During my first year of junior high, I unexpectedly encountered situation with an upper-classmate that some people would refer to a bullying in today’s climate. At the risk of offending some readers, I personally believe the word “bully” is over-used and often applied inappropriately. Be that as it may, my experience taught me something about myself, and about “bullies”.
Tim was in ninth grade when I was in seventh. He was very tall tall with broad shoulders, and wore $hit-kicker boots and a chain from his wallet to his pocket. Greasy, dishwater blond hair touched his shoulders. He was regularly suspended for fighting and had a nasty reputation as a cruel dude. He and I shared the same lunch period (along with 200 of our closest friends) where he sat in the first row of tables closest to the garbage can students used to empty their trays before putting them in the “to be washed” pile.
Every day when I’d take my tray to the garbage can, he would mutter, “Bitch” and other obscenities under his breath. At first, I thought he must be talking about someone else because he didn’t even know me; but it literally happened every single day for the first month or so of school. Many students, back then as well as now, would simply have cowered in intimidation. Some may report either to a friend or a trusted teacher.
One day, I just decided I had enough of Tim. I a moment of fool-headed bravery, I dumped my tray and boldly marched right up to Tim. I got my face up close to his and stuck my finger out and put it in his chest. Undaunted, I proceeded to tell him off, footnoting that his statements were invalid because he didn’t even know me. The look of astonishment on his face was priceless, and I’m sure the scene was comical to spectators who’d never dream a shy, diminutive damsel would have the courage to stand up to such an insolent tormentor.
From that day forward, Tim became my “big brother guardian”. Every time I saw him, he gave me a hug. He’d check in with me on a regular basis to see if anyone was giving me trouble (and he assured me that if anyone ever did, he’d take care of it).
To be sure, there are probably plenty of reasons why bullies do what they do. I always felt that, in Tim’s case, he intimidated people that he could intimidate – and I believe he secretly respected the fact that I stood up to him. Without excusing his behavior, perhaps he was simply looking for someone who would stand up to him .
The incident taught me there are times in life when we must stand up for ourselves. I was proud of myself for having the courage to do it, and the outcome encouraged me to continue to stand strong in the face of difficulty through the rest of my life.
In an odd sense, I’m grateful that Tim taught me about myself. I last saw him at a high school reunion. He had lost his wife (my classmate) to cancer, and was missing a sparkle from his eye, but still hugged me and asked if anyone was giving me trouble.
Have spunk and courage, my friends. Life is tough.
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