Every morning, while we big kids wait for the school bus, Lauren walks up to the tiny kids waiting and stomps their lunches flat.
We keep telling them to hang on to their bags and not put them down, but they keep forgetting. They’re only little kids.
Lauren picks on older kids, too. Luckily, I don’t know Lauren, and she doesn’t know me (she’s two grades ahead of me). This day, though, Lauren and I are introduced.
I’m sitting on the bus in the next-to-last seat, next to my friend Vicky. Lauren is sitting in the last seat: The bench seat. The troublemaker’s row. Suddenly, right through the back of my spine, her giant fist is introduced to my breastbone.
Once I manage to straighten up and resume breathing, I wonder what to do.
If I ignore her, she’ll just punch me again. If I punch her back with my puny baby fist, she’ll just bite it off, and still punch me again.
So, tapping into my autistically-intuitive people skills, I decide that shame might work. I turn around and slap the meanest bully in school right across her face.
She goes CRAZY!! Lauren LEAPS over the back of my seat and starts punching me with the Volkswagens at the ends of her arms.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!”
I draw strength from the hearty encouragement of my classmates and curl up into a turtle shape, protecting my soft squishy center. Vicky, my wonderful, loyal friend, jumps on Lauren and pounds on her back, trying to distract her from my fragile shell.
Vicky can hit hard, but Lauren doesn’t feel a thing. She’s built like a long-distance trucker.
The bus reaches our stop. The driver, responsible adult that he is, makes us get off. We’re not HIS problem!
As soon as we hit the ground, Lauren knocks me down to it, and starts kicking the h#ll out of me with her steel-toed work boots.
“Ooh–she got in a GOOD one!” “Kick her again!”
Who is it who decided a direct kick to the privates doesn’t hurt girls as much as boys? Again wonderful Vicky jumps in gamely, but Lauren instantly flips Vicky on her back, too, and is able to use one hand and foot to fight each of us.
Suddenly, the clouds open! A ray of sunshine breaks through! Actually, the crowd of cheering kids opens, and a big ole’ station wagon careens through:
Vicky’s tiny German/Russian/Polish (depending on which year of the war you pick) mom comes riding to the rescue. She crashes the front tire into the curb, jumps out leaving the door wide open, and brings the full wrath of her four-foot six-inch body down to bear upon Lauren.
“WHAT do you think you do!? (Swatting her with her purse.) “Are you CRAZY girl? Go home right NOW!”
Then, she gathers Vicky and me under her full skirts and into the car with her. Once home, we tell her the terrible tale while she repins and smooths her coiled braids, loosened during battle, and clucks and fusses and smooths us over, too.
We tell our story again to Vicky’s professor dad when he arrives. The two of them share our outrage, and blanket us with their warm sympathy. Then, they call Lauren’s mom and have an extended phone conference.
Afterward, Vicky’s folks sit us down seriously, and take the time to explain to the two of us girls that Lauren’s mom has recently divorced her dad. That her brother joined the Marines. That he has been teaching Lauren Marine fighting moves when he’s home on leave. That Lauren’s mom now understands that this isn’t appropriate, and she will do something about the bullying, but we should try to understand that Lauren has a lot of anger.
I feel proud that Vicky’s parents speak to us like we are almost grown up.
Then, I head for my own home.
I tell the story of the attack to my mom. Her sole unsmiling response? “Tell your Dad when he gets home.”
When my male parent arrives, he sits on the ottoman, and points me to the floor at his feet. I get to only the very start of the story—to where Lauren punches me for no reason—before he interrupts:
“What did you do to her first?”
“Don’t give me that! She didn’t just punch you for no reason! What did you do to her to make her punch you?!”
I repeat my denial. He repeats his disbelief and accusation. We go back and forth.
He just can’t accept the truth of what I am telling him, and his voice gets louder and louder as he repeatedly seeks the trigger incident. Terribly frustrated at my refusal to provide “the truth”, he finally moves on, yelling at me,
“And THEN what did you do? After she punched you, what did you do BACK to her?”
By this point in his third-degree, I am stressed and flustered, and extremely worn out—let’s face it, I’m nine years old, my adrenaline has been pumping hard all day—so, suddenly, my mind goes blank, and I yell back:
“I don’t know—I don’t remember!” and burst into tears.
My father (yelling loudly): “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON’T REMEMBER?!!”.
After a few moments, in the middle of his yelling, the light dawns, and, with great relief, I say, smiling through my tears, “Oh—I remember now! After she punched me, I turned around and slapped her!”
Which is when…
…my father slapped me. As hard as he could, right across the face.
“Don’t you lie to me! You’re going to tell me she punched you as hard as she could, and all YOU did was SLAP her?”
I repeat the truth. And am slapped in the face again for lying.
Thank you, Mom and Dad. By being the worst parents you could possibly be, you taught me how to be the best parent I could possibly be.
All I had to do was the opposite of everything you did.
ADDENDUM ONE–What CAN Be DONE?
Like our Mr. Hickey did, schools CAN decrease bullying. One effective way is by challenging bystanders to do more than just STAND BY.
Joyce Ott of the research-proven “Olweus” anti-bullying program: “Bystanders…are one of the most important groups to reach…they can [otherwise] look like [the bully’s] supporters.”
In one implementation of the program, bus drivers were told to report any bullying they saw on their buses, or as students entered or left them. Students in grades 3 through 12 filled out questionnaires with items such as whether teachers interfered to stop bullying.
Victim rates dropped (at one school) by 27 percent.
This information comes almost verbatim from here.
Isn’t it interesting that it never occurred to any of us kids to tell an adult about Lauren? Why didn’t we?
1. Kids Don’t Tell Because They Don’t See Adults Helping
Like that bus driver.
2. Kids Don’t Tell For a Buncha Reasons
I would very much like to know what happened to Lauren. She never bothered me again, and I heard no more about her after that year, so my guess is that the bullying calmed down. I hope she and those around her found happiness.
I really hope those little kids stopped having their lunches squashed the rest of that year. (I can’t remember.) They were so sad every time that happened!
BELATED THANK-YOU ADDENDUM
Thank you, Vicky. If I know the girl I was then, I never thought to thank you then. I would have been badly beaten that day–possibly even bones broken–had it not been for you. Thank you, my friend.
This is the second part of a multi-part series on bullying