Whether they are in your face, inside your inbox, or on Facebook, bullies suck.
Casey Heynes fights back
When a bully started punching 15-year-old Casey Heynes at school, he didn’t realize someone was filming the incident and he would eventually become a Youtube sensation. Although the bully — 12-year-old Ritchard Gale — was much smaller, Casey endured several punches before he picked up Ritchard and slammed him to the ground. After years of being tormented, the gentle giant snapped. An easy target who had never previously retaliated, Casey didn’t have many close friends to help him fend off bullies. He was alone when Ritchard and his buddies confronted him.
Per the school’s policy, both boys were suspended for four days even though Ritchard initiated the fight. (Ritchard claims Casey verbally taunted him first.) Although most people support Casey for defending himself, his action stirred up controversy: did he go too far? After all, Casey was much larger than Ritchard; the body slam could have seriously hurt the younger boy though he only suffered a scraped knee and a bruised ego.
Meeting the bitch
As someone who was bullied in junior high, I wondered what took Casey so long. How did he withstand years of misery? I wouldn’t have survived that environment. In fact, I remember seventh grade at Ramsey Junior High School as being the worst school year ever.
- I possessed a high IQ but I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd.
- I played the flute but I didn’t practice enough to be a band geek.
- I was friendly but I wasn’t perky enough to be on the Pep Squad.
- I wore decent clothes but I didn’t wear the labels that ensured popularity.
- I had an athletic body but I wasn’t interested in joining the track team although the coach asked me every other week.
In short, I didn’t fit in with any one group so I felt like an outcast. When I did make friends, it rarely worked out. For example, I met Sandy and Jennifer separately, but when I introduced them to each other, they dumped me to become best friends. As one of the smallest girls in a school with a population of over 1000 students, bigger students often locked me into the full-size lockers. The girls in my PE class nicknamed me “Young and the Breastless” and made fun of me for wearing a training bra. When another super-short girl Michelle became friendly toward me, I was hopeful. We were both around 4’11” tall. We were both talkative. We liked the same stuff. Things were going well until I realized Michelle was a major bully.
Michelle started picking on a girl named Susan in our PE class. Susan was shy, awkward and slightly overweight — the primary reason I believe she was targeted. Susan never defended herself. She hung her head when Michelle hurled insults. I wasn’t close friends with Susan; however, when I saw how Michelle treated her, I stopped being Michelle’s friend and starting becoming Susan’s PE pal. (Even back then, I supported the underdog.) We walked track together. I told her to ignore Michelle. I reminded Susan that she was taller and smarter. As our class walked off the track one day and trudged back to the gym, Michelle made her usual nasty comments before giggling and turning away.
Under my breath I said, “God you are such a bitch.”
Michelle whipped her head around so fast I thought it would fall off. “Whatcha say?”
“You heard me.”
“You’re gonna pay.”
Susan shook her head at me. “You shouldn’t have said that. She has friends.”
I stared at Susan. I wanted to remind her that I was defending her. That Michelle picked on her not me. Just before the bell rang, Michelle cornered me in the gym. We were alone.
“You shouldn’t have called my mother a bitch.”
“What? I called you a bitch. I don’t even know your mother.”
I didn’t tell Michelle that for me to even utter a curse word (at that age) was shocking. I had never called anyone a bitch before. Well, I had not said the word aloud.
“You called my mother a bitch and you’re going to pay for it.”
I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I knew Michelle meant to cause some trouble, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. I found out soon enough.
Fighting the bully
Even before cell phones existed, news spread fast in junior high, especially if a catfight was going to occur. I don’t remember how I found out, but suddenly, I was supposed to show up for battle the following Friday after the “bitch” episode happened. I didn’t relish the thought of fighting Michelle but we were both lightweights. What I didn’t count on was her enlisting her friend Stacey.
Stacey scared me. She scared a lot of people. She was taller than most students were. With her short, spiky hair, black eyeliner, and tough-girl attitude, she intimidated everyone. I had seen her fight before, and she had won with her hands holding pieces of the other girl’s hair. I thought about what Susan had said, “She has friends.” I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a shot in hell against a fight with Stacey.
I was hoping the whole thing would go away. It didn’t. The week of the fight older students I didn’t know started tripping me in the hallways and shoving me against lockers. Michelle had friends everywhere; more importantly, she had power. I avoided Michelle during PE class. I kept my head down and my mouth shut except when I turned to Susan for emotional support. She sighed and said, “I told you she has friends.” That’s when I realized that Susan was glad that Michelle had laid off her and focused on me.
Filled with pain, loneliness, and fear, I decided to confide in my mother. Up until that time, I had never told my parents how unhappy I was school. I didn’t see the point. I couldn’t switch schools, and they couldn’t fix my problems. However, I thought my mother deserved a fair warning if I returned home looking black and blue with a suspension slip in my hand. Like Casey Heyne’s school, our junior high’s policy was an automatic suspension for anyone involved in a fight. I also wanted my mother’s advice.
When I asked her what I should do she said, “Well … I don’t want to see you get hurt, but you have to stand up to this girl.” I nodded knowing she was right but wishing there was another way out. “If you don’t stand up for yourself now, a bully will always bully you.” I frowned as I wondered how much hair I would have left on my head.
“But don’t throw the first punch,” said my mother, “that way you will be defending yourself.” I didn’t tell her that one punch from Stacey would most likely knock me unconscious.
On Friday I could barely concentrate during my morning classes. All I could think about was the upcoming fight with Stacey scheduled outside the cafeteria during my lunch period. I thought about hiding in the library, but I knew I would only be prolonging the inevitable. I thought about what I had going for me. Strength — no. Size — definitely not. Then it occurred to me … maybe what had gotten me into this mess would get me out of it: my mouth.
Shaking on the inside but trying to appear brave on the outside, I showed up at the designated spot at the planned time. Michelle and Stacey were already there. Our fellow students swarmed around us quickly forming a thick circle that prevented teachers from seeing the action but still gave us enough room to brawl. You can talk your way out of this.
Stacey approached me and peered down, “So I hear you called my mother a bitch.” What? How many lies did Michelle tell her?
Inhaling deeply, I replied, “No. I wouldn’t do that. I called Michelle a bitch.” Michelle immediately protested claiming her story was the truth. Stacey looked back and forth. I could see the doubt in her eyes. Keep talking. “I don’t know you or your mother. Why would I say something like that?”
Stacey stepped back and glanced at Michelle, “Well?”
Feeling empowered I continued. “I called Michelle a bitch; I’ll fight her, but I don’t want to fight you. Besides … I heard if you get into one more fight you will be expelled.” The last part was only a rumor, but I was hoping it was true.
From the look on Stacey’s face, I had hit a nerve. “She’s right Michelle. I can’t fight her. You go ahead.”
I exhaled. Still a fight, but at least it was a fair one now. I waited. I could feel the students around me waiting, too — hundreds of eyes were on Michelle. We were all wondering what she would do now without her scary sidekick. I remembered reading somewhere about body language and keeping a firm stance so I planted my feet in the ground willing them not to run away.
Just when I thought I would have to lift my fists to block her punch, Michelle looked down, kicked a pebble on the ground, and said, “Oh hell. Fine. Let’s go.”
She motioned to Stacey. They walked away. The circle of students immediately dissipated; many disappointed I’m sure that nothing had happened. I probably stood there a full minute before relief washed over me. I smiled. I may not have had the muscle to body slam the bully like Casey Heynes did, but I had still used my strongest asset. My big mouth had saved my little ass.
About a month later, Stacey disappeared from school after fighting another girl; she was supposedly expelled. Michelle never spoke to me again after that day even though we still had PE together for the rest of the school year. My friendship with Susan slowly fizzled out like soda losing its carbonation. I figured she didn’t stand by me so she could fight her own battles. Besides, Michelle had moved onto her next target.
No one ever picked on me again. One thing is certain: bullies come in all shapes and sizes and they use different methods (e.g., cyber bullying), but until you stand up to them, you will always be bullied.
Note: I normally change people’s names to protect their privacy, but I see nothing wrong with outing a bully, her co-conspirator, or a so-called friend. Therefore, I thank
- Susan for teaching me that some friends are not worth defending,
- Stacey for having the good sense not to hit me that day, and
- Michelle for showing the entire student body that you were nothing more than a mean, manipulative, bullying bitch.
Also published on Medium.