I was bullied; I was a bully; I was something worse
We are all familiar with bullies and those who are bullied. There’s this mantra of ‘you gotta be a sheep or a wolf’ that gets applied to life. Either you get out there and take what you want, or you’re beholden to those who do.
But there’s another, more sinister mindset in life. It’s the lukewarm bully–the ‘almost bullied/almost bully’ opportunist. I find them to be the most destructive.
These people will happily avoid stress/danger themselves, but will grief others when they perceive a weakness. These people will tear down and be a critic before creating or being an author of anything. They will sit by and watch something burn, rather than do anything. Not their problem. There are professionals for that, right?
What makes the lukewarm bully worse is he can choose to not be that way. He’s almost a full-on bully, but you can avoid those–you can fight those. A lukewarm bully might be your friend at first, but then sell you out when the opportunity presents itself.
I’ve been that type of person.
I was bulled, teased and pushed around as a kid.
Partly it was because I was small. Partly it was because I moved every few years. It was hard to fit in.
There were also a couple of times when I became the bully. Once in 1st grade and once in 3rd, I saw a ‘weaker’ kid and took advantage of the situation.
In 1st grade, I picked on a kid who seemed a bit simple–wrote on his books and poked fun at him. There was this little blonde girl I sat with who pushed us to do more–write on his arm or take stuff from his lunch. I remember feeling empowered that I wasn’t the one being laughed at–not this time. It was fun until the teacher found out. I felt pretty bad after that, but more because I was caught than the harm I did the kid.
In 3rd grade, I remember taking cues from the denim-jacket-wearing, mullet-haired jerk that tormented me. I pushed another kid around. I got caught and sent to detention (or time out or whatever they did at my school). The mullet bully came by after class and was all thumbs up to me. We were in some sort of club, getting in trouble.
I felt shame for pushing around the kid. I think I finally empathized. I didn’t want to physically lash out after that.
Steering clear of my bullying ways was helped by the fact that I stayed pretty small, physically. Other kids beefed up and got some weight on them, making any physical confrontation a pretty quick loss for me.
Falling behind on that, I tried to keep pace with the latest put downs and friendships that could stave off the teasing, but I wasn’t doing myself any favors.
It didn’t help that I hung out with Cody at recess. He was weird and usually played off alone. But we started chatting. He was into some cool stuff. We reenacted Civil War battles with metal soldiers I had from a family trip to Gettysburg. He knew a lot of stuff about Antietam and Bull Run (I was more of a WWII kid) and could map out where I was supposed to put my gray guys (he was always Union).
It didn’t help that I would act out my daydreams, making pew-pew sounds at imaginary robots or bad guys as I pictured saving the day in one way or another. I would snap out of my daydreams to see some of the kids laughing at me–especially Kristin, the girl who went around and kicked boys in the groin, laughing because boys weren’t allowed to hit girls back.
It didn’t help that I was friends with Jason (was it Jason?). He was so friendly–his parents were so welcoming when I’d come over. He was happy to have a friend and so was I. He was a little different but we got along great. His little brother had leg braces. I noticed people made fun of him and his brother even more than me. In fact, I was getting teased more for being friends with guys like him and Cody a lot.
So while I didn’t physically bully any more kids, I shifted, but became a lukewarm bully.
I stopped being friends with them, bluntly and curtly as a 4th or 5th grader can be. Jason cried and cried. Cody just went back to playing by himself.
The teasing subsided for a little while. I had to watch what I did–how I dressed, how I acted. I learned to not talk about the movies I liked, or the fact I played computer games. Going into middle school and then high school, I navigated around the minefield of childhood popularity, shutting up and being whatever I needed to be.
Now through it all, being a lukewarm bully meant I was never really popular either. I knew to shun and avoid the real losers, but I wasn’t assertive or cut-throat enough to make it with the alpha types. I was a fringe kid–not the weakest who was incessantly beat up and shouted at, but not the favored one who was in the popular crowds.
I wasn’t invited to any parties or elected to anything special, but I also wasn’t pushed around as much (still happened…kids are wonderful cherubs). I learned to mold myself into a somewhat funny, somewhat awkward, like-able guy. No dates, but no punches to the gut.
Middle of the road. Not making waves. Sometimes joining in on whatever others did. Adam was weird, nobody liked him. That girl did have wrinkly skin on her hands. Like a lizard! Haha!
I didn’t stand up for kids who were being tormented. Better them than me. Sure, Chris and I were both incessantly teased at gym–him for being a little off (probably Autistic) and me for being skinny and pasty white (“Why you so white, white boy?” the girls would ask and laugh). But the girls would just tease and tease and tease poor Chris. I would get by with a couple of shoves and jokes in the locker room about my underwear (“Haha, no boxers? What a fagot! Haha!”). Good enough.
Chris hanged himself. Suicide note said it was because of the mean people. But better him than me, right? I remember when they announced it in school. I had two of the same girls in my Social Studies class at the time. “Dumbass,” they joked of the dead.
I knew not to make a scene.
I had been disenfranchised, but had climbed up a few rungs. Things weren’t great, but things weren’t terrible. And I was damned if I was going to be friends with someone weaker and lose what little I had.
I went along with people. I went along with things. Jumped in now and then. I followed. Anything to keep the teasing and ridicule down.
It was better to let the wolves feast on someone else. I didn’t have to be the fastest, just not the slowest, right?
To Jason, Cody, Adam, Jackie, Chris, Mike and the others. I’m sorry.