June 25, 2004
I thought I learned everything I would need to know about bullies in Sunday School, but then I met Kevin. There are all kinds of bullies, but Kevin was just your average, garden variety, "Hey Pizza Face!" and squirt you in the crotch with a water pistol kind of bully. And I made the mistake of being an easy target because I reacted. I got upset and told teachers, most of whom were too busy slipping off to the teacher’s lounge for a smoke and a drink to do anything about it. And there’s not a lot they could do. So I waited and tried to ignore him, like they told me to, because I thought that eventually, like I’d learned in Sunday School, a steel girder would fall on Kevin, I’d be the only person around, and with a sudden burst of superhuman strength I’d save him. We’d become best friends, and when we grew up we’d work together in a lucrative business of driving Cadillacs from Atlantic City to Miami.
Except it didn’t happen that way. One day Kevin gave me some hot cinnamon oil. Specifically he came up behind me and gave it to my eye during a science test. I thanked him with a bloody nose. I’d like to say that he respected me for finally standing up for myself in a way he could comprehend, but really he said, "You’re welcome" by punching me twice in the head. Things would have escalated if it hadn’t been for the teacher who did the only thing she knew how to do: she took us both to the principal’s office. Kevin and I did a week of hard time in detention. He mostly left me alone after that; maybe he decided I wasn’t worth staying an hour after school. Summer was coming up, so maybe he was planning some way to get me then.
I never found out because a few weeks before summer vacation started Kevin was killed in a motorcycle accident. I know my sucker punch and his death are unrelated events. I know he was a jerk and that I had a right to defend myself. So why do I feel guilty? After Kevin I learned that most bullies will, if ignored, go away. Even though what teachers really meant was, "I can’t be bothered with it" when I talked to them about Kevin, "Ignore him" was actually useful advice. It’s tough to turn the other cheek when you’re thirteen, your hormones have turned into a gang of skinheads, and your face is producing enough oil to solve the world’s energy crisis, but it’s not impossible. There’s no way I could take back what I did even if he were alive, but his death serves as a powerful reminder of how final certain actions are. I wish I’d learned it before I punched him but I did learn that Kevin didn’t have any real power over me. He’s still tormenting me in a way, but only because I choose to let him torment me. I keep Kevin in mind in part because of what he taught me about bullies, but mainly because of what he taught me about myself.
Wanda’s dishwasher quit working so she called a repairman.
Since she had to go to work the next day, she told the repairman, "I’ll leave the key under the mat. Fix the dishwasher, leave the bill on the counter, and I’ll mail you a check. Oh, by the way don’t worry about my bulldog. He won’t bother you. But, whatever you do, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, talk to my parrot!"
"I REPEAT, DO NOT TALK TO MY PARROT!!!"
When the repairman arrived at Wanda’s apartment the following day, he discovered the biggest, meanest looking bulldog he had ever seen. But, just as she had said, the dog just lay there on the carpet watching the repairman go about his work.
The parrot, however, drove him nuts the whole time with its incessant yelling, cursing and name calling.
Finally the repairman couldn’t contain himself any longer and yelled, "Shut up, you stupid ugly bird!" To which the parrot replied,
"Go get him, Spike!"