How I met my bully

I had a paper route when I was a kid. I think it was from about 6th to 8th grades. It was a small town rag, the Bangor Daily News, eight pages or so. Pretty light work. Good thing since it was a whole dollar for the two week collection period. Guess I’m dating myself.

I remember delivering it through all kinds of weather. A record summer where it was in the 90’s about every day all summer. An ice storm which found me teetering on the edge of the curb as if I stood at the top of a hundred foot precipice, desperately trying to save face and not tumble over the edge in an embarrassing array of flailing limbs.  The jock who delivered the bigger regional newspaper in the same part of town, looked on with a sort of bemused suspense from across the street. I managed to recover my balance, long enough to take a step and then fall anyway.  No harm was done.

Then there was the thunderstorm that blew my umbrella inside out, and the time I went to put up my umbrella, but when I pushed the button, it flew right off the handle on to the sidewalk. And then opened. Good times.

I look back now and laugh, and value the character building experience. Some of that character building came in a different way, which I value even more, though it’s not so funny.

I had several encounters with an older kid and his sidekick/friend. To this day, I’m not sure if he wanted to fight me and was pushing me to that end, or if he just wanted to see how much I would tolerate.

What I do know is that I was totally passive in those meetings. I talked back to him, kind of defensively, but I didn’t raise a fist, or shove him or block him or anything physical. I tried to just keep walking. They would walk along with me, but block my way at some point. It wasn’t that I was refusing to be violent, or making a conscious decision to be forgiving or turn the other cheek. I simply didn’t want to deal with it.

I didn’t want the other boys to be there, to bother me, or even to talk to me. I just wanted to deliver my papers and make the long walk back home to resume reading the latest fantasy epic I’d picked up at Waldenbooks at the mall. (Now I’m really dating myself.)

I couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to another person. It was so alien to me. Unfathomable. And I suppose that led to the feeling that I was doing something to deserve it, that I must have annoyed him somehow.

The bully started with verbal antagonizing the first time I saw him and the sidekick. I can’t say for sure how many times I ran into them, but two times were more distinctive.

One was shortly after a snowstorm and in his efforts to pick a fight had me head first in a snowbank. I was trying to get up and he was pushing me down. A car going by honked loudly, and slowed down. That was enough to scare them off for the day.

The other time, the bully was taunting me with a cigarette saying I wouldn’t even know how to smoke it. I said I didn’t and I wouldn’t want one. He flashed his lighter in my face several times, until finally he accidentally caught a bit of my hair with the flame. I remember that he looked genuinely concerned, and he patted the singed hairs out.

Both boys laughed heartily of course, but some part of him felt bad. I thought about the look on his face sometime later, and I knew that he didn’t come from a good family, just by knowing the part of town he was from. I assumed that he was abused, and that’s why he was acting out. Yet, despite all that, he felt bad when he went too far. I could forgive him then.

But again, I can’t say there was any lofty nobility at the time this was going on, except for God’s presence in me. But I think my low energy, depression and anxiety, and low self esteem left me all but paralyzed in the face of a bully I just wanted to avoid.

Perhaps this is why I get so incensed by injustices now. But some kind of reaction is good for me, and anger can be useful when channeled into something constructive. I hope I’ve found a good balance.