This is my story about being bullied. More importantly it is my story about overcoming it, how it changed me, how I grew from it and how my experiences changed my life. It is a deeply personal story and one which I haven’t shared much, but I want to now. It was terrible, but it made me the man I am today.
When I was in the seventh grade I was bullied, a lot. I lived in a small town and when you get ostracized there is little getting away from it. I was always the pudgy kid who was really smart in elementary school, so people hated me. I was raised to be a kind person and do right. I didn’t have the defense mechanisms that others had. I felt like I was always a bit of a target and that I could never really have close friends. I was lonely and left myself vulnerable when I was young to being hurt because of how badly I wanted to have friends.
Then one day in the seventh grade one of my “closest” friends started a vicious rumor for little other reason than to… I still have no understanding why. Perhaps to gain points with the popular crowd. Does knocking people down 50 notches raise you 5? Was it somehow worth it? This was one of the worst betrayals of my life and why I am always suspicious of people, always. Still though, this wasn’t the worst of it, not by far.
After that it seemed like my whole life spiraled out of control as everyone started whispering and laughing after I walked past. It felt like the whole school was in on it. My friends completely abandoned me, afraid that they would catch loser, and I felt totally lost. It was probably one of the worst long term periods of my life. The worst part was how my old friends seemed to turn at the drop of a hat if it meant being on the wrong side of the loser line. I’m not exaggerating to say that I literally felt completely alone. Worse I felt that the only time I could escape was when I was actually alone. Worse yet, I felt like every time I turned, someone wanted to take their shot. In truth it lasted for years, but the culminating event happened when I was in the seventh grade when a friend started a rumor and then my bully found out about it.
The rumor lasted for about five months. Then people got tired of it. People didn’t really make fun of me, but I didn’t have any friends either. There was one person who didn’t get tired of it though. Andy. He was in the grade above me and ran with the popular 8th graders. It seemed he couldn’t go a day without trying to create some mental damage in me. Andy made songs that they would all sing, talk about me where they knew I could hear, pick on me in every available opportunity. I hated him. I loathed him. I hated my life.
This went on until the end of the school year, another three months. One day Mom was driving me home. It was about four days until the last day of school. She saw me looking incredibly down. I hadn’t ever told her what was going on with me. It had been a very hard day, I don’t remember what he did I just knew that I just wanted to be alone in my room.
She said to me, “OK. You’re going to tell me what is going on. I see you like this like this for months and you never tell me what is going on. What is happening with you?”
I told her everything. I told them what they were saying, how my friends had started the rumors to get me to look stupid, how it blew up from there, the songs, the names, and especially about Andy. I remember starting to choke up as I looked off out the window of the car.
A minute or so passed.
“Jon, tomorrow when you go school I want you to go up to this Andy and…”
I thought a dozen things in that second. “Ask him why he is picking on me” or “You’re hurting my feelings so please stop” or “If you keep doing this I will tell”. These were all stupid and I couldn’t believe that my Mom would have thought that would do anything. They were stupid, but that wasn’t what she was going to say.
“Jon, tomorrow when you go school I want you to go up to this Andy and I want you to kick his ass.”
I just looked at her, completely shocked. This was not the woman I had known for the last 13 years of my life. The woman who sang me to sleep or took me to Church or raised me to always do what’s right. This wasn’t her. This was a scary woman, kind of like a bear with her cubs I guess. This I will always remember as the moment I met my mother.
That afternoon we talked about things. She asked me why I put up with it. The funny thing was that I could probably have fought him and done well enough at any time before that. Surprised? I had been in martial arts for several years. I competed and had placed first in the State in sparring two years in a row. Two years after this I received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Fighting wasn’t really the problem, it was not fighting. As miserable as I was I had one rule to follow. Since knowing how to fight gave me a certain advantage my mom also gave me a very important rule.
Never throw the first punch. If someone else attacks you, give it back to them, but I better never throw the first punch. However afraid I was of Andy came nowhere near how afraid I could be of my mom, of letting her, the people at Church, or my martial arts instructor down. The tragic irony in all this was that the rule was intended to keep me from becoming a bully.
So now is when she gave me the most important lesson of my life. She told me that I needed to make a choice. I could fight Andy, I had the option. I should definitely get in trouble for it, since I was basically starting the whole thing and I would spend the last four days of school in ISS. ISS was in school suspension and where the “bad” kids went. She also told me that if I got in trouble at school she would have to follow her rule that she would double the punishment and I would be grounded. She also explained that if I did fight him I would gain his respect and the respect of everyone who saw it, and that they would probably not pick on me any more. This was the first time that I ever contemplated that doing something traditionally thought to be wrong, would be right and that it may be necessary to make a sacrifice for something more important. The day I met my mother was the day she taught me how make a choice, a real adult choice.
I decided I would fight.
Of course she had made her opinion pretty clear when she gave me the anatomy lesson on how to both cause the most debilitating damage and pain to my victim. Did I mention she is a nurse? Yeah all that healing knowledge of the human body can be a dangerous thing when you mess with her kid I suppose. It was nice to know that even though I would have to be grounded, I had her support… and training.
The next day I planned it all out, set up the location, waited for an excuse, called in my actors, played out the scenarios. I had a plan. I would wait until after athletics class. There was a walk from the football field to the middle school that was a block away. We would be away from any adults and it would be just me and Andy, and all the boys of my school. All the people I wanted to send a message to and no one who would stop me.
That day I went to school with a sense of purpose. I felt different than I ever did. This day I wasn’t wishing that he would leave me alone. I was thinking “Oh I hope you do it.” Second period came around and he walked past my desk. “Hey there ‘poopiehead’.” ( He didn’t say poopiehead, but this isn’t an adults only thread.)
…Thank you Andy. That was all I needed.
I spent the rest of the day looking forward to the sixth period. When we got out of class I remember the adrenaline. I don’t think I had been as prepared for anything in my life, perhaps not since. Two of my friends were beside me.
Me: “Hey… You guys want to see a fight?”
Chris: “What… You serious?”
I am serious that is exactly how it happened. They were excited and ran off to tell Andy. I don’t know what they said, I just remember Andy turning around yelling out “What’s your problem?”
Me: “YOU’RE MY PROBLEM!”
I walked up to this guy, stared up at him with an intensity that I couldn’t recreate if my life depended on it. I stood up to him, and the six inch, fifty pounds of post pubescent advantage he had on me. It didn’t stop me a bit, didn’t even slow me down. I was in some sort of rage that was the expression of a year of pent up hate and frustration. I don’t know what could have stopped me at that moment.
Andy: “What are you talking about? You’re ju-”
Me: “YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! YOU HAVE BEEN MAKING FUN OF ME FOR A WHOLE YEAR NOW AND I’M SICK OF IT.”
Andy: You know I don’t actually remember what he said next…
Let me step out to explain how guy fights work. In tradition the ceremony takes place when two young men are angry at one another. They will have what is known as the face off. Next is a round of back and forth banter. This can last a few hours until one will eventually lightly touch the other, usually on the shoulder. Then the other will touch him back. Then it turns to poking and poking harder. A light push, a shove and then a real push and then after around seven hours after the “fight” started someone will have finally thrown a punch and the real fight will begin. Well not today. Back to the story.
Andy: “Something, something, some-”
And then I hit him in the face. It wasn’t one of those pull back and go straight at him. It was a sweeping arc of a wild child whose fist was suddenly possessed by the spirit of a sledgehammer. There was the moment of shock in his face and of the kids who were watching. No one thought I would actually do it. It was a good feeling. Every punch that landed felt like gaining my life back. I didn’t even feel his punches. I fought well. We punched each other back and forth. At some point we were rolling around on the ground. I never stopped hitting him, kicking him, whatever I could to just cause him pain. And everyone saw it. They saw the chubby nerd they had made fun of, viciously attack a kid a year older, six inches taller, 50 pounds bigger who had it coming.
This went on for several minutes. Maybe hours, I don’t know. It was crazy. Then everyone else fled back to the middle school. That could only mean one thing… faculty. We both looked to the football field and saw the coaches walking towards us. They didn’t seem in any real hurry. All the other boys were gone. My mission was over. The fight was done. We started to walk over to the coaches and take what was coming to us.
They took us to the office of the field house and asked what happened. Andy, obviously the victim of this kid a head shorter than himself, pled innocence and ignorance as to why this crazy person would attack him in such a manner.
Me: “THAT’S BULLCRAP AND YOU KNOW IT! YOU HAVE BEEN PICKING ON ME AND CALLING ME NAMES FOR WHOLE YEAR! TELL THEM THE NAMES! SING THEM THE SONG! YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID!”
The coaches had to pull me down. Like I said before, I was pretty set on getting in trouble for all this so I was ready for whatever the coaches were about to say, except what they said. They gave me a slap on the wrist, almost nothing… We have to sit next to each other at lunch? (We didn’t.) Seriously? Is that all? I just beat the crap out this guy and you aren’t even going to write me up?
The next day when my mom dropped me off at school, I got out of the car and all the seventh graders cheered for me. They called me the “Giant killer.” That was one of those moments you bottle up and pull out on those really rough days. The 8th graders snickered at Andy. He also had a few more bruises than I did. That was a great moment. As much as I hold onto the vision of seeing all the seventh graders hooting and cheering I wish for a moment I could have turned around to see what the look on my mom’s face looked like when she saw the same thing.
I never really understood why I never got in trouble though. It was a small town so by that point, everyone knew. Not just the kids, but everyone; every teacher, every parent, the guy at Subway even asked if I was that kid who beat up Andy. So as I said, I was confused to say the least why I never saw the inside of any office for what was now the most important piece of town gossip. At least not until a few days later when my Mom went to talk to the coaches for an unrelated matter with football camp. They were laughing about it. It seems that the whole town thought he needed it. It seems that I wasn’t the only one he pissed off. I think she was proud when they told about how they thought I was going to tear into him right there in the office.
Coach: “Yeah I bet Frank (Andy’s Dad) sure had some questions that night.”
Coach: “Yeah. Frank… Frank X.”
Mom: “As in Mr. X… the High School Principal Mr. X?”
Coach: “… You didn’t know?”
Nope, we sure didn’t. It was probably for the best. She might not have told me to do it. I might not have wanted to do it. There are so many things in my life that might not have happened if I had known. But I didn’t and they did. And for what it is worth their name wasn’t “X”, but this story has become rather public so I don’t want their names out there for the whole world to see.
I would easily say this was the most formative day of my childhood, and probably the most formative of my life. I was respected after that by other members of the school and I didn’t get picked on much more than anyone else. It gave me courage to stand up to things that I was afraid of. It influenced why I joined the Marines and how I treat others. I grew up without a father so many men like me never receive these lessons as they should, but I did. I did because I had a mom who knew what it took to make a boy into a man. She said the things that most people wouldn’t, because they are weak. She wasn’t, and because she was strong now I am too. I am very thankful that I was fortunate enough to have a mother who could give me the lessons she did.
There is more to this story though.
No one made fun of me about that ever again. From time to time little bullies would rise up. They would say things for a few weeks, then I had a way of reminding them about Andy. I enjoyed high school much more than middle school.
The Principal? It turns out he didn’t really hold a grudge. What I was really afraid of was that, since he was also a coach of the football team, he wouldn’t let me play. Well he did. He actually started me… offense… and defense… and special teams… as a sophomore. Apparently since the whole town was annoyed with his son who had a massive chip on his shoulder, I did him a favor.
And Andy? Well it turns out he never made fun of me again. He also played football too. A few years later we were starting together. We had spots right next to one another for the next two years. We practiced together, we played together, won together, we lost together, we celebrated together… We high fived. I had gained his respect and maybe a little bit of his fear. Our past was behind us. And he was apparently better off for it too. People say that they were happy that he had it coming and that he grew up from it. I don’t know of anyone else he bullied either. We’re Facebook friends now believe it or not. That doesn’t exactly mean we’re old buddies or that we ever were, but he hasn’t been my bully since that day.
That single event taught me more about being a man than any other event in my life.
- I learned how to make up my own mind and weigh the consequences with the rewards. I learned that real men accept that there are consequences and rewards to every choice. I can’t just do what people expect because it is the right thing in their eyes. Sometimes I have to make the hard choice. I have to make sacrifices and that sometimes is the only way to gain any real success. My mom left me with the very clear lesson that I could make absolutely any choice so long as I was willing to accept the consequences.
- I learned that sometimes you have to fight to protect yourself.You can’t do the right thing all the time. It won’t get you anywhere, besides miserable.
- I learned the importance of strategic and political planning. I waited all day to fight him in the one spot where we were the farthest from any adults who would break us up, where we were surrounded by the other boys and I could fight until I decided it was over. From there I delivered just the message to Andy and to everyone else I wanted.
- I learned that my mother knew some seriously scary stuff about hurting people if you have to. She’s a nurse so her knowledge is meant to heal, but it is dangerous knowledge when she get’s angry. Seriously, I outweigh her by a good 150 pounds, stand a foot taller, have military and martial arts training and I don’t ever want to piss her off. .
I wanted to leave readers of this article with a single lesson about bullying. You’re a victim. It isn’t fair, but it is happening. It won’t stop because you tell or because you wish it away, or because you are hiding in the bathroom and no amount of crying into your pillow will fix it either. You need to accept that no one is ever going to help you. No one wants to see what you are going through and most of the time, they just aren’t thinking that hard about you anyway. You are in this alone and you have to fix the situation. You have to accept that no one cares as much about your situation as you do. Your bullies are also never going to change. Something has to make them see that it is wrong what they are doing and that, at the very least they are going to have to find someone else. Peace is a sweet ideal, but the funny thing about peace is that it only exists when there are no bullies. Pacifism, forgiveness, turning the other cheek or being the bigger man are luxuries of people who just haven’t been desperate enough yet. You have to stand up and scream that this isn’t the life you want to live. You were the victim and now you won’t be. You have to fight. My wife and I have debated about how we would raise our sons and daughters to handle bullies. I will let them know when it is right to fight. I will teach them how to fight, with their fists and their minds. Most importantly I will teach them about bullying and how much it hurts people and how they should never stand for it, not as the victim, not even as the witness, and never the perpetrator. I hope others do as I do too, so that there might one day be less bullies and less kids like me who stand up, and hopefully one day no more kids that don’t.
Jon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.