Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bullied


A boy was bullied yesterday.  I know, I know, a million or more boys - and girls - were bullied yesterday.  But yesterday it was one boy, a specific boy, a boy I know, a boy I like.

I went to pick him up for practice, his parents both work and the practices were bumped up to five recently to accommodate the earlier darkness.  His neighborhood is, well, not upscale.  There are no three-car garages, more likely there are late model cars on jacks or cinder blocks waiting for new rotors or brake pads.  There are no manicured yards or potted mums or sculpted yews.  It is a working-class area of small ranches and carports and little yards and big trees bumping up the sidewalks and staining them with mulberries and crab apples.

A boy was bullied yesterday.

I drove up and there he was, sitting in the dusty, brown grass, knees scrunched up to his chest which was racked with sobs.  Tears stained his dirty face, his usually clear blue eyes were red and his sleeve was wet with snot and tears.  He looked small and hurt and confused and oh, so very sad.

A boy was bullied yesterday.

I parked my truck in front of his house and surveyed the scene.  Four boys stood off in a yard next to his to my left and down the sidewalk to my right another boy, a bigger boy, an older boy, stood looking smug and, well, prickish.  I got out and walked up to my little friend.  I knelt down by him and asked him what was wrong.  A fusillade of anger and pain and hate and hurt was hurled my way.  If you've ever heard a ten year old boy try to speak through tears of injustice and hurt you'll know I didn't understand the details, but... I got the gist of it.

A boy was bullied yesterday.

I pieced together the story.  A football, a taunting older boy who wouldn't give it back, keep-away gone wrong.  When the bigger boy got the ball taken from him, in anger and spite, he threw this little boy's water bottle into the street where it broke and shattered and spilled and still lay in the gutter just behind me.  The water bottle had his last name written on it.  It was a nice big red plastic jug with a handle and a screw-on top with a flip-up sippy thing on it and he was proud of it.

A boy was bullied yesterday.

I went to get the bottle, hoping I might salvage it somehow.  He told me not to bother, that it was all "fucked up" now.  I gave him the f-word, he deserved it, he needed it.  The four boys came towards me, trying, I think, to offer the support they had not given before because the older boy still stood watching down a ways.  They all talked at once, hoping to collectively explain what had happened, how it had happened and why they'd let it happen.

I knew one of the boys, I'd coached him for a couple of years in baseball, and recognized the other three from the years I'd volunteered at the elementary school.  "There was nothing we could do, Mr. Peebles."  I asked him then why was this boy boy crying alone in his front yard as you watched on.  They told me they didn't want to get in trouble with "him."

A boy was bullied yesterday.

"Him" was slowly working his way towards the scene.  I looked at that older boy with a look that would have burned Satan.  Remember, I look like a hard-ass, long gray beard, I had a bandanna on my head, and I looked right into that boy.  And, he was scared.  He realized that here was someone who could bully him.

"Did you do that?" I asked pointing at the water jug.  He said he did and began to justify what he'd done, something about it being his ball and...

"Why?  Why would you damage someone's thing?  Why would you hurt someone like that?"  And then I said something I shouldn't have said, but I did anyway, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

His lower lip began to quiver a little.  I wanted him to cry.  I wanted to break something important to him.  I wanted him to hurt.

I knew that was wrong so I drew in a deep breath, I got right down into his face and said, "You don't get to break people's things, son.  It's not something people do.  It's not something I'd do.  It's mean and stupid and that's not what men are."

I turned to my sons' teammate and said let's get going.  He said he didn't want to go and ran into his house and slammed the door.

A boy got bullied yesterday.

I stared down the older boy.  "You proud of yourself?" I asked him angrily.

"No, sir," he mumbled.  He knew he didn't have the one thing he needed, perhaps the one thing he never gets, perhaps the very thing he longs for at night when he cries himself to sleep - my respect, anyone's respect, self-respect.

"Caps," I said to the boy I'd coached using his nickname, "you're a good boy, I know that and you know that.  Your Mom and Dad know that.  Don't just stand by and do nothing.  I can't tell you to fight or stand up for others.  But, if that boy is your friend," I gestured to the slammed door, "at least sit with him when he is hurting.  At least do that..."

"I know Mr. Peebles, I'm sorry."

I considered trying to get my friend to go to practice, but I knew I couldn't.  He was embarrassed and mad and ashamed and... well, so was I.

A boy was bullied yesterday.  A sweet little boy who has trouble saying his r's.  A funny little boy with crazy blonde hair and yellow soccer shoes and a Star Wars watch and a vulnerable heart and a beautiful soul which was shattered like a drinking jug in a gutter by a boy who thinks that is alright.


So often we think of bullying in broad sweeping statements and treat it like a noun, a thing, a syndrome.  "Bully" is a verb, an action.  It is something that happens to someone.  It's happened to me, it's happened to most everyone I know.  It can only be addressed with action.

You may have noticed that, besides the names, I put a of lot details in this story.  We need those details, details make it personal, details make it hurt more, details make the inherent injustice of it all the more real, all the more hurtful.

October is National Bullying Awareness Month. I am not a guy to jump on causes, but maybe this is one that I can.


On the way to practice the boys were uncharacteristically quiet.  They didn't talk or argue or punch or complain.  It was a loud silence.  I could feel them thinking about it, taking in all that they'd seen and heard, looking out their respective windows and looking into their collective future, a future where there would be two boys, two men, two souls who knew what ugliness bullying can bring.


Talk to your kids about bullying.  Don't use broad, sweeping generalizations, though.  Be specific, use details, tell them the stories of your youth.


A boy was bullied yesterday and so were millions of others.

Change that, I beg of you.


4 comments:

  1. This post made me cry & be angry at the same time!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're a good man.
    This is so well written - moving and sparse.
    I hate bullies.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sometimes the "big picture" makes us forget that every large scale.problem is made up of millions of stories, each personal and each terrible. And more kfnthrm need to be told.

    ReplyDelete