Bullies

There is a story from my childhood that my youngest son likes me to tell. It is about my brother. And it is about bullying. And fighting. These are favorite subjects of my youngest son.

When I was a kid, my brother and I walked to the school bus stop. It was not a long walk, just to the end of our street. I walked with the girls. He walked with a couple of boys a year or two older than him. All was good.

But then those boys got mean. They pushed him off of the street into a ditch. When he tried to get out of the ditch, they pushed him back in. A few days later, they told him he had to crawl in the ditch. Like a dog. They were bigger. So he did.

I don’t remember how long it went on. Long enough, I guess. It never occurred to me to alert my parents. If I ignored it, it might go away. But it didn’t and somehow mom just knew.

And she had the answer. She always did.

This is what you do, she said. It is simple. Figure out which bully is weaker. Wait until he is alone. Beat him up.

Your mom was so cool, my son says. That is so great.

And then I get to the part that he really likes. My brother found that weaker bully. And he beat him up. And the bullying stopped.

I love that story, my son says. And he smiles.

Why? I ask. Well, because he won. I like that he beat the bully. And your mom said it was ok. I like that, too. She told him to do it, mom. You wouldn’t do that, he says.

I don’t know what I would do, I tell him. If someone made you walk in a ditch, I don’t know what I would do. I know I would want to beat up the bully myself. I would want to tear that bully apart. Rip his arms off, I say. Make him sorry. But I wouldn’t. I am not cool, I say. Because I wouldn’t tell you to do it either. I just think it would make a meaner bully. For the next kid.

Nah, my son says. You have to stand up for yourself. Your mom was cool, he says.

My husband and I take a trip to Washington DC. It is just a quick trip to go to a wedding. But while we are there, we see the Vietnam Memorial. It is a long, long wall, filled with names of people who died in the war. The names are organized by date, a helpful veteran tells us. So that you are always with your brothers who died with you, he says.

It makes me so sad, that wall. Thank a veteran, the tour guide says. I don’t want to thank a veteran, I think. I want to apologize to one. I am sorry for that war. I am sorry for all wars. I want to touch a name and have a soldier come alive again. So I can embrace him. Wipe his tears for him. Make his war go away. Make him have a regular old life with children and grandchildren and mowing his lawn and growing old. I want to protect him from the bullies. And protect the bullies from him. Fighting is not right, I think.

I wish my son was with us on this trip. At this war memorial. I want him to see all of the names. The names that go on and on. I want him to look for a name like his, one that sounds like his own. I want him to see the names of soldiers who died. Boy soldiers, really. Not men. I want him to know about this dying stuff.

Not because he is a bully. Or a fighter. He is neither. But because it is good for a young boy to see. To see what happens when the fights get bigger. And the fists turn to firearms.

So I tell him this. I tell him I am sorry for the bully. I am sorry he was mean. But I am also sorry he was beat up. I am sorry for meanness and sadness. I don’t know the answer, I tell him. I will keep working on it, I promise him.

That’s ok, he says. I won’t fight anyone. I don’t want to. I just like the story. Mom, he says, you are cool, too.

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