This is a true story. All of the articles I have read about bullying are from the point of view of the victim. This one will be different, and I hope to God, please help me now help others, because I was a bully,
Small Town Cliques
I grew up in a small Ohio town where most of our parents had also been raised. It was close knit to a fault. I had close friends of Jim and George, and we walked to and from elementary school every day. George was from a family higher on the small town food chain than Jim and I were but it made no difference to him, and we’d wait at the entrance to his upscale home each morning as he usually was running late and came running, indeed, to join us. George also had a vocal defect which gave his voice a deep gravelly sound. He was the only child in our entire elementary school with a voice like that. He was one of us, and it never occurred to us to mimic him or harass him about his strange speaking voice.
Older Picks on Younger
The pecking order of schools is always that the older children want nothing to do with younger ones, so whenever older children were walking close to us, we’d be pelted with snowballs in the winter or harassed by book snatching and mean tricks. Consequently, we always kept our walking distance to avoid those harmless pranks which I know now were a type of bullying easily outgrown.
New Kid in Town
One day a new child arrived in our neighborhood. His name was Louis, and he was taller, paler and kind of gawky for third grade. Word soon circulated that his family belonged to a “strange religion” and they were often seen standing on street corners handing out pamphlets. On weekends Louis was there with them. I decided he was not coming into our group. On my own, and for no reason at all, I talked my friends into joining me. We would not let him walk with us. We would run ahead of him and taunt him cruelly. Sometimes he would battle tears and cry, “help me please, please help me!” I relished this change in pecking order, as now I was calling the shots as a little 8 year old tyrant. I began giving orders to Jim and George, who carried them out in blind obedience.
We didn’t speak to Louis unless we were taunting him. We did not play with him at recess. I was really having fun harassing the new boy in town with the lanky gait and strange religion. For once, I was not the victim to older rough kids, for my friends and I were the top roosters now in this new pecking order.
Trying Violence on for Size
One day as were were walking home, I told Jim and George to hold my books and wait for me. I walked back to where Louis was walking behind us and without a word, I hit him squarely on the jaw. It was third grade and I had never hit anyone before. It felt strange. Louis’ lip was bleeding. It must have felt worse for Louis, because he reciprocated with one good jab before running off, calling out, “I’m only a little boy trying to get along.”
We had been joined in our bullying of Louis for most of the school year, but now my buddies looked at me as though I’d stepped in dog mess. In fact, I had, because when I took bullying to the violent level, my friends knew this was too much, too bad, and disapproved.
An eight year old’s conscience can really grip. I prayed, “please God help me” every night I had to wrestle in my child’s mind with all the mean things I had done to the pale boy with a strange religion. Becoming the bully instead of victim was even worse.
I knew my parents would be angry, and if anyone told our teachers, I’d be looked at worse than if I’d stepped in manure. I knew I had done wrong, but did not fully realize why yet. That understanding would come later. I decided everyone was right– next year’s fourth grade was really going to be awfully hard, at this rate.
Truce But No Peace
Things took an odd turn after that. George and Jim became friends with Louis and they didn’t walk with me any more. Louis seemed happy that now he had Jim and George as buddies, and he never ever spoke to me again. As an adult, my childhood bullying of Louis still bothered me. I wrote Louis to please help me in a letter of apology. He never replied.