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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Memories

On 3 February, 1995, in Dark Reflections, by C. Scott Davis

Memories. Beautiful things, but dangerous. So fair to look upon, so warm to hold, but such sharp sharp edges…

On second thought, memories are dirty little creatures, with vicious, sharp teeth…

Honesty, as a brick, wrapped in a sock…

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