Salon has been running a series entitled Interview With My Bully. The premise is this:
Some adolescent scars linger well into adulthood. Interview With My Bully, our new essay series, hopes to provide some closure, and maybe even build some understanding and common ground between the picked-on and their young tormentors. Ever wonder what happened to the person who pushed you around in junior high? Why not track him or her down — and post your essay on Open Salon.
It’s been a fascinating series thus far, filled with essays with titles like What My Childhood Bully Taught Me, The Bully Who Denied It, and The Bully Who Asked For Forgiveness.
The topic is interesting to me because it ties in closely to the book that I am currently writing but also because my childhood was not without its share of bullies as well. In fact, during my freshman and sophomore year, I had a great number of bullies as a result of my refusal to comply with the freshman-senior hazing tradition that existed at our school. I was beaten up many times, sent to the hospital once, forced to fight another lower classman for sport, suspended from school for inciting riot upon myself, and more.
It was a tough couple years, and I often wonder why I chose not to conform to the traditions set forth in previous years. Had I agreed to carry lunch trays, wear humiliating signs around my neck and keep my mouth shut, I could have made it through my freshman year relatively unscathed.
Instead, I fought the upperclassman at every turn, refused to comply to a single request, escalated the situation through my own attacks, attempted to humiliate them at every turn and suffered the consequences.
In retrospect, compliance and conformity would have been the simpler and less painful course of action, and yet for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I was unable to do so.
It’s a question that I am dealing with in the book I am writing now and an issue I still deal with quite often.
In terms of bullies, I could list the names of half a dozen upperclassmen who were responsible for these acts of aggression, but even though it was a constant battle to survive, only one bully really frightened me and made me feel unsafe and constantly threatened.
His name was Eddie.
Though I was beaten up and harassed by others, it had always felt like a game when dealing with the other upperclassmen. Yes, I might get punched, and yes, they might attempt to bowl me (the only indignity I managed to avoid), and yes, I might find myself handcuffed to the bumper of a bus, but I never thought that any of them really wanted to hurt me.
Except for Eddie.
Eddie’s attack of choice was to ring me. Ringing consists of turning around your rather large class ring around on your finger so that the stone is facing down and then hammering it down upon the scalp of your victim. Not only does it hurt like hell (even without the ring, having the top of your head slapped like that hurts), but it often splits your scalp open, causing your hair to mix with blood. Eddie would ring me at every chance he got, and if I did not run after being ringed (which was sometimes impossible because the ringing would oftentimes knock me to the ground), he would toss in some additional acts of random violence for good measure.
Unfortunately, Eddie played the cymbals in the same drum line to which I was a member, so we saw each other a lot, including band camp.
Hazing at band camp took on unusual forms, including that of the doughboy. To doughboy a person is to throw them into the shower, run the water over their body, and pour in bags of flour over the head and body of the victim. Let that set for about fifteen minutes, and the result is a sticky mess and an embarrassing walk of shame back to your own room, where the complete removal of the flour could take an hour or more.
I was doughboyed at twice at band camp during my freshman year, and while it was not fun, it was also not supposed to be violent.
Embarrassing, yes. Painful, no.
Except the first time I was doughboyed, I was caught by Eddie. Considerably larger and stronger than me, Eddie lifted me off the ground (after ringing me, of course), dragged me to his room (where several other seniors were waiting to assist), and literally threw me into the tub, cracking my head, knee and elbow on the porcelain surface. My legs caught the shower curtain on the way by, yanking down the shower rod, which Eddie then grabbed and used to whack me in the head and back every time I tried to sit up.
The intended humiliation of the doughboy was replaced by the pain I felt from the beating I took while prone in that bathtub.
It hurt like hell, and I was scared as hell during the entire process.
Thankfully, marching band season ended in late November and that limited the number of times that Eddie's and my path crossed. During the course of the school day, it was easy for me to avoid him, and when that was impossible, it was unusual for us to be alone without an adult nearby.
Eddie’s reign of terror lasted about three months, but it was a long and painful three months.
Eddie was not the one to send me to the hospital later that spring. That was another boy, and while he was the certainly the cause of the injury (a punch to the chest), it was unintentional. He wanted to hurt me but not hurt me.
I am not implying that the hazing that took place during my freshman year (and parts of my eight grade and sophomore year as well) was appropriate or fun, but none of it ever caused me to feel the terror that Eddie did.
Eddie simply didn’t care about the results of his actions. He found joy in hurting me, and he had a temper which frightened me beyond measure.
The seniors who participated in these acts of bullying and hazing wanted to hurt me, but only Eddie wanted to really hurt me.
I’ve searched for Eddie online and had no luck. I am friends on Facebook with many of his former friends, and none of them have connected with Eddie either.
But to be honest, I am not sure if I would be willing to interview him had I managed to locate him.
Surprising (or perhaps not so surprising), I don’t think I ever want to see Eddie again. The mixture of fear, anger and loathing (but mostly fear) that I still feel towards him is enough to keep me away.
I could contact other guys to interview if the need strikes. A senior named Dan was my chief rival during that freshman-sophomore year, so he might make for an interesting interview. I targeted him for reasons I can’t quite remember, and while Dan was tough on me, I was never truly afraid of him.
Yes, he hurt me, but he never really hurt me. Not like Eddie.