Over the past decade we’ve heard lots about bullying. Traditional bullying, which consists of good old fashion intimidation and threat of physical harm has been around since the dawn of childhood.
Yet in the past decade, the insertion of technology has just given people another avenue. To be a bully in the old days, you had to have the guts to step to someone on the playground. Now that people can hide behind social media monikers and internet avatars, it’s gotten worse. News reports tell us about parents bullying their kid’s ex-girlfriend and sociopaths in chat rooms successfully encouraging people to commit suicide.
I remember Sean, who used to punch me in the stomach occasionally. He was a year older and about three grades bigger and would hit me if I stepped out of line during our bus stop football games.
Then there were the three 12th graders that Halloween-jacked me when I was 13. They approached from the dark in between the townhomes, and I knew what they were after so I just gave up my candy sack. But they dragged my kid brother, who wouldn’t let go, down to the ground to get his. I was glad the cops got them the next night. They were stupid enough to brag to other neighborhood kids.
I didn’t like being bullied as a kid. But for some reason, I always saw growing up a form of shadow boxing, and that getting picked on just came with the sport. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way.
However I wouldn’t be who I am today if I wasn’t bullied. Maybe I was lucky never to be in a situation to put me over the edge. But there was one bully worse than the 6-foot-2 football players who robbed me on Halloween. There was Kelly.
In 4th Grade, Kelly was a freckle-faced firecracker with a talkative mouth. That mouth used to get her in trouble despite her excellent grades. She wore no boxing gloves; quite the opposite. Kelly looked cute as a button in the handmade corduroy dresses her mom put her in. But she was the daughter of a cop, and her parents’ ongoing divorce gave her some extra angst and an edge.
One day Kelly was turning her head back and making smartass comments as our teacher carried on with the lesson, ignoring her chirps. Sitting across from her I made a few sarcastic comments of my own, trying to join the humor. But Kelly didn’t appreciate it and must have thought I was stealing her show. So after class, she had a word with me. As we say on the East Coast, she called me out.
“I call you out. To a fight. Out back by the pines, after school,” Kelly said. I thought she was joking.
The worst thing about it was that Kelly issued this demand in front of 15 other kids, mostly boys, who decided that I had to fight her.
When the 7th period bell rang I tried to escape. I wasn’t going to hit a girl but that didn’t matter to a classmate of mine, who saw me try to bail. Tony promptly ushered me on toward the ring. “Come on,” he said, “don’t be a chicken.”
When I got to the pines up the hill Kelly was there. Her white sleeves were rolled up almost to the shoulder straps of her cutesy dress, so that you could no longer see the doily ends of them. She still looked adorable.
“Come on, Frye!” she said as she swung at my head and I ducked. “Fight! Fight!” was the chant of the other kids encircled around us, and I just stood there thinking that this was a hoax, but it wasn’t.
Kelly took another shot and hit me in the ear. It didn’t hurt but the chants got louder as some of the other 4th graders hurled insults, suggesting I "couldn’t even beat up a girl” and that I was a fraidy-cat for not swinging yet. I broke a sweat and tried to talk my way out of this ridiculousness. But it didn’t get me anywhere as Kelly took another swing.
Honestly I just wanted this to be over. I took a half-hearted punch I knew would miss as Kelly dipped back. I let her hit me in the arm and stood waiting for her to hit me in the stomach. I hit the ground feigning injury and said, “OK you win.”
I was pretty humiliated not from getting beat up, but the fact that I was put in this preposterous situation in the first place. The jeers lasted a few minutes after my defeat before everyone got bored and left.
After a few days everyone forgot that I got beat up by a girl, no less the smallest girl in the class. The punches didn’t hurt, not physically at least.
We didn’t talk much by 6th grade as I didn’t have class with Kelly very much. But it just so happens --and I really can't explain the logic on this, if there is any—that in 6th grade I fell in love with Kelly. As it turned out, she was the first girl I every really loved. So much so, so hard, that it hurt. Like the “fight” out back, it made no sense. Ironic, though.
That school year Kelly would give me a worse gut-punch than I could ever imagine.
One Friday in the fall our Geography teacher was talking about Americans moving throughout exurbia, a new phenomenon. “You know Kelly, from the morning class… Today is her last day,” he said. “She’ll be moving and going to a new school starting Monday.” Teacher said it with such gleeful wonder as only a teacher would. I was mortified. I just began to like her and she had the backhanded nerve to go move on me.
But this time it hurt physically, like someone had kicked me in the stomach with both feet. It was 7th period like last time, and with kids scurrying out of school in a hurry, I wouldn’t even get to say goodbye. I guess Kelly would be further building my character.
I could complain about broken hearts, stolen candy and busted guts. And I do sympathize with kids who get bullied, even worse, today. But it’s fair to say that some of the bullies in our lives, even the little freckled ones, shape us and help complete our growth whether we like it or not. Kelly was that kind of bully.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life for ChicagoNow. Yes, he actually did get “beat up” by a girl.