Second day of substitute teaching in “Health Class”, and I had to address the school shooting situation.Shit on a damn stick.
The kids were very quiet, sitting in their white & blue uniforms, waiting for me to say something .
I said, leaning on the ancient desk, legs extended, feet crossed, right hand massaging my stubble as if I was thinking of just the wisest thing to say of all the wise things in my head, the one that would most reverberate for them, and solve this situation cleanly …”I was bullied as a kid.”
The student body did not express shock. In fact, they nodded their heads as if this were a fact universally known. They looked like a bunch of damn therapists, nodding. Encouraging me with their eyes to continue, please, and leave out nothing…
I remembered the worst bullying incident. I was a freshman in high school, where my Dad has been principal since forever, and everyone knew it. Biology class. My dad’s best drinking buddy, Lewis, was the teacher, and he had an uncomfortable way of winking at me and sending me side comments. I’d known him for all my life. I think he was at my circumcision. Certainly at my baptism, which I endured under protest. I don’t like being touched by old clammy-handed ministers, especially when I knew what they were like at Mom & Dad’s drinking parties in the summer. Very forward in our swimming pool, with lady parishoners, as if the spectacle of a minister letting loose was a thing of howling fun, which to my parents’ important friends it was.
Every table got a frog to dissect. I was sitting with the class clown, Cliff, who wore long black hair and a Led Zeppelin t shirt. I was squeezing into my gray corduroys and blue oxford shirt, adjusting the world’s ugliest eyeglasses on my acne-infested face.
I knew when the frog was delivered by Lewis, that Cliff would say something very quietly only I could hear, and it would devastate the rest of my day. Our partner was Rachael, the second smartest person in class, next to me. She was dealing with a precipitous increase in her breast size, poor girl. Cliff was nestled close up to her. She hated me for my cowardice, I often imagined: not helping to fend off Cliff’s innuendos, which were near genius level.
The frog was plopped in the silver tray. Cliff grinned and poked it with a pencil, and I knew sort of what he would say. He said it. “Personally, I think this looks a lot like you, Jim, kinda lying helpless there. “ He sat back and smiled. Then the double punch. With cliff, always the wait… “and.. we’re gonna have to see what’s inside him. Carve him up good. Especially that digestive system.”
He got me. He knew I was a bit..constipated. From school anxiety. I would finally get to have a nice poop at the end of the day, in my dad’s personal principal bathroom, waiting for him to finish up and give me a ride home. The relief of another day done, and only tv and homework to do for the rest of my waking hours, released my bowels.
“But, “ I said, 20 years older: “ I will tell you my worst incident only if you guys do. So who is first?”
I looked straight at the class bully.
“Fred? Or do you prefer Frederick?” I said. I was experiencing an uprush of power from my stomach.
He squirmed a bit then looked me straight in the eye. “Fred’s my name.”
“Incidences of bullying? For the class to talk about?”
He knew I knew he knew I was talking both about being bullied, or bullying.