This post is about bullying. More specifically, about being bullied in school, and how it can impact on a child and his family in ways that might not have been foreseen.
It’s about how the ripples in the serene waters of a sunny childhood can turn out to be Jaws. Or the nightmare on calm street that stalks every parent’s dreams.
There are the loved ones who would protect the target from this abuse but they couldn’t be there when the bully lunged out from the depths and bared his jagged teeth. Again.
In this particular Off-Hollywood tale, our protagonist did not want to take on the bully.
For complicated reasons, he chose to suffer the slings and arrows of a thousand petty humiliations rather than tell his parents, siblings, teacher, coach or anyone who might have protected him.
And heaven forbid he might squeal on the bully’s audience.
His parents only found out eventually through their boy’s desperate lashing out, after the dam burst and a fierce, pent-up anger came surging through. Unstoppably.
Tears of rage and ugly, spittle-flecked words through bared teeth that were really a cry for help. One that would not have even been heard if the horrible outburst had been taken at face value. As it was initially.
But the words died down and his mother held the spent little fury to her as he buried his face in the cushion she offered him, and the real tears eventually fell and a real story came burbling out.
A story that filled her and the angry, lumbering father with horror, with rage, with resentment, and left them with a feeling of having failed their boy.
The child being bullied was mine. Ours. But it could be yours.
For obvious reasons I cannot, and will not, divulge too much.
This was a shock. A lunge from the depths. A jolt to our complacency.
Think about this, for starters:
Bullies don’t just take on the puny, made-to-be-victim dweebs.
Anyone can be got at if the bully finds the right buttons. The right vulnerabilities. And presses home this sniffed-out advantage.
Even our boy, a talented footballer, notable not just for his skill and eye for a deft pass, but for his tenacity and fearless tackling and putting his body on the line defending. A warrior, some might say.
But the trouble is he has not had the easiest time of it socially.
For all sorts of reasons, he has never found that one buddy we all aspire to when we are young, and this has become conflated with feelings of not being popular, of not fitting it, and who the hell wants to fit in any way… a whole defensive structure built to defend his vulnerability.
Built on a foundation of self-doubt, of self-denigration. A soft heart inside the warrior’s body.
Even knowing this about our boy has only emerged over a long time, from picking through the meagre bones of reluctant half-disclosures. Information seized in rare, short-lived bursts of revelation. Dusted and added to the assemblage of other precious fragments for forensic analysis.
An ongoing, painstaking archaeological dig.
Delving where we can, when we can, until we hit the hard rock of his defences: derisive as he tells us how anyone can be popular, if you just do the cool things, say the right things … hang out with the right people …
Scorning our advice to make a bigger effort to connect with the kids in his class.
He won’t do that, no way.
His won’t buy the easy starter pack for friendship, or fitting in.
That’s why he has kept his beautiful, silky blond hair long, despite all the calls of “faggot”, “tranny” and “gay boy” he says he hears all the time.
Heroic, really, we both feel.
But, you see, he doesn’t put himself out now either. Doesn’t put out feelers towards deeper, more meaningful relationships. An emotional stalemate has ensued.
There are plenty of people he talks with … we see him gabbling away with his team-mates after training, and boy can be babble away for hours online playing Fortnite, with guys he will walk right on by in the school playground.
What is also galling is the story of the extent of our son’s bullying experience came out after the horrendous shouting crisis at home I wrote about last week.
He was absolutely horrible to me, and to my shame, I initially responded in kind. It was later that the bullying scenario emerged.
And it all started to make more sense, the locked away joy, the hard to reach emotion — except the anger one. The one that hates scrutiny, or follow up questions about school, and how is he settling in, and all that prying, meddling busy-body stuff. Going apeshit if you push too far.
Until all that remains is a shadowed self that flinches in the true light of possible relationships.
This is also about how we are all vulnerable, we can all be bullied, no matter how fierce or brave, or spirited.
Indeed, maybe the most frightening aspect of it all, these very positive qualities can actually work to keep the bullying going. Hoisted by one’s own defiance or fortitude. Until the walls eventually crumble.
The person being bullied can show the most amazing resilience and spirit to endure this treatment, can take what’s being dished out and keep coming back, keep on living and laughing and, maybe, loving.
The person surviving this torment of the heart and soul, can learn to compartmentalise it, push it to one side and even live a life, doing many enjoyable things.
Until they snap. Can’t take it anymore. What parents don’t fear that happening?
Just one instance will be enough to show what our boy has sucked up. And never revealed until his outburst days later.
Two weeks ago he hurt the outside of his foot — playing football, of course — and he couldn’t walk on it. His mom got him a pair of crutches and so he hobbled down the corridors in school, struggled with doors, and stoic as you like, got on with it. It would be only for a few days.
But Jaws was there, circling, waiting. A crowd had gathered on the shore of the school corridor.
The bully, silent, swishes up behind our boy, who is on his crutches, and knees him in the back of one thigh. Gives him a dead leg.
Oh, how the minnow audience laughed.
He’s so popular, this guy, see?
This is what emerges when we talk to O about it.
This guy is “so popular, like you wouldn’t believe,” he tells us.
So ultimately, our boy would not be tackling the bully, so popular in O’s eyes, but taking on the forces of his own perceived lack of popularity. A no-win scenario.
We have told the school, of course, and all this will be dealt with. It’s an excellent school, and there are procedures.
But what if this is only Jaws 1?
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