I was crouched down, almost lying on the floor. Maybe they won’t see me? They had already rung the doorbell. I never answered. I was hoping they would go away.
It was my friends. Calling on me to go to school. But I didn’t want to go. I had already skipped off a few days. My parents left for work early, so they didn’t know. I hated going to school. I was hoping I never had to go again.
I was a victim of bullying.
Where to start? So many different timelines I could go with. Let’s start with what got me to where I was at that time. It was 1976. Three years earlier, my mother had passed away. Cancer. She had been in and out of the hospital for the better part of three years. I rarely saw her. When I did, I would always ask, “Are you staying home now?” In Italian she would say something like, “I hope so, my sweet boy.” But she didn’t. Losing your mother at 9 years old, and especially a saint like mine, is hard. I withdrew. I was quiet, shy, and chubby. An easy target.
Grade 6. Just on the fringe of when kids start to “grow up.” Some faster than others. There were the smart kids, the kids who were good at sports and playground games, the tough kids, and of course, the bullies.
His name was “En.” Well, that’s the name he went by. I won’t reveal his real name. He obviously hated his real name as he wouldn’t allow teachers to call him that. He was new to the neighborhood. Probably looking to establish himself. So, what better way to do that than pick on the weak, little, emotionally drained chubby kid.
It started with name calling. From there it went to being smacked around a bit in front of the other kids. Then it became just beating me up on the way home for no reason. It was a horrible feeling. I felt like everything and everyone was against me. God, teachers, friends, strangers who wouldn’t stop him. Everyone. Who could I turn to? My Dad was a typical Italian immigrant construction worker. “I put food on the table and a roof over your head, what else do you want from me?” He remarried. I won’t even get into my step-mother. That’s an entirely separate story! My siblings were all older than me and out of the house. A simple phone call to my older brother would have easily stopped it, and possibly land him in jail. But I was too scared to say anything. So, I just stayed home. I think it was at least four days, maybe more. Finally, the school board called. I told them I was sick. They told me to bring a note when I returned. I never did, and they never asked. I’m still not sure how I got away with it. Maybe someone knew?
After a while, like most victims of abuse will tell you, whether domestic or being bullied, you get used to it. You almost want to say, “Ok, get it over with for today.” It continued. Then I even got beat up by a girl. For no reason. She simply walked up to me and said, “I’m gonna beat you up at lunch time.” So, I stood there, and she hit me. Over and over. I guess she finally stopped when she realized I wasn’t going to fight back. I’ve never been violent. Haven’t been in a “fight” since I punched Michael Carr in 5th grade. The same girl called me “gay,” I had no idea what gay was or why she was calling me that. For the record, I’m not.
I didn’t have jeans like the cool kids. My parents dressed me in a variety of horrible clothes as most immigrant parents did. They didn’t have a lot of money. They knew nothing about peer pressure. I had to beg my parents to get me a pair of jeans so I could at least look semi-cool.
I managed to survive grade 6. Somehow. Now it was time to go to junior high school. Suddenly, I started getting a bit taller, a bit thinner. It was a whole new crop of kids from various parts of the neighborhood. A fresh start. And thankfully, no En. Not sure where he ended up going. His younger brothers were still around, and they had a reputation as well. They also ended up being sentenced for attempted murder years later. Big surprise.
Why am I writing this? Well, I’m 54 now. I’ve never opened up about this to anyone. I’ve casually mentioned it, but never in detail. When I saw the current Gillette ad that is trending on social media, it made me want to put it into words. When I saw the backlash from the overly sensitive “tough guys” who were now boycotting Gillette because it was “an attack on their masculinity,” I knew it was time. There are too many kids, or even adults, who are victims. Probably thinking the same thing I did. “Who can I turn to?” Thankfully today, there are many options. A lot more than when I was growing up.
The one question I keep asking myself is, “How did I turn out so normal?” (no lame jokes here!). I’ve been a good husband for almost 26 years. I’ve worked for the same company for almost 20 years. No run ins with the law. No major vices. The reality of it is, I’m lucky. Very lucky. I had family members who tried to surround me with some sense of normalcy. I had a good group of friends who loved me and made me a better person. I’m not perfect by any means but I am one of the fortunate ones.
I won’t lie. I’ve fantasized many times over the last 40 years or so. If I won the lottery, I was going to hire a private detective to find “En.” I’d hire some thugs to grab him. I’d tie him up. Beat him senseless while wearing a mask over my face, and then pull it off and scream, “REMEMBER ME??????”. I’ve googled his name. Just to see if I could gleefully discover that he was in prison, or dead.
Sadly, many victims suffer much worse than I did. The pain lingers on. It turns into drug abuse. Alcoholism. Many become the abuser.
So please, it’s 2019. No more, “Boys will be boys”. No more acceptance of terrible behavior. No more turning a blind eye.
In closing, we are witnessing some of this very same behavior by a certain world leader. We need to learn from all of this. We can’t let it happen again. Be better.