Bullied into a life lesson


The movie Bully, a documentary on peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America, shows punishing scenes of young students being kicked, poked and stabbed with pencils, knocked off bus seats, ignored and isolated.

When I was 14, my father bought me a brand new J.C. Higgins bike: south-sea metallic blue, whitewall tires. It was stunning. I felt like framing it.

Back then, I was a quiet student, having repeated a grade—anyone who had “flunked” was treated like an ex-con. One mean girl dominated our cohort group. She alone decided who was in and who was out.

If you were shy, short, tall, heavy, thin, one big eyebrow, couldn’t throw a ball, or tap your head and rub your belly, you were cow poop.

One day, Miss Mean announced that from now on, nobody should talk to me and one other classmate. Everyone obeyed like an army of chickens. We rejects became invisible.

But during the last week of school, the Queen of Mean stood in front of the class and invited us all to her swimming pool.

I rushed home, donned my bathing suit, shorts and a T-shirt, grabbed a towel, jumped on my bike and pedaled hard to the House of Mean.

Halfway there, my towel fell and I lost control right in front of a rambling, giant Eaton’s truck. I jerked my bike to the side, fell hard and scraped my knee on the pavement. My front wheel was all bent to heck.

The driver rushed out in a panic and helped me up. I told him everything was fine and it was my fault for not looking where I was going. But my beautiful bike was wounded.

I should have turned around and walked my bike home, but no. I so badly wanted to be included in that swimming pool party. I pushed my bike onward. A half hour later, I arrived at the mansion of Miss Mean and walked my bike up the long, winding driveway.

A couple of sports cars idled beside the sprawling home. Screams of excitement and splashing sounds echoed down the street.

I walked my crooked bike up the driveway and leaned it against a tree. Nobody glanced my way.

What was I expecting? A brass band? Red carpet? Little Richard?

I raced to the pool, slipped on the smooth surrounding tile and torpedoed straight to the bottom of the deep end. Nothing wrong with that, except I couldn’t swim.

Overhead, kids were diving, throwing balls, each other, slamming into the water like baboons on crack. Meanwhile, I was struggling for my life. Somehow, I managed to push up to the surface, grab the side of the pool and haul myself out.

There are teachable moments in life: That’s when I realized I didn’t need the approval of Miss Mean or her rabid followers.

Without a backward glance, I walked to my bent bike, grabbed the handlebars and headed home.

A couple hours later, my father arrived from work, saw my face and asked what was wrong. I told him the whole story and showed him my bike. He bent down and examined the wheel like a surgeon.

“That’s nothing. I’ll buy you a new wheel tomorrow.

“You know what? You learned something more important than a bent wheel. Those people aren’t real friends. They’re phonies.”

I said: “I know that now, dad.”

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