Regardless of whether you are a victim of bullying, or a witness, the incident is usually traumatizing.
I don’t remember being bullied as a child, although there was certainly cause for me to have been.
First of all, I adored school and the pleasures that went with it--The smell of books. The point of a newly sharpened pencil. Organizing my desk, putting my books, crayons and ruler in order. Taking tests. Knowing the answers. The way you could make your writing on the blackboard look like calligraphy if you positioned the chalk just right. I was Hermione Granger minus the robes and spells. It was almost as if I walked around with an invisible I’m a nerd, please taunt me sign.
Secondly, I looked like a victim-in-waiting. I had long unstyled hair, pink cat-eye glasses and buckteeth. I wore whatever the Goodwill donors deemed no longer acceptable for their closets. Yet, I don’t recall being the objects of anyone’s bullying fantasies.
No, I suffered enough by witnessing what the bullies did to others.
I was in first grade when I first became aware that some people were not kind. Because I lived far from the school, I took the bus home. The bus riders were divided into two groups—-first bus and second bus. I was a second busser. The second bussers got to play on the playground until the bus arrived.
After school had been in session for a few weeks, my teacher approached me and asked if she could speak with me after school. I was terrified. My sister Paula, eight years older than I was had warned me about the stigma of being a “stay after school” child. What had I done? Was I in trouble?
Luckily, my teacher wasn’t upset with me at all. It seems that some other kids were making fun of my classmate, Peggy. Piggy, they called her, because she was overweight. They would push her out of line when she attempted to board the second bus. They would put their feet on the bus seat so Peggy would have nowhere to sit.
My teacher wanted to know, would I please wait inside with Peggy every day until the bus came? Would I walk with her in line until she got on the bus? Would I sit with her on the bus?
I was relieved to find I was not in trouble and of course I agreed to do whatever my teacher asked, but the shock that came when I first experienced inhumanity altered my sheltered worldview in an instant. I tried to be especially kind to Peggy, but my kindness didn’t matter. She had already been violated at age seven, and transferred to another school shortly thereafter.
As I progressed through elementary school I saw more examples of children humiliating others. An older girl harassed my own little brother frequently. My mom stepped in to complain to the girl’s mother, who just defended her daughter’s behavior. Our family was relieved when we realized the girl was no longer living in our neighborhood, and my brother could walk to the store or library without fear.
Another example is Joanne Landis*, a girl I will never forget. She towered over all the other kids in our school. Her excessive weight caused her to lumber when she walked, and it appeared that physical activity was painful for her. She was prematurely pear-shaped and her girth only accentuated her shape. The only clothing she was able to wear was muumuu style dresses. Somehow she became know only by her last name as other kids used it as almost a swear word. You’re such a Landis. Don’t be a Landis.
One afternoon, a group of us, about eight or nine neighbors, was walking home from school. About one house ahead of us walked Joanne, alone. Suddenly someone shouted, “Landis is on the sidewalk! Everyone jump off! You’ll get Landis germs!” The other kids started hopping off the sidewalk, into the grass. None of them wanted to be tainted.
I kept walking on the sidewalk. My friends starting yelling, “Randi! Get off the sidewalk! Landis is on the sidewalk! She’ll cause an earthquake and you’ll fall in! You’ll be a Landis if you don’t get off!”
I hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to listen to my friends and play along or not. But then Joanne turned around and saw me, the only one left standing on the sidewalk. I will never forget the look of utter grief on her face before she turned back around and continued her arduous trek home. I resolved to stay on that darn sidewalk. When my friends started calling me “Landis! Landis!” I just said, “Oh well.” I am grateful that I don’t have the regret hanging over me, as I know I would have had I jumped. My life went on and after a few minutes my classmates stopped calling me Landis. But Joanne, wherever you are, I am ashamed of what you had to endure. I hope you were able to go on.
In junior high school life was even more brutal for those the bullies chose to pick on. Two young men stand out in my mind---Guy and Richard.
Guy was a year or two older than I, and was known as a scholar. He also shone as an artist. His paintings, sketches and sculptures were frequently on display in the art rooms.
One day after school, Guy walked out the doors carrying a sculpture he had finished—-a self-portrait bust. I was amazed because I had been given the same assignment in art class—-to make something out of a block of plaster—-but mine just ended up looking like a deformed letter Z instead of the lightning bolt I had attempted. Guy’s piece looked life-like. I was proud on his behalf.
Suddenly Guy was surrounded by a group of fellow students. They began laughing and pushing him around. I worried that Guy would drop the bust. Instead, one of the boys grabbed the bust out of his hands. He yelled at Guy, “Here’s what we think of this!” as he smashed the bust on the ground.
The group all seemed to think it was hilarious and I wondered how any human being could find that situation funny. Why did I feel tension in my chest and want to sob out loud? Why did those boys find humor in Guy’s pain?
Guy, I know you don’t know me. I was one of those who looked on while it all happened. But it hurts me to this day. Maybe you were tougher than I was. Maybe you just went home and had a good laugh yourself. But maybe you never got over it. I want you to know that on that day, it wasn’t you against the world. It was you and me against the world.
The junior high I attended was one block square. On the south end of the block was the school itself. The west, east, and north sides of the block were fence-enclosed playground, with only two entrances: one on the east side of the playground, and another by coming through the building itself.
Richard was walking ahead of me, by about a half block, to school one day. He was bully-bait by virtue of his “coke-bottle” eyeglasses that made his eyes seem large and alien. A group (bullies are very social animals) of young men walked up to Richard and started taunting him. I could see Richard, with his head down, saying nothing, almost as if being pushed around was a lot in life that he had accepted long ago. The bullies poked, they slapped, they jeered, and finally one of them grabbed Richard’s lunch. In what he must have assumed was the ultimate in good times, he threw Richard’s lunch over the fence. The group laughed and walked on. Richard was forced to walk from the west side of the block over to the east side just to reach the playground entrance. They knew he would end up walking two blocks just to retrieve his lunch, then another block back out of the playground.
Richard, did you know you reminded me of Christ that day? Being beaten and scorned, the whole time saying nothing? I hope He gave you inspiration that day and that you are now leading a successful life.
I went to a private high school and can remember no incidents of bullying. I think it’s because by the time kids reach high school, they learn that the best way to really hurt someone is by pretending that they do not exist. You don’t need to yell, “Landis is coming, get off the sidewalk!” to inflict pain. No, all you need to say is, “Joanne Landis? I have never heard of her.”
Recently my son was being bullied at school. The bully did not just pick on my son--he was mean to everyone. Months of school and parental discipline had done no good. The kid is eleven years old and is my height, 5’7”. He outweighs anyone in his classroom by at least 50 pounds. He did things like hold Jeremiah’s head under water at the swimming pool, make slicing motions across his throat when looking at Jere, and pick him up and throw him out of line while waiting for the bathroom.
One day, during lunch, one of my students ran up to me to tell me that Jeremiah was ‘beating up” the bully. Sure enough, by the time the fight was stopped, my son had punched the bully out of our classroom, through another one, and was backing him up to the stairway, ready to knock him down the stairs. I asked the class why they did not come and get me earlier. I learned that they all stood by and cheered Jeremiah on, grateful that someone was finally “getting even” after months of torment.
Yeah, I told Jeremiah that his actions were inappropriate and that he should have come and gotten a teacher. I told him that in reality most bullies are insecure and are just looking for attention and acceptance.
But deep down inside I said to myself, “You go kid! Don’t you take what a bully has to offer. Stand up for yourself!” And I said, “There’s one punch for Peggy and Joanne, and one for Guy and one for Richard.”
And I promptly enrolled him in Kyuki-do.
* Not her real last name.