This is the fourth in a multi-part series on the subject of the various great and memorable enemies I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years, from the earnest gibbering of schoolyard bullies to the courtly dance of the merely ritualistic antagonist.
Today's installment forces this cheeseburger to come to his own defense, when all allies fall by the wayside -- through which process he gains his first inspiration for storytelling.
Please see also Part I, Part II and Part III.
In middle school the stakes were higher. Hundredth-monkey style advances in bullying science had seen the widespread adoption of the chortling sidekick, and cutting edge bullies were injecting their assaults with elements of generalized humiliation as a complement to mere violence.
I was selected as a target by an up and coming young bully named Garth, who was repeating the seventh grade when I was in grade six. Garth and his sidekick Todd worked by isolating an individual gifted student from his group, and then mocking him -- working at first for nervous laughter from the audience, and later using that as a ticket for noninterference when the mocking became more cruel. It was a delicate process to work the crowd this way but, like Adolph Hitler, Garth had a knack.
Jack's mom picked him up from middle school, but Scott and I took a city bus along with most of our classmates. Scott had been briefly auditioned by Garth but abandoned when he proved too liquid to toy with: Scott responded to intimidation by hanging around in the cafeteria until the later bus came, and went home alone.
Garth often opened by shoving me into the street and then tripping me when I tried to get back on the curb. "Can't stay on the sidewalk, eh? You virgin!"
Adults often advised ignoring bullies, so I did my best to ignore Garth. It quickly became obvious that such advice was proffered only by people who had no experience of bullies, who have evolved an effective response to being ignored: they ramp up the aggression.
One day Garth pushed me into traffic close enough to the approaching bus to give me a real scare. I scrambled back onto the sidewalk and pushed him into a snowbank, my heart hammering in my chest. As we filed aboard to pay our fares he whispered, "You're dead, virgin."
The other adults seated on the city bus watched on with disinterest as Garth punched me in the ribs and then tripped me when I tried to get up. I sprawled on the dirty rubber floor and looked up to see my classmates trying to look the other way. A pinch-faced woman gave me a dose of stink-eye when my elbow touched her umbrella. "Watch it," she snarled.
Todd and Garth herded me to the largely unoccupied rear of the bus to shove me around. "Get away from me!" I cried.
The driver's intercom squelched. "Quit yelling in my bus or I'll throw you out at the next stop," said the friendly bus driver man.
"Yeah, you'd better shut up," agreed Todd, wrenching my arm behind me.
"You fucking virgin," added Garth darkly.
When our collective stop came everyone queued up at the rear doors to leave. I gathered myself and joined the rear of the line, and then felt a new and special kind of fire burning behind my sternum as I stared down the back of Garth's neck.
The bus stopped. The doors opened. I grabbed the metal bars on either side of me, hoisted myself into the air, and came down upon Garth's back, planting both boots firmly into the small of his back and propelling him forcefully. He made a lateral exit from the bus and smacked the sidewalk outside face-first. Any concerns I might have had about missing my stop evaporated as I saw the look of shock and hatred roiling on Garth's face as he rolled over.
I was the king of the planet.
Except that Todd manhandled the doors as they closed with a chuff and forced his way back aboard the bus. As we pulled away from the stop we stood together, saying nothing for a few blocks. I wondered where I would get off the bus, and how I would get home.
"You think you can do that to my friend and get away with it?" Todd asked quietly.
I said nothing.
"I'm going to make you pay for it," he promised.
"You used to be nice to me at Prestign," I pointed out dumbly.
"What? You think I'm not being nice?"
"Not when you're threatening me."
"I'm not threatening you," he argued, kicking me in the leg. "I'm teaching you a lesson." He knocked my knapsack off my back and then kneed me in the chest when I tried to retrieve it.
I caught the eye of a woman with a young child who was staring at us as if we were on fire. "Why don't you do something?" I asked her. "How would you like it if somebody was beating up on your kid?"
She turned away.
In desperation I dug into my knapsack and took out the remains of my lunch. I opened my uneaten dish of yogurt and emptied it into Todd's face, then shoved him back hard. He stumbled to the floor and I lobbed an empty can of fruit salad at him, which caught him in the forehead. "You fucker!" he screamed.
Then I fell over as the bus screeched to a sudden halt.
"That's enough horseplay! Get off my bus!" suggested the driver.
He meant me. I picked up my knapsack and gave Todd a little parting wave. "Well," I said, "you sure taught me, didn't you? I hope your boyfriend isn't too hard on you for getting your ass kicked by yogurt."
I exited the bus, and it drove away with a whine.
On the long walk home I thought over the experience and considered it a victory; though I had absorbed some abuse I had had the last laugh at both Garth and Todd. I puzzled over the novel feeling of redwashed rage that had run through me like electricity when I had elected to double-kick Garth in the back, and spent some time coming to terms with the fact that my faith in humanity had likely been irrevocably eroded by the inaction of my classmates and fellow transit patrons.
I was still shaking with adrenalin when I got home. I did not know what to do with myself. I paced in circles in the livingroom.
And then I sat down at my step-father's computer and began typing. Like a kid possessed I hunted and pecked until my eyes ran blurry. I distilled my frenzied feelings into a long tale. I started typing and I never stopped. Now it's twenty years later and I'm a published author with a second novel in the works for whom creative writing is among my chief pleasures in life -- and I owe it all to Garth and Todd.
I got a lesson in spin-doctoring, too.
I arrived at school the next day ready to be lauded for my triumph against evil, only to have everyone ask me why I didn't look worse. "I was expecting a black eye or something," said Scott.
"Because of the way Todd and Garth came to your house and beat you up last night. They told everyone all about it."
I sighed. Victory can be fleeting.
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 07:53