Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

 

I remember the first bully I encountered as a child.

I grew up in Annapolis, Md. In the 60’s and 70’s it was a small town where everybody knew you.
My neighborhod was a mix of middle class white families and middle to lower class black families.
There were a couple of thugs who would steal every bike that wasn’t chained down.
We knew who they were & we got good at remembering to lock our bikes at night.
I don’t remember any fights or tension between the neighbors. It seems like everyone got along.

But just like every neighborhood who had a petty thief, we also had thug who was a bully.
I don’t remember his face or his name but if I asked my brothers, they would know.
He probably wasn’t older than early teens, if that. I can remember him being part of my very early memories so
I must have been in grammar school when he first started to torment me.
He was good at what he did which leads me to believe I was not the only girl he was harassing.

This guy lived in a predominately black section of our neighborhood. I would ride my bike down this street to go into the neighborhood store on the corner.
I liked flying down the hill full speed ahead with the thought of bubble gum, candy or a coke treat awaiting me at Mikelsons Grocery.
I guess it was during one of these bike rides that he first spied me and decided to make me a target.

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Today I understand what he was doing was sexual harassment. But, as a kid, I didn’t have that label in my vocabulary yet.
Truth is, I was too young to understand most of the innuendo, suggestions, threats and gestures.
It was his tone that made what he was saying threating.

I was afraid of this guy and he knew I was afraid of him.

It seemed he would venture up to my block at lest once a week and wait for me to walk by on my way home from school.
I arrived pretty much the same time every day so it wasn’t hard for him to figure out my schedule. I wasn’t always alone; sometimes my brothers or sisters would be walking with me.
However, often I was by myself.

I hated when I saw him standing on the corner.
If I saw him before he saw me I would duck down the other street and sneak home through the neighbors back yard.
I would be shaking and nervous the whole time thinking he would catch up with me and start scaring me. I wouldn’t breathe easy until I was in my own yard.

But, usually he saw me first.

He would approach me saying things that he wanted to do to me. Sometimes he would try to grab me. I would try to keep walking but he often blocked my way.
If I ignored him, it mad him mad and he would redouble his efforts. He said words I had never heard at that age. He suggested things that I couldn’t even imagine.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I knew it wasn’t nice. I knew he wasn’t nice. He would make me give him my candy or gum. I was too scared to refuse.
He threatened me saying if I ever told anyone about him that he would hurt me. I believed him so I never said anything to anyone.

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I found myself changing my behavior to avoid him.
I stopped riding my bike to Mickelson’s Grocery for candy. In fact, I stopped riding my bike except for on my own
block. And, then later when I was allowed to, I rode it and to and from school. I was always on the lookout for him wondering if today ways the day when
I would not be able to get away from him. What if I didn’t have any candy or gum to give him? What then. He was always mean and pushy.
Would today be the day he would do some of the things he threatened to do to me?

I hated him. I hated that he made me afraid. I hated that he demanded I give him something just because he felt he was intitled to it.
I hated that I had to constantly be on the lookout for him.

One day his harrassement session got particularly aggressive and I began to panic because I could not get away from him. He seemed to delight in my fear.
He cornered me up against a neighbors fence.
The more terrified I got, the more aggressive he got. I was shaking and scared but trying not to show him just how firghtened of him I really was.
I always thought if I stayed strong that I would always be able to get past him and make it back home to safety.

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It was an evil game of 3 Billy Goats Gruff where I was the goat and he was the evil troll.
I was sure this day I would not be able to keep him off of me or pay him off with gum or candy.

Just about the time I thought he would overpower me, my two brothers appeared down the street and they saw what was going on.
They told him to leave me alone or he would be in ‘Big Trouble’.
I wasn’t sure what ‘Big Trouble’ meant and I didn’t care. They had saved me from whatever harm this creep meant to inflict on me and I was greatful.

Magically, their threat seemed to work because this guy did leave me alone. In fact, after this encounter, I don’t remember ever seeing him again. Maybe I did, but he didn’t come after me.
I didn’t miss him.
I remember thinking maybe he was in jail for messing with the wrong person or stealing their candy.
I got back to riding my bike and playing in my neighborhood without fear. I did not ride to Mickelson’s Grocery anymore. I didn’t want to risk having him see me.
That might get him started up again.
Life continued on and I never really knew just how this bully was stopped. I always thought it was just the threat of my brothers that did the trick.

In 2014, Many, many years after this terrifying time in my life, I was talking with my brothers reminiscing about growing up in Eastport.
We shared memories about old friends, games, fun and the stuff we did in the neighborhood.
I mentioned this guy to them saying how surprised I was that he stopped picking on me and threatening me after that day when they played interference.

That’s when I learned what ‘Big Trouble’ in the minds of my teenage brothers meant to this thug.

Turns out, my brothers suspected that this guy wouldn’t really leave me alone unless they showed him who was boss. They wanted him to know his advances and bullyng were not
acceptable. They wanted him to realize what a punk he really was. Harrassing girls and taking their candy was not going to be tolerated.
So, one day Greg and Todd were walking home and they see this kid riding his bike toward them. They quickly devised a plan. Greg picked up
a very long and strong tree branch and waited for this kid to ride close. They knew he would be aggressive toward him since they had thwarted his plans with me.

Just as this punk came near them on his bike, Greg pokes the branch into the spokes of his front tire.

He never saw it coming.
He went flying head over the handlebars landing face down in the street. His face, body and ego had taken a beating.

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Without a word, my brothers continued on their way home as he picked himself up out of the street. I believe he was crying.

The world needs more people like my brothers who walk softly and carry big sticks.

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