Please welcome booktrope author Steven M. Cross as he shares his story on bullying.
I despise bullying. I hate it, and that’s why I wrote a book about it. The ironic thing is that my intense dislike of it happened not so much because I was bullied but because of one incident where I was the one who bullied.
My sixth grade year was memorable for a lot of bad reasons, but two events especially stick out most in my mind. One of my supposed friends started calling me a racist name that I won’t get into because I didn’t look as Caucasian as he thought I should have. It was really the first time I had experienced any kind of bullying. The one event though that helped to shape who I am more than any other had to do with a boy I’ll call Johnny.
Some background is needed here. Johnny was a little strange. He looked strange – like a miniature adult with a cleft in his chin like Kirk Douglas’s. His social skills were not strong, and he didn’t do anything cool like play sports or collect baseball cards. And gasp, one of the worst things of all – he was a preacher’s son. Most people made his life hell by bullying him constantly. Most of the time I felt sorry for him, but I never bothered to say anything or stop anyone.
One day, during recess, for some reason I have never been able to fathom, I shoved Johnny to the ground. Usually, this kind of thing ended most interactions with Johnny. He’d get up, maybe start crying, and run off. This day, for some reason, he decided to make a stand. He came up and swung at me – missing by the way.
The moment of truth. My manhood. My reputation. Both were at stake. I punched Johnny once, maybe twice, and he crumpled like a house of cards. He cowered on the ground and covered his head and face. I sat on his back and punched him several times with uppercuts. I felt horrified at what I was doing because I could have literally punched him into unconsciousness, and he would not have resisted. It was like the first swing he took at me sapped all his strength.
I stood then, backing up in horror at what I’d done. Tears came to my eyes. I don’t know why since I wasn’t the least bit hurt. It didn’t matter to me that I had won one of the most coveted schoolyard awards: beating a kid up. A girl, one of the prettiest ones in our class, looked at me. “Why are you crying? You beat the shit out of him.”
Johnny jumped up, tears already streaming down his face, his lip and nose bloodied. He ran for the teacher, to tell on me. I deserved to get paddled or expelled. I started the fight without any provocation whatsoever. Yet, when we both faced our teacher, he said, “Boys, I think this was just a misunderstanding, and you need to apologize to each other.” I didn’t know why at the time, but this made me feel worse.
I felt so much guilt. Then, Johnny exploded with anguished sobs. I can’t remember his exact words, but he cried about how everyone always picked on him even when he did nothing. He cried because everyone hated him because he was a preacher’s son. He cried for several minutes. I stood in stony silence and wished I were dead. When his anguished sobs finally quieted to sniffles, sixth grade continued as if nothing happened.
Terrified that my mom or even worse, my dad, would find out that I got into a fight at school, I confessed to my mom. She asked me what the fight was about. This was my chance to come clean, to confess my sin, and get my forgiveness.
I thought for a moment. “He was picking on one of my friends,” I lied and dropped my head.
My mom said, “You should take up for your friends.” As far as everyone was concerned, the incident was closed.
But it wasn’t.
You know what they say about Karma. I think, about this time, my predisposition to bipolar disorder kicked in. I guess it could have been the first hints of puberty too, but I got a little strange. For the next four years, I learned exactly how Johnny felt.
Hardly a day went by during those four years when someone, including teachers, didn’t bully me. I think the only thing that kept me from killing myself was that I was more afraid to die than I was to live. Though I am surprised about this too because during this time period, I had a friend who killed himself. I remember asking myself at the time, was he more cowardly or courageous than me? Most of what I experienced I have blocked out, but every once in a while, some long-forgotten memory pops through my walls and stabs me with new pain.
I have never forgotten Johnny even though he moved sometime during our sixth or seventh grade year. I don’t know what happened to him, but I do know that he changed my life forever. I went into teaching because I wanted to be better than some of the teachers I had during school and because I wanted to be just as good as some of the others. I went into teaching because I wanted to help people like Johnny to realize that school is not the end of the world, that it is, in fact, just a small fraction of a fraction of a slice of it.
I try to prevent bullying of every kind, and I think I can honestly say that I have never intentionally hurt any student who has entered my classroom door in the 30 years I have taught. I sincerely believe that most of my teaching career is, in some way, my attempt to prove to Johnny that I was not a bully and that I am truly sorry for what I put him through on that playground over 40 years ago.
About the Author:
Steve Cross’s first successful writing project was a play about a werewolf that his eighth grade English class performed. Though the play was never published, the warm fuzzy feeling from its public performance has never quite left Cross, who continues to sink his teeth into a variety of writing projects. His first publication was a haiku, followed by two middle grade novels published by POD publishers and a young adult novel published by Buck’s County Publishing.
A fanatical St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan; a lover of all kinds of YA fiction, as well as the writings of Dean Koontz and Stephen King; a fan of all kinds of music – from Abba to the Zac Brown band, Cross dreams of the day he will write a best-selling novel or sell a screenplay for seven figures, so he can retire and write more best-selling fiction. Until that day, he and his wife Jean, Missourians born and bred, will continue to toil in the field of education and live in peace with their two dogs and two cats and wait around until their daughter Megan and son-in-law Sean give them grandchildren to spoil.
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