Friday, April 05, 2013

The Fighter

I began to ask myself a Would You Rather question: Would you rather be a clumsy, insensitive oaf that always steps on people's feet -OR- a meek geek that always gets their glasses broken by bullies?

And I answer: Well, I feel that I identify with the meek geek... but that's where it ends.  I do not let bullies break my glasses.

As far as I can remember, it all started back in 7th grade. His name was... let's call him Jack. I can't remember his name. Jack was a bully. He was a slight scrawny kid with dark hair and a dark smoldering chip on his shoulder.  I didn't know him at all, but he made a name for himself in the way of shouting at kids, teachers, and generally getting himself into trouble. I have the feeling he was just a scared kid crying out for help. But I was 12 and not equipped or desirous to address these issues.   We were on the bus on a field trip of sorts.  He sat in front of me.  He would turn around and say harassing and derogatory things to me.  I can't remember what it was but something triggered my hand to rise forth and smack him across the face.  He was stunned, and at a loss for words. I don't think he thought of me in any specific way other than Girl Sitting Behind Him, and someone to harass, but he didn't have anything more to say.

Fast forward to 8th grade, when this same kid was up to his old antics.  I think it's so odd that this was how Jack and I interacted.  We never talked; it wasn't like i was bullied--he didn't single me out at all. These episodes happened a year apart, and were singular.  But there we were, our paths crossing yet again, and he chose some select words to say to me as I passed by.  There again came the hand--WHAP! I smacked him in the back of the head.  This time he shoved me. I shoved back. Some more shoving, until I pushed him into the lockers. He fell, and I walked away.   I don't be bullied. 

The next year after that brought the 9th Grade Bully, one much larger in stature with a huge voice and general disrespect. The kind teachers are scared of. Our whole school was crammed into the satellite buildings, as they were building a new school for us, and were late at it.  So the traffic between classes was a slow, cramped crawl.  We all chatted with our friends and made our way the best we could, but there was this underlying pressure simmering that we knew, with one false move, could quickly create an explosion.  We were squeezing through the doorway and this guy took his great big massive arms and with the giant wingspan of a human albatross, chose to push everyone in front of him to move them along. I can't remember all the details but I know that something in me went off and I hurled back into him.  He may have retaliated. I may have fallen down, even.  I may have gotten back up and kicked his shin. Details are sketchy. It didn't turn into anything, but I don't be bullied. And also, you don't bully. This one wasn't aimed at me personally but again, someone had to do something and I took a sort of vigilantous stance against him.

I think there was one more incident with this guy. It was in history class and we were sitting in chairs without desks. I was in front of him and he had his hands on a broom or something and was jabbing people with it through the hole in the backs of their plastic school chairs.  I got jabbed and I took the stick and shoved it back at him. He stopped, but this may be because the teacher got after him.

Now, I suppose I should have used my words rather than retaliate physically. But have you heard my voice? It's like a feather's whisper. I've tried over the years to have a more loud commanding voice but it is what it is. And combine that with Jr. High years and I'm just not sure it would have been effective. But, who knows.  

Rewind a couple of years. It is very likely i already talked about this on my blog (chances are good I am going to be recycling a lot of stuff) but I can't find it so I'll tell it again.  I must have been 11 or so and for Halloween I went as a watermelon slice. This costume was incredible.  Dowels in front of and behind my head to give the watermelon some structure and decent breadth. Arm holes on the sides. Leg holes at the bottom. It was adorable, and if I turned my body to the side, someone risked getting seriously hurt, which I'm not sure is a bonus but perhaps it was this night, for it would be the night that someone tried and failed to steal my Halloween candy.   We were at the doorstep of a house and I saw an un-costumed teenage boy lurking in my periphery.  I didn't think much of it but when he suddenly lunged forward, swiped my candy and bolted, I didn't miss a beat and I instantly sprang into the chase.  Despite my costume--or perhaps because of? Super Watermelon!-- I dove in the air and tackled this punk. The bag was dropped and I retrieved it and the empty-handed thief ran away.  Nobody steals my candy. Nobody. But even then, I had a feeling in my gut that it wasn't just for me.  I just hate bullies. I hate people taking advantage of others. And I wanted to teach these kids that you do NOT do this. Someone is going to fight back. And today, that someone is going to be me. Watermelon me.

Fast forward to around 2005-06'ish in Brooklyn. Sean and I had been married for 3 years.   This story is sort of silly and slightly embarrassing but it was kind of a big deal to me at the time and continues to stand out in my memory, so I'll tell it anyway. It was a Saturday and Sean and I were doing laundry which means we were making trips to and fro the laundromat across the street. On the corner there was a pack of kids, probably in their late teens, early 20's, just standing around and up to no good. I walked by a couple of times and received a few choice words and the burner ignited and i began to simmer. I walked back to the house and received a few more words and the simmer turned into a boil. I told myself, if they do it again when i'm coming back, it is GO TIME.  It's not that I confronted every person who did similar things, but this was on the corner by my house. I would walk by here every day. This was NOT ok. Something had to be done.

I had grabbed the laundry cart and passed the same crowd and again, received some words.  I parked it and turned on the leader of the pack and with a finger in his face I said, "NO. You do NOT talk to me that way."   Surprised and amused, he challenged me, "why not??"  with his cronies laughing behind him.  I explained, "because it's offensive and makes me uncomfortable."  Maybe he just didn't know?  And he tried to explain to me that it wasn't offensive.  Yeah, alright.

There was one girl in his pack and I singled her out, "let me ask you--do you enjoy comments like this? Because i'm betting you don't."  And her gaze averted to the ground and she shuffled her feet as she quietly muttered, "they're just joking around."  I'm not sure but I feel like I could sense some shame in there that she was participating in this and perhaps also not speaking up, and I suddenly felt extremely sad for her.   And I'm also not sure these guys had anyone teach them how to treat women or received any lessons of having a general respect for others.  So we're in the midst of a small debate when Sean crosses the street from the laundromat to find his wife lecturing a crowd of about 9 miscreants.  He calmly asks what's going on and one guy gets in his face and says, "Oh, are you going to do something? Who are you??"  I'm sure there was some racial heat in this retort but it was quickly quelled when Sean replied, "that is my wife."  Anyway, it didn't turn into much. These people were misguided idiots with nothing to do. Thought I didn't get the feeling that we quite saw eye-to-eye, and probably didn't on a lot of things, I did feel like we had reached a degree of understanding, by the end. I told them to knock it off and as we finished our business, turned the corner and walked away, I burst into tears.

Living here has made me steely. I've developed a much thicker skin than from before. But there has always been something in me that will not get pushed around.  So no.  I may be a meek geek--that is fine with me-- but you will NOT break my glasses. At least, not without a fight.


Joel said...

Hooray for Jen!

Daisy said...

O my goodness! I so wish you went to my high school and we were friends. I was bullied and so afraid to stand up for my self. Even now, all these years later, the thought of seeing this one girl gives me anxiety.
I am a lot stronger now. But this one girl still holds something over me.

Valerie said...

Jen, this is possibly the best thing I have ever read. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it is NOT.

Like, just the whole thing. It's amazing. Have I ever told you how much I love the way you write? It's the most coherent, lyric stream of consciences I have ever read.

All these stories are amazing. This makes me wish I knew you in jr. high. Like, I wish I was sitting next to you on that bus. Which is why seeing Jurassic Park with you will be so important (hopefully).
And I would kill to see a photo of that watermelon costume.

Valerie said...

Upon relfection, I realize that "coherent" isn't the most flattering way to have your writing described. But I wanted to be specific when I used the phrase "stream of conciseness", because that IS what I always think when I read your writing, because there's such an effortless flow from one idea to the next. But "stream of conciseness" can also carry kind of annoying, eye-rolling connotations. Like James Joyce. ugh.

)en said...

Joel: thanks, pal.

Daisy: that's terrible! Man, bullies suck. Stay strong. Keep fighting! ;)

Val: your comments are like Christmas to me. thank you. To hear it from you means the world, seriously. I'm kind of contemplating just shutting down my blog here and now and end on an apparent high note.

Also, I will gladly accept coherent. I make sense?? score! When i first learned what stream of consciousness meant back in the day, I was kind of in love. To quote you: it is my jam. but do you mean consciousness or conciseness? Either way, I love it, i love it ALL.

Valerie said...

Yikes, did I say conciseness? I meant consciousness. I mostly just type the beginnings of words and hope the internet knows what I mean.

Shiloh said...

Jen, oh man, this was good. I can relate, I was a bit of a meek geek in school, but equally, though not as awesomely, I would not be pushed around and it would come out on blossomed in Brooklyn though, I'll always have that with NYC. This is the year, recreate it. Halloween 2013, the year of the watermelon!

)en said...

GAAH, it's perfect. Brilliant. I have to. For all the watermelons in the world! (want to sew it for me? :) )