“Sunny Side” To Appear In RISE: Comics Against Bullying
Bullying began in junior high school, eighth grade to be exact. When I arrived that first day of school in September, I knew the year was going to be different. My best friend Bruce had moved away during the summer. My other friend Jason had also moved away, and my third friend, Carl, had started down a path of drugs (pot and cocaine…yes, we are talking about thirteen and fourteen-year-olds) which made it clear we would not be hanging out like we used to. All of a sudden and most unexpectedly, I was alone. I was sad, but there were other kids I was kind of friends with, and I figured things would work out.
There were some other things going on with me, however. You know, puberty things. The world of shaving, deodorant, hormones, skin problems, weight gain — you name it — also came crashing down. To further add to the mix, my home was quite financially…well, let’s just say there was very little money to go around. Eighth grade, as well as life, had brought many changes, including new roles and expectations attributable to the status of being an eighth grader. We were supposed to be at top of the food chain, at least that is what I believed until something about me caught the attention of Bob and Piz.
I was always a shy, soft-spoken kid growing up, and now without my friends around I wasn’t sure where I fit in. I had no idea where to sit at lunchtime, and it was probably painfully obvious that I was not comfortable in my own skin, or my own clothes for that matter; I attempted to cover the increasing fat on my body by wearing the same black coat day in, day out. My clothes did not match what was in style, my hair lacked style altogether, and I thought it best to just keep my head down and hope things would improve throughout the year. Then, a few weeks into the school year, it rained and PE was to held in the gym. That is when Bob and Piz began their long, steady regiment of continual degradation and harassment.
I sucked at sports and fitness back then, and I was happy to be indoors, but I didn’t anticipate having to do the peg wall in front of my fellow classmates. The peg wall was essentially a wood board wall with holes in it that you were to climb using two pegs that you held, one in each hand, and you would thus climb the wall by removing one peg to move it up to the next hole. I failed miserably at this, many kids did, but for some reason Bob and Piz singled me out and began poking me in the sides and saying I was “chunky” and that I “just couldn’t get it in the hole.” I was mortified, confused, embarrassed. Some of the other kids laughed, but I blew it off believing that was the end of it. It wasn’t. Unfortunately, the three of us had PE, History, English, and Math together as well and the harassment and teasing only escalated from there through to the very end of what was to be a very long school year.
I’m not going to go into a day-by-day rundown of what happened, just know the teasing focused with laser-like precision on my weight, the fact that I could not afford clothes like what they wore, my hair, the lunches I brought, my refusal to do the drugs or alcohol they frequently offered me (usually pot or cocaine, I’m still not sure they even had drugs), and sex with girls. One of their favorite topics was was how my “titties” were bigger than Sally’s followed by Bob and Piz giggling with amusement. Sally joined the giggling as well, although she did seem uncomfortable about what was being said. The first week of this was traumatizing, but I would go home and be fine, but they had planted the seed; I had begun to hate myself. When no one was looking, I’d pinch my stomach or sometimes punch it thinking my hatred of the fat would somehow make me skinnier, which I realized was completely stupid and only succeeded in making me feel worse.
Bob and Piz alternated being “boyfriends” to Sally throughout the year (I couldn’t keep it straight as to who was with her on a given day) but Sally said nothing when Bob and Piz talked about the details of the sex they had with her. Now that I think of it, they were probably lying out of their asses, but some of the graphic things they said to me about what they did with her as she sat there giggling, must have been just as harmful to Sally as it was to me…who really knows. Still, I would see Sally making out with one or the other between classes and at lunch, so she must not have been too torn up over what they were saying.
At first some of the other kids, kids who were once friends of mine, would laugh, but after a couple weeks of incessant teasing from Bob and Piz, even the other kids stopped laughing as I watched them cringe and refuse to make eye contact with me; they were relieved it wasn’t them. Like I said, it was mostly verbal and emotional abuse, and constant “titty twisters” and pokes to the fat on my sides, but it did turn to punches a couple times when I had finally had enough and shoved one of their hands away or told them to “leave me the fuck alone.” In response, they laughed and then the pokes to my sides turned to punch after punch to my arm or chest and my brief rebellion died faster than it had started.
And so it went for nine months.
Yes, I could have told, but I did not want to be a snitch. I calculated that nothing would happen, and that my harassment would become worse. My hope for a teacher to notice what was going on vanished after the first month, as Bob and Piz were exceedingly good at timing their bullying to when the teacher had their back turned or was otherwise distracted. I thought about telling my mom, but, again, the calculated risk was not in my favor, plus her reaction to what another bully had done (I’ll get to that in a sec) made me think it was best not to tell her. I also gave strong, very strong, consideration to getting one of them alone and hurting them…and I mean hurting them in a very bad manner…but I did not want to upset my mom by shattering her opinion of me or getting into any sort of legal trouble; I considered myself one of the good guys, and good people don’t harm others — let’s just leave it at that. A couple time I thought about harming myself, but deep down I knew that was not an option: I did not want to hurt my family, and there was so very much I wanted to see and do with my life.
I’m wrapping up, but here is the side note. There was one other kid, Denny, who was also in our PE class, and NO ONE messed with him. You could just sense the animosity oozing from Denny’s pores. The kid was psychotic, but he thankfully kept to himself. One day, after a couple of months of being torn down by Bob and Piz, I decided I needed a quick break and went into the locker room where I thought I would be alone for a moment, but Denny was there walking toward me. He said, “What’s up…Don?” and punched me hard in the arm. Being at my wits end with the other two assholes, I tried to push his arm away, but this upset him. He laughed, then punched me again, and again, and again in the same exact spot. If this had been Bob or Piz, I might have snapped and gone crazy, and given them back the pain I so desperately wanted to unleash upon them. But this was Denny; he completely terrified me. After a few more blows while chanting, “What? You gonna fight back, Don? Huh? Huh?” he left me shaking and alone in the locker room. The point of this part of the story is that a few days later, my mom caught sight of the massive black, blue, red, and yellow bruising covering my arm and chest. Her fury with whoever had done this to her child would have carried her out the door and to the school had I not begged her to stay out of it. It took a lot of pleading, and promising it was a one off occurrence to get her not to go to the school, but I never mentioned Bob or Piz, who were causing far more damage than Denny had…maybe I should have told her. For better or worse, she listened, and did not get involved, but Denny never messed with me again, and in fact stopped showing up to school all together; thank goodness.
The year finally ended. I graduated. I got a year book FILLED with kids who wrote things like “I’m so sorry for what Bob and Piz did to you. Next year will be better!!! Have a bitchin’ summer!!!” It’s crazy, but almost every single kid who had witnessed my torment had written some sort of apology to me…nearly everyone, and I had a bunch of kids sign my yearbook. The thing is, they did feel sorry for me, I knew that, and it helped after spending the past school year blaming myself for being fat, for being poor, for being a loser. Now, I know Bob and Piz were total assholes. Had they singled out some other unlucky kid, I wish I could say I would have acted like one of my heroes from the comic books and spoken up for the kid in trouble. But the truth is, I probably would not have not done a damn thing to help them for fear of being targeted myself; this bums me out to no end.
So, what happened after that? Needless to say, I was thrilled to have the summer and I resolved to not let what happened in junior high happen in high school. This was a new year, a new beginning, and I was thankful for it. As it turned out, Bob was never in another one of my classes; I guess he didn’t do so well in the grade department and got moved to lower-level classes. Piz was in many of the same classes as me, and the very first day of school, fifth period English, once class ended, Piz walked up to me, smiled, and laughed as he said, “So, Don…what if Bob and I treat you like we did last year?” He followed with that giggle I hated so very much, but stopped when I looked him in the eyes and replied, “I would love to see you try. I fucking dare you to try.” I meant it. I would have torn him apart with my bare hands if he had pressed the matter, but he didn’t. Oddly enough, Piz and I were on good terms, friendly even, for the rest of high school. I don’t know what happened to him, and I honestly don’t care. I did see Bob years later, however. He looked miserable, working somewhere he was ashamed to be seen, and I could have said something cruel, heartless, or judging by the look of sadness emanating from him, I could have probably decimated him with but a smug look; he seemed to be waiting for me to do something hurtful. I didn’t, though. I could have fractured his tiny world, and I chose not to. I like to think that his knowing this fact caused him at least some degree of anguish for quite some time.
Thankfully, times are changing, and I know things can be different. Now, I would speak up. I would never wish the self-loathing, insecurity, and decimated self-confidence Bob and Piz forced upon me, on anyone just trying to make their way in life. It took me years to rebuild myself, and become happy with who I am, but I did it, and I learned from the terrible experiences of that year. What happened to me was no one’s fault but that of Bob and Piz. Now, I would go to the teacher, tell them what was happening, and ask to be moved far across the class from the bullies. If that didn’t help, then I would go to the school counselor, or even the principal, and ask to have my schedule changed to remove me from the constant harassment. Even if it happened to be some other poor kid being targeted, then telling someone anonymously might be the way to go. If things were really bad, maybe police involvement could help, or maybe a unified front of one’s peers could aid an individual singled out for no reason other than being different. Unfortunately, there’s currently little most schools can do in many bullying situations, but there are ways to make things better, including the realization that this time is temporary. Junior high can be incredibly awkward, but it needn’t be a time of hell for anyone. If you or someone you know is being bullied, then let someone know. You are not alone. It will get better.