Reading about the poor teenager whose life has been irrevocably changed due to a spinal injury, the result of a bully’s fist punch to the boy’s abdomen, I was reminded of my days in High School. Thankfully, my injures were not physical, only mental. In my High School annual there’s a snap of a group of girls, all aglow with Pepsodent smiles, standing in front of a water fountain. That water fountain was at the base of a Y-shaped staircase. For me, said staircase was not “the stair way to Heaven.” I had to climb that staircase everyday, passing the giggling girls. And when I started my climb, they started their jeers: “Whoooo! Look who’s here….sissy boy. Hey sissy boy, where’d you get that trench coat? Did you mama buy you that briefcase?” Their taunts brought the jeers of others, and if I could, I would have crawled between the paint on the walls and the concrete blocks to which the paint was attached. This assault was daily, and daily I climbed the stairs looking desperately for an escape. I never found one. If the girls were vicious, the boys were just down-right mean! One in particular seemed to take sadistic pleasure in making my life a living hell at school. I can see him now, tall with mop of coal-black hair, sauntering down the long school hallway; he was the cock of the walk, as it were. He was the campus football hero, the idol of his coach’s eye, and eyed by all the giggling girls at school. He was in a word – perfect. Perfect that is until I came into his sights. And Oh! My grashus, the nasty, lewd things that “perfect” boy would say to me. Some of the things he said, I didn’t even know what they meant. And looking back now, I wonder if he bullied me because I was small of stature and perhaps he was bullied at home; his father and brothers were all “real men.” And did I mention that he was also a member in good standing of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
But all good things come to those who wait.
Years later in the mid-90s, after a smashing run of The Christmas Carol at Center Stage, I was standing in the lobby receiving kind words about my performance as Scrooge. And lo and behold who should appear in the receiving line but Miss Pepsodent Smile of water fountain fame! She had brought her grandson to see the show. And when she came up to me, it was like old home week. She hugged me, and told her grandson that we’d been in school together. He was a cute kid, about 12 years old, and full of questions about my makeup and costume, etc. I smiled, answered all his questions, the entire time thinking, “Little one, I hope you never have to experience the living hell I did, all of it brought on by someone like your dear ol’ grandmother.” I also saw Mr. Perfect some time back, gorging himself on raw oysters at Gulfport’s Half Shell Oyster House. I was dining on the upstairs balcony and had a bird’s eye view of him. I could not help but laugh. Gone was the mop of coal-black hair, replaced by a lovely bald scalp of blotchy pink skin. Gone too the muscular physique, replaced with one that somewhat resembled a large wooden barrel. He was escorting some bleached-blonde bimbo, perhaps all he could reel in his “declining” years. As I was leaving, our eyes met. For a second, he acted as if he didn’t remember me, but then he smiled a toothy grin and said, “Well, look who it is…the little pansy boy.” Little did he know that the “little pansy boy” had grown up over the years, and no longer feared Mr. Perfect. With a sweet smile, I looked at Mr. Perfect and said, “You know, in an ever changing world there’s one that never changes…once a jerk…you’re a jerk to the day you die.” The bimbo giggled. I left Mr. Perfect was a spot of gumbo on his tie and a look of bewilderment on his face.
Now…said all that to say this, were you a bully? If so…shame, shame shame on you. And if you were, have your reared you sons and daughters to be the same, or perhaps your grandchildren? If so…shame, shame, shame on you! I look back on those hellish days at school and can say without reservation that I would have not survived if it had not been for my loving parents – Mom the school teacher, Dad the Marine – and dear ol’ FBC Gulfport. Those two places – home and church – were my anchors in the vicious, turbulent waters of my youth. Had it not been for those anchors, which tethered me to places where I found true love and acceptance, I shutter to think where I might have ended up, or what I might have become. Bulling has erupted on our school campuses; its bitter pus oozing into festering sores. It has brought untold misery to millions of young people, and death to some. And now a teenage in Ramsey, New Jersey, will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair due to a bully. But how can we fault the bullies, when many times their parents taught them how? How? By never telling the little bastards: “No, you can’t do that,” or “Honey, it’s alright. Mommy and Daddy will smooth everything over…don’t you worry Honey…” But then there are times when parents do everything they can, bringing up their child as best they know how. And now the child has morphed into some type of Frankenstein monster, trying to kill the very person who created it.
So what to do? How to stop the bulling? I have no idea. But I do know if children who are bullied do not stand up, backed up by their parents, nothing will change. If you even suspect your child or someone else’s child is the victim of a bully, talk to that child. Talk to his/her parents, grandparents, school officials. I never told my parents or anyone else in authority about my days at the hands of bullies. Perhaps if I had, something would have been done about it. Silence may be golden in a library, but when it comes to bullies, silence is a road map to an irrevocable destination: disaster.