As an adolescent, my morning bus rides to school were uneventful— students sat in a semi-conscious state, shrugging off sleep and focusing on the day ahead as the wheels rolled down the bumpy gravel roads. Afternoon rides were a different story. My seat was in the second-last row and the school bully sat in the last row, directly behind me. There was rarely a bus ride home to our farm that didn’t involve him antagonizing me in some fashion. Our driver was a passive man who didn’t like conflict and couldn’t bring himself to get involved with the conflicts of others.
The actions were typical. The Bully would name-call, tap my shoulder repeatedly and even pull the hair on the back of my head—he would do anything he could to irritate me. The odd time, when I’d had enough, I would turn around and asked him to stop. He and the other teens on the bus would smile as if they found that amusing—the poor little fat kid asking for mercy. The afternoon he poured his can of sticky orange pop into my hair was the day I went home and informed my parents what was going on. My mother was outraged and looked toward my dad and instructed him to do something about it. The next morning, my father went over to the neighbouring farm and spoke to The Bully’s father.
For the most part, the bullying stopped until one afternoon in the local hockey rink, when I was simply hanging out with my friends in the lobby, The Bully walked by and spotted us laughing and visiting on the benches. He had a mean-spirited twinkle in his eye and I knew something was up. He reached into his hockey bag and grabbed his smelly ice skate and waved the blade in my face, telling me I better be careful or I would get what I deserved. The contempt radiated off him as he spoke—venom-like saliva dripped out the side of his mouth.
I composed myself and exclaimed, “I’m not afraid of you!” Even as I spoke the words, I wondered if I meant them. I sat there, watching the blade dangling a few inches from my face, not entirely convinced the thing wasn’t about to slice my skin to shreds. My friends’ mouths were agape. Clearly, they were at a loss. As usual, there were no adults around when we needed them.
The Bully looked me hard in the eye and sneered. “Yes, you are, Funk! You are afraid of me!” The expression on his face was so incredibly hateful—he seemed to despise me with every fibre of his being. It was in his squinted eyes, his snotty nose, his sneering mouth.
I suppose he was correct, I was afraid of him—he was three years older and I was a gay, overweight, teacher’s kid—I might as well have had “Pick on me” scribed across my forehead.
A decade after I graduated from high school, it would come out in the local media that The Bully was actually being horrifically bullied all through his childhood. It came to light that his father was a brutally abusive man who ended up serving in prison for his crimes. I was well into my twenties by then, but as I read the newspaper article, the flashbacks of my own abuse came back full-force. Now, I had a new quandary—was I to forgive The Bully or not? Was I to sit back and laugh hysterically at the thought of The Bully watching his old man getting locked up in the big house? Or, was I supposed to feel for him and perhaps even reach out and tell him how profoundly sorry I was to hear his father was a child abuser and a very sick man. My God, The Bully’s own sister committed suicide because she couldn’t deal with the lingering effects of the abuse—clearly, some ugly stuff went down on that farm less than a half-mile away from ours.
As an awkward, arts-loving, pop-culture-obsessed boy growing up in a rural pocket of Canada, I’m sure you can imagine how isolated I felt in those days. I often fantasized about someone or something simply whisking me away from that rural school and the endless miles of dusty fields that surrounded it. A huge comic book fan, I had an image of a superhero soaring down onto the school playground, scooping me up and saying, “We’re outta here,” as he carried me off into the sky, his long cape flapping in the wind behind us.
Suffice it to say, that never happened.
These days, young people don’t have superheroes either. At least, not in the real world. But they do have help-lines, literature, websites and other resources to refer to. Society has evolved a lot in the last couple of decades, but there is still more work to be done. One of the most important potential sources of help and understanding is a child’s classroom teacher. This is a person who sees the child regularly, can spot changes in behaviour or attitude that may signal problems due to bullying, and can help steer the child towards the help he or she needs. You may not be a superhero, but you can keep your eyes open for signs of distress and perhaps help a student through a difficult time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wes Funk is a Saskatchewan-based novelist. His strong belief in diversity, love of the Prairies, and fascination for pop culture, are all strong themes in his work. He can be reached at www.wesfunk.ca.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2015 issue.