With bullying front and center in the news after Amanda Todd’s tragic suicide I found myself reflecting on my personal experiences on the subject. I certainly wasn’t the victim of persistent bullying, but there are a few incidents that have stuck in my mind:
- In grade 4 an older kid (a grade 5) kicked my lunch box down the street. My dad took me over to his house and had a chat with his father and he apologized. I’m now friends with him on Facebook and he’s since apologized for real.
- In grade 8, I had a disagreement with a girl in my class and she got excessively angry with me and starting slapping me and punching me and what-have-you. Having been raised to never, under any circumstances, ever hit a girl, I just took it. Later that afternoon my teacher made a snide remark about me getting beat up by a girl in front of the whole class. To this day I don’t know if I said it or if it was something I thought I ought to have said, but the phrase “What would you have done if had I hit her back?” keeps popping into my head. The girl and I became friends days later and today we chat occasionally on Facebook.
- In grade 9 the older brother of a girl in my grade (and who was on my paper route) shoved me in a locker. Well, he tried. I pulled the old cat trying to avoid a bath trick and never made it in. That didn’t stop word from spreading that I actually had been shoved in though. Who were people going to believe, a grade 9 geek or a grade 12 punk? Facebook status for her: not friends but would friend. As for her brother, we’re not Facebook friends now and not ever likely to be.
- One of my friends in high school dated a bully for a couple years. He liked to assert his masculinity by pushing me around and threatening me. I suspect it was because he was insecure in his relationship, and as a person in general. I’m still friends with the girl (yes, on Facebook too). I don’t care to ever be Facebook friends with the guy.
And then there was the time I was walking into a hockey rink and was punched by someone for allegedly “smiling at him”. Turns out a local gang was hanging out there and were looking for trouble. Before I knew it a pack of them had shoved me into an empty change room and were laying the boots to me. Boots and fists… and elbows… and knees, though I remember only one knee – the one that, as my head was being pushed down, came up and caught me right in the face. After that, it was all a blur of Doc Martin’s and Air Jordan’s and the taste of blood. They say you can’t actually remember the feeling of pain, but I sure remember what I was feeling.
Despite the arena manager and first responding officer telling me that I shouldn’t pursue action for fear of retribution, I pursued action. They caught 3 of the guys and two plead out and got something like 6 months probation. The “ring leader” got 2 years probation and a whole lot of other conditions like curfew and restraining order limiting his distance from me and so forth. After what I went through, let’s just say I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Young Offenders Act.
Today, even as I typed that last paragraph, my teeth clenched and I felt panic in my chest – and this all happened over 20 years ago.
Twenty years is a long time to be carrying around that memory, but it’s impossible to forget. Trust me, I’ve tried, but then something happens and I hear about it in the news and there it is again. Sometimes, and this is one that I’m having a hard time explaining, sometimes the reminder comes in a much less subtle way and hits me like a knee to the face.
Yesterday I found myself in Toronto helping out an old high school acquaintance by doing a bit of work as an unpaid extra in a music video he’s producing. A couple other guys from the old neighborhood were there too:
- The step son of my grade 8 teacher.
- A guy who was there that night I was attacked.
The step son of my grade 8 teacher is a year older than me but we went to the same high school and know a lot of the same people. It was nice talking to him and he and I actually made quite an impression on the crew during the shoot. We’re friends on Facebook now.