In third grade, I developed a little bit of a violent streak. I popped two people in the eye at recess: my best friend and the school bully. Larry, my friend, could be a little annoying and I blew up at him on the playground one day. I knock him to the ground and I had hoped to give him a solid uppercut like on tv, but instead I popped him in the eye. And for that moment, we were no longer friends. I still remember the look of hurt and betrayal on his face. He went to the office to tell on me, but nothing really happened, and we resumed our friendship by the end of the day.
The school bully looked like a bully. He was thickly made, had lots of gaps in his teeth, and wore a buzzcut. He looked mean. He had been held back a year so he was bigger than average for a third-grader. We met on the playground one day and he wanted to play. We played a game called salt and pepper in which we clasped each others hands criss-cross, leaned back, and spun around. The loser is the first person to fall. After a few good spins he let go of me and I fell. As is the case with many children’s games, you just make up the rules as you went along and to me this was foul play. I climbed up, shoved him to the ground, got on top of him and, once again, socked somebody in the eye. But I had no sense of my violence. I was too busy being disappointed that I didn’t do a perfect upper cut to the jawbone.
I’ve thought over these two incidences in recent years. I wondered what was so special about that year that I committed the only two acts of violence toward a human being in my entire life. Today, I was talking about it to my twin brother, Paul, and something occurred to me that had never occurred to me before. Why did I think that kid was a bully? He had never bullied me before. I don’t recall ever seeing him bully someone. Of course, my memory is a little fuzzy. The truth is I didn’t know the kid at all. The truth is that he may have just looked like a bully from tv. He may not have been a bully at all.
I’m rethinking this fight. What if it happened this way? This kid approached me on the playground to play. He didn’t come over to harass me in any way. He didn’t have any friends because all of his friends went on to the fourth grade which was five blocks away, and finally he meets somebody who will play with him. I lost the game and blamed it on him. He may have let go, he may not have, but if you think about it, it’s not necessarily cheating, it’s just really good strategy and kind of a funny, harmless joke. Then I shove him to the ground and sock him in the eye.
And then I wonder, has this 45-year-old person been telling the story about how he was bullied by the preacher’s kid in third grade? Was he the one who slugged his best friend and an innocent playmate? Had he been a sore loser and thrown a violent fit? No. Which raises the question, who was the bully?