Me, First Grade – 1948
Bullying has been in the news lately because of some tragic suicides by young gay men.
I’ve been giving the subject of bullying a lot of thought lately.
When I was young (five years old, first grade) I was bullied a few times because I was a shy and timid kid. The first time I was bullied was when I was trying to enter the building where my first grade class took place. I lived three blocks from the school and I walked to school everyday. One of my classmates would wait for me and push me to the ground, preventing me from going to school. Ironically we’re friends how and he sometimes reads this blog (“Hi Jack!”) He says he doesn’t remember bullying me. Years later when we reconnected at a class reunion he apologized for bullying me.
Me (far right) with Jack (far left) at a class reunion 52 years later – 2002
He only did it a few times. I don’t remember exactly how I stopped the bullying but I do remember telling my Mother and father when I went home at the end of the day. I assumed my father would confront my bully and put an end to it. He did not. I don’t think it was because he was afraid, he just wasn’t involved in my life. I don’t think he wanted kids (he had three sons). He just didn’t want to be bothered. So I had to take matters into my own hands. As I said, I don’t remember what I did but the bullying stopped.
The next time I was bullied was when I was twelve years old and in high school, seventh grade. Our class was next and we were standing outside Mrs. Rogers’ science classroom, waiting for the previous class to empty the room so we could enter. Kenny, one of my classmates and a football player (I wasn’t a football player) started shoving me for no apparent reason. He said “I hate you rich kids who think you’re better than anyone else!” or something along that line. Rich? That was a laugh. I was probably poorer than he was. I was still very shy so maybe he thought I was stuck up, which I wasn’t.
When he saw I didn’t do anything after the first shove (I never react immediately), he shoved me again. Still I did nothing so he shoved me a third time. This time I turned around and shoved him back. Then the fists started to fly. We were soon grappling on the floor. Mrs. Rogers came out of her classroom in hysterics. Someone pulled us apart and we were sent to the principal’s office. My first visit to THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE! Mr. Emery, the principal, wanted to know what happened. I told him. I don’t remember what Kenny said but it must have been pretty lame because the principal believed me. Kenny had a reputation as a bully and apparently I was to be his next victim. After our visit to the principal’s office, Kenny never bothered me again for the rest of our years in high school. The first class reunion I attended was my 20th. I wanted to see Kenny and laugh about our “experience” back in 1954. Kenny wasn’t at the reunion. He died in Vietnam in 1963. Oddly, I felt guilty. Wonder why?
My next bullying experience was in ninth grade. We were in a class showing a film on one of those old projectors. One of my classmates, who I thought was a friend thought it would be funny to walk up to the teacher’s desk and on the way back slap me in the face. The first time he did it I was caught by surprise. He returned to his seat to the titters of some of our fellow classmates. He did it again. We went up to the front of the room and returned to his desk, slapping me a little harder this time. As he returned to his desk I heard him and his friends laughing again. By the way, he was also a football player. I wasn’t. I was in the band. Maybe that had something to do with it. He was having a grand time so he decided to go up to the teacher’s desk again and on the way back he gave me another good slap. He returned to his desk and the titters of his friends. This time I got up from my desk and went back and “slapped” him but I forgot to open my hand. What I actually did was slug him with my closed fist so hard that I knocked him from his desk to the floor. No tittering this time from his friends. Now we were grappling on the floor. I remember that we knocked over the projector and the teacher was hysterical. Again, we were pulled apart and another visit to the principal’s office. Again, my explanation was accepted and Lewis (his name) never bothered me again.
Me, Marching Band Member – 1957
The third time I was bullied was in basic training in the Army when I was 18 years old. This was another “Ken”. His last name was Rondeau. For some reason he didn’t like me and made my life miserable by setting little booby traps for me. I won’t to into all the things he did to me (like stealing the top of my water canteen so when I was out on the range I got soaked) but it all came to a head one night. I had Fire Watch, which was guard duty for the barracks. Of course I had the worst time, 2 am to 4 am. After my watch was over I went to go to bed and found it full of shaving cream. I head muffled laughter (titters again) from the darkened barracks. I knew who did it. I was furious. The barracks were two stories high. My bunk was located on the first floor. Rondeu’s was located on the second floor. I wanted to kill him. I would have taken my rifle but it was locked in the gun rack at the end of the barracks along with my fellow trainees. I looked for something else to use as a weapon to do damage to Rondeau. I found it, a mop. I unscrewed the mop handle from the mop and went upstairs looking for him, ranting and screaming all the way. Someone turned on the lights in the barracks. With the mop handle in my hand I found Rondeau’s bunk but it was empty. I’m still ranting (lots of F words, believe me). The barracks sergeant wanted to know what was going on. Someone must of told him because I didn’t. I was still furious shouting “Where the f*k is Rondeau? I’ll kill him!!!!” This time I was taken to the captain’s quarters. I remember him very clearly. His name was Captain Green and he was a black man, very black. They tried to calm me down. The master sergeant told me to sit down. Eventually I was calm enough to tell what happened, that someone put shaving cream in my bunk and I knew who it was. I also told them that Rondeau had been sabotaging me for weeks and I finally had enough. Captain Green sat and listened to me with his hand on his chin. My barracks sergeant and the sergeant major were standing listening to me. After I finished my explanation Captain Green said “Private Tipton, go back to your bunk. We will take care of this.”
I don’t know what they did or said to Rondeau. However for the remaining three weeks of basic training he stayed clear of me. He didn’t even make eye contact with me. I was very lucky in this instance because I really did want to kill Rondeau. I understand how people get in trouble when they are pushed to the edge.
Ft. Dix, New Jersey – Army Basic Training Recruits standing in chow line – 1960
Those are the three times that I was physically bullied. I responded the only way bullies understand, with force and telling someone in authority exactly what happened. I did not internalize anything. I am incapable of internalizing. Maybe I’m lucky that way. I can put up with a lot of bullying but eventually when I have enough, I put an end to it. I think I get this trait from my Mother because she was exactly the same way.
I feel for those who are incapable of standing up for themselves. I don’t understand it but I guess some internalize the hatred that is directed towards them and internalize it into self hatred and feel they must destroy themselves or they see no way out and they just want the pain to end.
The bottom line is that the best way to deal with bullies is to confront them. My father probably did me a favor all those years ago by not sticking up for me. Because I had no one to protect me I decided my only alternative was to stick up for myself.
I sleep better at night too.