies and I’m not real sure I can forgive them either. The question is, can they forgive themselves?