Recently, I happened across a story in which an elderly father and his son are walking down a long road. Poignantly, the father points out, ‘We are both travelling in the same direction, but only one of us has his eyes on the future; the other is surveying the past.’ How true, I thought, just the other day. I was the one eyeing the future, wondering how to get even with a little eight-year-old brat, the son of a friend, who’d tricked me into eating a spoonful of fine, wet sea sand after telling me it was brown sugar. I was relating this incident to the boy’s father, Andy, a day later. I asked him if he’d ever tasted sand and I could literally see his mind somersault back in time, eyes on the past. ‘Yes indeed, I’ve tasted a few mouthfuls,’ he told me. I realise now, in these advancing years, it is easier to talk about things that made one ashamed when younger. Bullying being one of them.
Every schoolyard is full of it. ‘I tasted sand every day ... for a whole term,’ said Andy, ‘and the only trick was when I figured out how to get it to stop.’ It’s common knowledge that school bullies attract sycophants. Sycophants become henchmen under a bully’s directorship. The henchmen who wrestled Andy down to the red soil regularly (this must have been grade five) were really a pair of weaklings, both in body and in spirit. But they had Mr. Bully Boy standing beside them, from whom they drew courage.
Usually, back in the day, bullying was linked with hunger. You gave up your homemade food to the bully who invariably had an insatiable appetite and a total disregard for seeing you go hungry through the day. In Andy’s case, it was homework. He refused to give up the work he’d laboured over at home. Especially what used to be called ‘composition writing’. Some of his finely imagined (at least, he strongly believed they were brilliant) essays were copied word for word. It even got to a point where the bully was praised in class for being ‘delightfully inventive’ while Andy was let off with a warning to ‘try and be original.’ It was this final insult that stung the most, even as a child. ‘As children,’ said Andy, ‘I don’t think strategic planning goes into seeking revenge.
Things just happen naturally. So it was, in my case. After a whole term of being bullied relentlessly, I simply dreamed up an ‘uncle’ and endowed him with superhuman qualities. I let it be known that he’d won a showcase full of medals for boxing and was constantly on the lookout for some real action. To prove it I brought along a picture of the showcase filled with medals. Of course, these were the awards won by a different uncle, for athletics. But who was to know?’ The following day Andy took along a small silver box. ‘This is what my uncle is capable of, just so you know,’ he told the terrifying threesome, flipping open the lid briefly to reveal four yellowing teeth nestling against the blue velvet inside. The silver box was an old cigarette case; the teeth were his own.
‘My mother had been collecting them for some mysterious reason. By the time I started bringing broken pieces of furniture — chair legs, lamp stands — from our outhouse junk room — coupled with my growing penchant for gory descriptions of ‘uncle’s’ vicious temper and scenes of destruction, the bullies decided to take their chances elsewhere. For many years, I patted myself on the back for finding my own personal way to confront schoolyard bullying.’ Next week, readers, you’ll discover how an overactive imagination may work on one level but let you down on another.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.