When I was a kid, and being juggled between afterschool care options, I was bussed over to another elementary school's program. There, stuck with kids from a wide range of schools, and a wide range of ages, I was condemned to suffer yet another round of having to learn who to befriend and who to avoid, as well as who to fear.
Sometimes kids pretend they have superpowers -- I know I sure did. But in real life, my power seemed to be attracting mean-minded jerks who liked having power over others. It wasn't long before the human sharks started circling, again, and I -- forbidden to fight back -- had to resort to the zero sum game of ducking a beating, tattling, and then ducking a worse beating for having broken the schoolyard code.
Thankfully, the small ratio of adult overseers to overseen meant that this group of bullies didn't get too far. But they made an impression, as always. And in my young mind -- still forming its own ideas of what constituted justice -- I always found myself hoping a third party would give them what they had coming.
Jump ahead a few years, when I'm well past being minded after school, and my mother leaves me a bomb by way of the Columbus Dispatch. On the front page of the local section, above the fold, is the smiling, school picture face of one of those bullies of old. He's dead, having fallen down a rock formation while winter camping with Boy Scouts.
It seemed the ultimate third party intervened on my behalf, albeit a little too late to be of any use. (Thanks, Deedee)
I was in Boy Scouts at the time. That very night our Scoutmaster called an end of meeting assembly and, with a solemn face, asks us if we knew who this person was. For a moment I didn't, but that's because he got the name wrong, but when he told of the circumstances of his death, I knew. Then one of my friends corrected him, however incorrectly, on the name.
Me? I said his real name. And, yes, I knew him. But that was all I could bring myself to say on the matter.
It's not that I'd forgiven him by that point; the hurt was still there, years later, and still would remain for some time. The schoolyard bastards of our youth seem to come fully formed from the torture factory -- experts at knowing where to strike, and how to leave slashes and puncture wounds on the soul that take ages to heal.
But did my brothers in my Troop -- also home to such sad bastardy -- really need to know about this now-deceased creep and his seeming sociopathy? Did they want to have chapter and verse about all the times he'd been frankly unScoutlike? Did they really need to be told that, instead of feeling sorry for him, they should be glad he was no longer around to spread fear and hurt to others?
(Did they want to take notes, so as to revisit someone else's classic tortures on me later?)
No. They didn't need to hear any of that. No one did. It would have been sick and petulant to bring any of that up.
That he fell down however many feet and splattered his head open on a rock seemed fitting, at the time, considering how many times he threatened to kick my face in. But even then -- hurt as I was by his previous actions -- I took no pleasure in that image. Instead I felt numb, trying to correspond the hate he'd engendered in me to my human need to feel sorry at the waste of a life.
There was nothing I could say. He was a kid, like me -- just a little older, and a lot less pleasant. Maybe something was wrong at his home, and maybe something was just wrong with him. But he had a choice between being a friend, or simply avoiding me, like any mature person does, and chose instead to be hurtful and unkind.
And that, sadly, was how I had to remember him. Unlike other bullies from my childhood that I encountered later in life, and turned out to have become decent, wholesome people whose earlier evils had been beveled away by time, tide, and the harsh karma of the real world, he would never reach that state of being in my mind. He would instead be the sneering face behind a fist, locked in a promise of pain for so long as I will remember him.
I'm sure his friends and family have other, much better recollections. I am sorry I will never share them.
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