The memory is as hazy as the view out of a frosted window but I do remember this: my problems with one kid ended when I hit him back. And they sort of ended with another kid when I ran away.
All these years later it is nearly impossible to remember why, in grade school, a kid older than me wanted to fight me. Maybe I retorted to one of his taunts with one of my own about his mother — fighting words in most homo sapien circles — and he felt a physical compunction to defend his family honor. Maybe I offended him with a remark about him to a third party. I don’t recall.
But I do remember shoves and name calling and admonitions by teachers, warning that any more fighting would result in calls to our parents and marks on our permanent record.
The loophole, of course, was that teachers had no jurisdiction over “the streets” and so the kid would follow me for blocks, shoving me from behind and I would go home upset and crying until my mother got home, telling her my day was OK.
But mothers always know.
“You have to stand up for yourself. I’m not always going to be there to protect you.” She also, in non-motherly terms, told me I had to fight back.
And, eventually, I did. And though I remember him getting the better of me and the fight not ending until someone pulled him off me and sent us away, that kid never bugged me again.
Years later another kid, a white kid with a bald head and black boots who lived near my house, decided he didn’t like my kind. “Kill” and “beaner” were words he used frequently before running after me.
Significantly older and heavier than I at the time, I knew he had the potential to end me. I found alternative routes and times home from school, the park, a friend’s house and the market. I did what I could to avoid that pasty, towering menace.
Today as yesterday there are a variety of ways to cope with bullying, some more practical than others depending on where you are in life.
As children the first, second, third and fourth options should always be avoid violence. But sometimes the only thing you can do is stand up for yourself or someone else and that may include getting physical.
The same principle applies as you age and find yourself behaving like an adult. Generally, we accept that verbal haranguing and insults are the posturing of an inferior who is feeling threatened.
We also recognize that in a fight there is the real chance of pulling a muscle, straining a back or looking foolish on the Internet after everyone has posted video online in the hope of going viral. And so we walk away, call the police or contact a lawyer. We let other people handle our conflicts. And it is for the better.
But when you’re a kid and you’re walking home or you are at school and the town bully has you snagged in a headlock, shouting, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” is not the most practical form of conflict resolution.