One Less Bully

On 21 August, 2019, in Dark Reflections, Defying Gravity, by C. Scott Davis

When I was very young, before I started school, I lived in almost constant torment.

Both of my parents worked, so my brother and I had to stay with a woman who ran a small day-care facility out of her house. My brother was still an infant, so he stayed inside with her, while I was left outside, in a fenced-in playground area, with the other kids.

All of the others seemed to have sorted out their various roles, before we arrived. There was the Bully, his small group of Followers and everyone else. The Followers tagged along behind the Bully like obedient puppies, making a point of agreeing with everything he said and did. Everyone else simply tried to stay off of his radar, hoping that he wouldn’t notice them. No one stood up to him.

From time to time, the Bully would single someone out to be his Victim and he would go out of his way to make that child’s life as hellish as possible, for no obvious reason, except his own enjoyment. The Followers always joined in. Some were less enthusiastic than others, but none of them were willing to take a chance on becoming the next Victim. Eventually, the Bully would get bored and move on to a new Victim… until he targeted me.

There was apparently something about my reaction to his torment that caused him to decide to make me his permanent Victim. I don’t know what it was about me, but from the moment he chose me, I was his constant and only Victim for the rest of the time that we went there.

I was filled with constant dread. Every day, as soon as I stepped onto the playground, he would break out in the toothy grin of a wolf who’s just seen its next meal (which, in all fairness, is probably being a bit unkind to wolves).

I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered anyone meaner than him. I’ve run across lots of bullies since then, and some of them have had a bit of a sadistic streak, but mostly they bullied as a way to exert power and control — a way of getting what they want. For him though, it seemed to be simply a matter of enjoying it.

Worse still, he was smart. No adult ever saw what he did. It didn’t help that there was only the one woman there, and she was taking care of a baby at the same time. He seemed to have some kind of sixth sense that let him know when she was watching, or sometimes, even when she was about to be watching. Sometimes he would just suddenly stop what he was doing, help me up with a smile and shove a toy into my hands, right when she was walking out the door (just in time to see what great friends we were).

It eventually got so bad that I actually almost looked forward to going home (which, given how miserable my home life was, is saying a lot).

The only bright spot in my otherwise bleak day, was the hour or so between the time day-care ended (and the Bully went home) and when my parents came to pick my brother and me up. They had made special arrangements to let us stay with her that extra hour, until they got off from work.

My fondest memories of that period of my life were sitting on her couch, watching Gilligan’s Island, totally safe (if only temporarily) from the horrors of the playground and the misery of home.

But, this wasn’t meant to be about my time as the Victim, or even about that particular Bully. It’s about something else — something I’m not proud of.

Before long (even though it felt like forever), a miracle happened. I got to start school. No more day-care, no more torture, no more bully.

But school was bigger, with more kids, and I didn’t know any of them. What if it was just like day-care again?

I was determined not to be the Victim at school. I tried to think it through. I could identify the Bully, and try to stay out of his way. That had worked for some kids, some of the time. I could become a Follower. That actually seemed to work most of the time, but there was really only one kid who never got bullied: The Bully himself.

I don’t remember making the conscious decision to become a bully, but I do remember feeling that desperate need to avoid being a victim, at all costs.

At first, I went after those that seemed to be potential bullies, but the more forcefully I asserted myself, the less willing everyone was to cross me, and the more I expanded the scope of my bullying. Before long, I had the run of the school-yard. The best equipment was always reserved for me, without my ever needing to so much as ask for it, and not a single kid there dared to stand up to me.

I convinced myself that I was different. I wasn’t like the one who had bullied me. After all, I didn’t torment anyone for the sheer enjoyment of it, and it’s not like I demanded the best playground equipment. Was it my fault if everyone else wanted me to have it? It was a flimsy argument at best, but it was sufficient for me to push down my nagging doubts and carry on with making my schoolmates miserable.

Then one day, there was a boy, smaller than me, who had apparently offended me in some undefinable way, and I had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him off of the ground. He didn’t start crying though, until the top button of his shirt popped off. Then he burst into tears and wailed, “My daddy will kill me when I get home!”

I suddenly felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. I found myself thinking about what my father would’ve done to me, if I’d come home with a button torn off of my shirt…

Stunned, I let him go. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding in my ears. I looked around at all of the other kids. They were all afraid of me. I made them feel like that day-care bully made me feel. It didn’t matter that the specifics were different, or even if my motives were. I was still just like him, and that thought was unbearable.

In that moment, everything changed. Something rewired itself inside my brain and it became impossible for me to look at anyone without intensely feeling what they were going through. Not only did this sudden onrush of empathy put an end to my career as a bully, but it fundamentally defined every aspect of my life going forward. I don’t wish to resort to hyperbole, but I also can’t express just how much it has affected who I am and everything I’ve done since then.

I’m 55 years old and since that day, I have never struck another human being with my fists. I don’t say that to brag, but simply to try to explain how unbearable the thought is of causing someone pain. All of the choices I’ve made — good and bad — have been deeply influenced by how strongly I feel the plight of those around me… and it all goes back to that singular moment.

Many terrible and wonderful things have happened in my life, but I honestly believe that none of them were ever as pivotal as that day when a 6-year-old bully suddenly saw himself through someone else’s eyes.

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Shhh…

On 27 July, 2006, in Dark Reflections, by C. Scott Davis

Silence is heavier than Truth,
but softer, smoother, and easier to hold.

Truth is loud and messy,
refusing to fit neatly into place.

Truth is scary and dangerous,
changing everything it touches.

Truth is an inconvenient shape,
full of sharp edges and awkward angles.

Silence is safer, weighs more slowly,
and gently smothers your soul.

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In my life, I have accumulated a handful of truly happy memories…

I was recently reminded of one of them, and I thought I would write about it:

I used to run the local IT Department for a company that was based in Ireland. One year they decided to hold a Departmental Retreat, and so they flew us to Ireland to meet with our Irish counterparts, and then took all of us up into the mountains of Carlingford, for a week of team-building exercises and similar activities. During the evenings, we would go to pubs, explore the town, or just hang around the common room of the hostel where we were staying.

One night, there were a couple of musicians there, and one of the Irish techs went back to his room and got his guitar to join them. They all played for a while, and then the other musicians left, but he continued playing his guitar, and the rest of us were all sitting around listening to him.

At one point, he started up a melody that was very familiar to me.

“Romeo & Juliet,” I said.

He nodded. “Do you know it?”

I indicated that I did.

“Sing it then,” he suggested with a grin, as he continued to play.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am terribly self-conscious. Not shy exactly, but definitely lacking in confidence, and singing out loud to a group of people simply isn’t the sort of thing I’m likely to ever do. It’s something I might fantasize about in the back of mind, but only if I could do it as someone else.

Several of the others tried to encourage me. Unfortunately, this just made me that much more nervous and self-conscious.

I do love music though and I did know this song, and in spite of everything, I could feel it almost bubbling up inside me, looking for a way out.

Before I even quite realised it was happening, I started singing…

A lovestruck romeo sing a streetsuss serenade
Laying everybody low with a lovesong that he made
Find a street light steps out of the shade
Says something like you and me babe how about it?

Juliet says hey it’s romeo you nearly gimme a heart attack
He’s underneath the window she’s singing hey la my boyfriend’s back
You shouldn’t come around here singing up at people like that
Anyway what you gonna do about it?

Juliet the dice was loaded from the start
And I bet and you exploded into my heart
And I forget I forget the movie song
When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong juliet?

Come up on different streets they both were streets of shame
Both dirty both mean yes and the dream was just the same
And I dreamed your dream for you and now your dream is real
How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your deals?

When you can fall for chains of silver you can fall for chains of gold
You can fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold
You promised me everything you promised me thick and thin yeah
Now you just say oh romeo yeah you know I used to have a scene with him

Juliet when we made love you used to cry
Said I love you like the stars above I love you till I die
There’s a place for us you know the movie song
When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong juliet?

I can’t do the talk like they talk on the TV
And I can’t do a love song like the way it’s meant to be
I can’t do everything but I’d do anything for you
I can’t do anything except be in love you

And all I do is miss you and the way we used to be
All I do is keep the beat and bad company
All I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme
Julie I’d do the stars with you any time

Juliet when we made love you used to cry
You said I love you like the stars above I’ll love you till I die
And there’s a place for us you know the movie song
When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong juliet?

A lovestruck romeo sings a streetsuss serenade
Laying everybody low with a lovesong that he made
Find a convenient streetlight steps out of the shade
Says something like you and me babe how about it?

I sang the entire song, from start to finish, accompanied by the guitar. I’m pretty sure I stumbled in a few places, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about performing. It was just about making music, and it was glorious.

When I was finished, everyone applauded. Whether it was because it was any good or they were just being kind, I don’t know, but that didn’t matter either.

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untitled

On 3 May, 2004, in Dark Reflections, by C. Scott Davis

Shame is the Monarch of my soul, with Fear as its faithful Prime Minister, ruling my life with an iron fist.

Nothing I do (or through inaction, fail to do) is untouched by them.

When you can’t bear the thought of who you are, or what you are, as you are, even the simplest things become impossible.

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Die Zukunft

On 10 July, 2003, in Dark Reflections, by C. Scott Davis

I know it’s out there… just outside my field of vision, waiting for me in the darkness.

I imagine that I can hear it, slurping up through the temporal cesspool, shifting around in the blackness beyond me. It stares at me, with dead eyes, even though I can’t see it yet — won’t be able to see it, until it’s far too late.

I want to turn and run away. I want to flee, to go… anywhere, rather than to get pulled back down in there. There is nowhere to go. It’s pointless to even try. I am falling towards that loathsome pit, with a force that’s stronger, and more impossible to resist, than gravity. I will end up there again, just as surely as I crawled out in the first place.

I am the condemned, given an illusionary furlough. Every tick, every tock, takes me closer. My despair knows no bounds.

I can already feel it crawling across my skin, through it, under it. I can taste the foulness, smell the acrid air as it burns down my nose and throat. I can’t be that close yet, but I am. It’s reaching out for me, grasping, searching. It’s in no hurry. It has Time as its ally.

I breathe slowly, calmly. The first touch will be the worst; it always is.

The grim tide laps at my feet and the monster’s claws brush my face. Once I surrender, it won’t be so bad. It really will, of course, but I won’t care. I will have sunk beyond caring, beyond knowing. I will wrap denial around me and drown in an eternity of grey, until one day, I finally die.

Only then will I ever really escape.

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