“But mamma, I don’t think I can be nice to her,” I said. “She-she-she’s just SO MEAN!”
“I understand kiddo. Sometimes its hard to be kind to someone that hurts you. But hurting them isn’t going to make the problem go away. Hurting them isn’t going to make them stop being mean. Its just going to give them an excuse to be meaner next time.” She looked a bit sad, “You don’t know why she’s mean, maybe she’s been hurt. Sometimes, when you can’t be kind, just don’t be cruel instead.”
I’m not sure if my mom remembers this conversation or not, but I do…I think it was the 3rd or 4th grade. I wasn’t bullied as a child in the traditional sense, but I was bookish and smart and a wee bit chubby and I had an intense sense of righteousness. Add all that to being always a bit out of step with what was popular and cool, and occasionally someone commented on my being “too smart” or “a bit weird”. I was lucky to have lots of friends anyhow, mostly because I’m pretty much a person that enjoys people (I don’t always like them, but I find them intensely interesting). But I still got picked on once in a while.
Some girl had decided that she didn’t like me because I wouldn’t let her cheat off my paper, but at the same time I didn’t want to get her into trouble, so I didn’t say anything. She was a lot like a mean dog. You know, the one that’s been kicked around by its owners and kept penned up in a too small yard for too long? Her hair was always stringy, her clothes didn’t quite fit, she hung out with the older kids and did stuff I wouldn’t even think of trying to get away with. She wasn’t a bully per se, she just wasn’t nice…
And she disliked me as much as I disliked her.
I was her outlet for the world kicking her around. I don’t think anyone ever told her when you can’t be kind, just don’t be cruel instead.
She got suspended one time too many in the eighth grade. Ended up in juvenile detention and just sort of disappeared from my world. I was ecstatic.
She often sat close to me (alphabetical order, you know) and called me names under her breath when I raised my hand to answer a question. Most of the time I didn’t see her–I was in gifted classes, and then advanced and honors classes. But there was this one class. If we were taking a test, and I’d forgotten to braid my hair or put it in a pony tail, she’d pull out one strand, and then another, for the entire hour. Eventually, I was able to get my seat moved because I “had glasses and needed to see the board better.” In another class, I wasn’t so lucky.
And so, one day, as I was passing papers over to the next desk me (where she happened to sit) and they fell to the ground. She thought that I ought to pick them up for “doing that on purpose” ( I hadn’t) and I thought that she should pick them up herself since she hadn’t been paying attention. Later that day she cornered me in the locker room and tried to pick a fight. I could have ignored her and moved on or deflected her attention for another day, or month…or year (she lived in the other high school’s area). But instead, I did the one thing I knew would piss her off.
When I told her that she wasn’t worth my time, she punched me in the face.
I was so furious, I couldn’t even talk. My head was empty of what I wanted to say, of every clever insult I’d carefully honed and crafted and nurtured over the years. My ears buzzed with rage. I wanted to rip her head off. I wanted to make her feel how I felt, nearly every day. I wanted to pummel her to the ground over and over and over. I wanted…I wanted her small.
But that, my friends, that is not me.
I’m not out of control. I learned at a very early age, from a father that drank too much and was mean when he drank, that being out of control wasn’t the right answer.
And, as I looked at her, in that split second, with her red face, bad clothes and stringy hair–I knew I could ruin her more than hitting her back ever would.
I picked up my books (I didn’t even remember dropping them) and walked away, straight out of the locker room, straight past a number of witnesses, straight past the gym teacher rushing to see what the commotion was. Straight past her calling me a “sissy”. Straight into the principal’s office, and asked for an ice pack and some paper towels (I was bleeding a bit) before I grandly announced that I’d been punched in the face without provocation and hadn’t retaliated.
I got that girl kicked out of school.
I sent her to juvie. I knew that she was on probation. I knew that “one more incident” would get her sent away for a while. I knew, and I didn’t care. In fact, I relished it. I hoarded that little nugget of information in the back of my brain until it was ready to be mined like the gold that it was. Aside from a “we wish you had told us there was a problem sooner”, I was even held up as an example of what to do in a “situation”.
Because they didn’t know that I had already decided what I would do if when this happened.
I did nothing.