Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bullies suck.

"I hate the kids at my school, they're always mean to me!"

What parent hasn't heard this one before? Ironically, it appears that more kids feel this way than not. Which is news to me, since this is the kind of stuff I would say when I was going to school. Elementary, Middle School, High School and even College. New Job? They must hate me! Carrying some deep-seeded, emotionally charged, childhood memories with me into adulthood, I felt the sting of bullying early in my adolescence, too.

These were words I've heard from the mouth of my then 11-year old son, Aaron, who is convinced no one in his school at the time liked him. Going to a fairly secluded, small private school, he believes that every kid in his 10-student grade dislikes him. He claims the other boys, who are taller, bigger, stronger and faster than him all bully him. While I doubt that the situation is as dire as that, I shared a story about overcoming bullying that I thought might be cool to share here, too.

Bullys suck. 

They are a fact of life and in many ways, they are around us our entire lives in some fashion or another. Largely, as TV has taught us, it is how we deal with them that defines us and gets us through their BS. I shared a story with Aaron that helped him put things in perspective.

In my neighborhood growing up, in Boston's affluent Back Bay, there was a little bit of everybody. White kids, Black kids, Hispanic Kids, Asian kids, bi-racial kids, all ages and creeds. When you grow up in a city neighborhood, you experience a lot. The family that lived above us for years had one boy who was three years younger than me. He had a Mom and a Dad who were divorced but chose to live together. The Mom had a live-in boyfriend... and the Dad had a live-in boyfriend. Like I said, a little bit of everybody. It's all good.

About age 10 or so, most of the kids my age started to move away, never to be heard from again, mostly moving out of state or moving too far to stay connected with. There were still plenty of kids but most were either a few years older, or a few years younger. That was OK, I went to school with plenty of kids my age. So weekends, holidays and snowstorms were with my neighborhood friends. Life was pretty good.

Enter Reginald.

"Reg" and his friends, were a small neighborhood click that terrorized me from age 8 until I reached high school. Reg, a bi-racial boy who was tall, lanky and about a year older than me. There was Tyrone, a very scary dark-skinned Black boy who NEVER smiled and Tommy, a HUGE Asian kid, who had to be 250 lbs by age 14. The three of them combined to comprise of my own personal little Axis of evil. This multi-national coalition of local terror would chase me around the neighborhood, take my lunch money, throw ice-balls at me in the winter, fling small rocks via sling shots at me in the summer and generally make my life a living hell, often leaving me screaming in a frenzied panic for my Mom at the top of my lungs.

This scenario continued for years. However, eventually, things changed. I got less concerned about hiding from them (or was it they were too preoccupied with being teenagers to concern themselves with such an easily intimidated target). I got a new set of friends locally and I started lifting weights. 

Now, by no means was I some hulking powerhouse, but after some time in CYA football, YMCA basketball leagues and even a summer in a rigorous sports-based camp for young men in Juvie. [To this day, I'm not exactly sure why my Mom put me in a camp for young felons, as I was far from one myself but I actually loved hanging with those guys and learned how to fight (who am I kidding, learned how to take an ass-kicking) and talk real nasty street slang. Might explain a thing or two about me today]. I also started playing sports more regularly with friends and along with a budding dedication to better personal fitness, started transforming from a pudgy, reclusive, TV-addicted house-slug to a somewhat fit, toned young man who at age 17 was pushing 6' 1". I started working out, weight-lifting, bench pressing... getting big. 

If this is starting to sound like an ABC after-school special, oh just you wait.

Flash forward to the summer 1986. I just graduated high school and I was accepted to the school of my dreams, The Massachusetts College of Art and most importantly, at least to us at the time, the Celtics had just beat the Lakers for their 16th NBA Championship! Everyone was jazzed up to hit the city courts and show off their best street hoops moves. I was with a few of my hommies, waiting to play in a pick-up game at one of our favorite little basketball courts, a little single hoop, side-alley court on the campus of Northeastern University tucked in-between the 6-to-8 story brick-faced dorms. There were three things that made this court an all-time favorite with us. 

First, it was shaded, so playing in the summer wasn't unbearable as it got no real direct sunlight. Second, while it hosted it's fair share of giant young college dudes showing off their moves, the real draw was the Northeastern Co-eds who would show up and watch the boys play. We loved beating some the college boys to try and impress these young women that were clearly WAAAYY out of our league. But the most attractive feature to his court was the fact that it was a single rim mounted to the side of a 150 ft. brick wall. This made layups rather interesting. Resourceful young urbanites that we were, it didn't take us long to realize that just one or two steps off the wall at the right speed and angle, and you had all the air-time you needed to dunk. Especially in a game when someone else didn't know about it. My heart races just thinking about all the off-the-wall dunk contests we used to have. [sigh].

So one weekend afternoon, my fellow wall-dunkers and I are playing against some Northeastern University boys and a scrawny young guy, not quite 5' 10" comes along and asks to play. I pay him no mind. Two of my guys and I (all of us were between 5'10" and 6' 5") are waiting on the sideline to play next.

"Arthur?" The guy says. I turn and what do you know–it's Reg. It appears while I was pushing on to what would become a healthy 6' 2", 250 lb. frame, well... let's just say Reginald didn't quite continue to pursue an athletic, muscle-building lifestyle.

In my iciest low-toned voice I say; "Hey Reg. Haven't seen you in a while–what up?", the suppressed trauma of a thousand ice-balls to the back of the head and countless afternoons without lunch flooding my consciousness.

"I got next!"
"Wow dude, you got BIG!" He says, looking up at me. 

I grinned.

"You got next?" I add? He replies; "Yeah, let's see what you got. Go easy on me ok?" I couldn't help the next few words. "Oh, just go ahead and start some s**t now Reg..." He smiled a nervous smile. I saunter over to my crew and let them know I need to take the lead on scoring in the next game. They just nod. 

Then, it's game on.

I match up with Reg and post up on him scoring a couple quick shots, shooting over him as though he weren't there. My teammates were all very good so we had no problem man-handling Reg and his two random teammates. And then it was time to bring it home. With Reg guarding me, I took the ball, dribbling around him and one of his guys. He runs to catch up and tries to stop an obvious coming lay up, stepping back assuming the giant wall will do something to help his cause.

I swear, I still see the next event in my head in slow-motion like an ending to a bad 80's movie...

Like Spider-man, I run up along the wall, leap away and power a two-handed dunk through the rim that knocks Reg sideways and has him reeling in a dumb-founded stupor. "Holy s**t!!" he stammers, trying to keep his footing. The game ends quickly and he wanders off. I must say, it was one of my life's greatest little victories.

That brings us back to the story at hand. The message to my son was clear. If you just keep your wits about yourself, stay upbeat and plow through the tough times, you just might live to see the day where the tables are turned on the very people who make our lives miserable. It remains to be seen what Aaron's true take on the story will be, but he was entertained and was relieved to hear his Dad had gone through similar circumstance and came out on top. While revenge is not something I want him to fully embrace, there is no shame in allowing a single, vaguely cynical smile to cross your face when payback becomes a bee-yotch for your nemesis

We can revel in such events in our lives. We are, after all, only human.
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