Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bullies

I keep hearing about anti-bullying campaigns in communities and at schools all over the country. Some schools have even initiated "sit by me" programs to make sure that no one is ostracized in the lunchroom. Schools claim to have "zero tolerance" policies in effect. Awareness of bullying is at an all-time high.

You know what, though? I honestly think bullying is worse than ever. I was bullied in middle school but at least I could go home in the afternoon and be done with it until the next day. These days, social media allows kids to engage in bullying behaviors 'round-the-clock.

One of my nephews is heavily bullied. He's in 8th grade. Why is he a target? Who knows.

My nephew is kindhearted and impossibly good-looking. He's got green eyes that melt his mama's heart (his crazy Aunt Claudia's heart, too!) He's tall and thin. He loves legos and is a good brother to his other siblings. He's very bright and has developed a passion for theater. He just had a performance over the weekend and received rave reviews (from his mother, but I'm sure they were legit).

Like many middle school kids, my nephew walks the line between conformity and self-expression. He likes to wear bow-ties. He's not opposed to wearing a pink tee shirt to school from time to time. His clothing choices have somehow resulted in a handful of boys believing they have the right to yell "FAGGOT" at him in hallways and the cafeteria.

They tell him he's too skinny. They tell him he's a faggot. They say he must be gay because all of his friends are girls. They tell him he should just kill himself.

These despicable little cretins tell my nephew that he doesn't even have a right to exist. What. The. Fuck.

My sister was beside herself on Friday. She had to drive to the school and pick him up because the bullying was so bad in first period gym class that he couldn't take it anymore. I kept picturing my nephew sitting in the school office, still in his gym clothes. The image broke my heart. My sister called me as she was headed to the school to get him. I could hear the anguish in her voice. She always demands to speak to an administrator but it seems like nothing ever gets done.

Normally, bullied kids don't like to name names. They worry about repercussions. This time, my nephew named the students who have taunted him. So . . . Xavier, Joe, Charlie, Erik, and Ian . . . I sure hope your parents are proud of the fine young men they've raised. Imagine the things they'll be able to brag about in the future! Maybe you'll be able to reward them with a free soda from the vending machine in the visiting room at prison someday.

I couldn't help but feel a little vindictive towards these little punks. I talked to my father on Friday and suggested he go old school on the boys. My dad said he would rip out their guts and then feed their guts to Grover (my dog). I think my father is particularly pained by this situation because he, too, was once a tall, skinny boy who loved comic books.

As much as we'd all love to shove these kids in their lockers and dish out a little justice, I know my sister has to follow the proper channels to try to make things better for her son. The other thing that always bothers me is that bullied kids inevitably try to fight back at some point. They are called a name and respond by calling the bully a name. But the power never shifts - the bully keeps the power, always. But, someone can point at this minor attempt at retaliation and say, "Well, he did it, too." And that's bullshit.

I hope parents will commit to asking their children periodically, "How are things going at school? Are you getting along with other kids? Do you struggle with any kids in particular?" I think the idea is to find out if they are being bullied but also to find out if they are doing the bullying. If I ever found out that my daughter called someone a faggot and suggested that they kill themselves, she'd be in a kind of trouble that she doesn't even know exists yet.

I wish I could do something to fix things for my nephew. I know my sister has considered homeschooling him. That's its own kind of injustice, though - why should those little mothertruckers get to stay and he should go?

One day, my nephew will get to college and he will find his tribe, his people. He'll find more theater kids to befriend. He'll find that not only will no one on campus care if he wears bow-ties, he'll find that many of them roll out of bed in their pajamas and attend class just like that. I know adults who love Legos, so he never has to give that up.

In the meantime, I guess he just has to hang in there and hope that karma swings its head around and notices Xavier, Joe, Charlie, Erik, and Ian soon. I wouldn't want anything "bad" to happen to them, but surely it wouldn't be the worst thing if their zippers broke at some inopportune time or their eyebrows fell out or something.

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