The long road of constant bullying for me started in Spring of 1976 at Franklin Elementary School in Lexington, MA when I was about 8 years old. I wasn’t a big kid and enjoyed being a bit of a dramatist and performer. I don’t recall not having friends, and always had someone to play with at the playground.
Our playground at Franklin was quite large for an elementary school and covered 3 sides of the school grounds. I recall there being adult teachers outside with us, but they were always chatting together on the steps.
Toward the back of the school yard, there was a very large wooden deck structure with multiple platforms to play on and a pole you could repel down. My friends and I loved to play on that and run around on it. It was in the back of the play yard in a wooded are.
One day, my friend and I were playing on it when about 6 kids, led by Bob (my first bully that I can name) approached us. They ignored my friend and surrounded me on the deck. I still recall how the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my pulse started racing. It’s an easy feeling to recall, because decades later, when I had my first panic attack at age 21, it felt the same and this incident vividly came back to me (more on this later).
I remember being surrounded and then the name calling started. “Hey iceberg (play on my last name). Bob wants to fight you. What are you going to do?” I can’t say word for word, but that was the gist. Bob was one of the big kids for 8 years old. He was tough looking and not someone I wanted to mess with. I can still picture him in my head. The kids kept squeezing in on me. I didn’t want to fight and said so.
They didn’t care and I couldn’t get away from them. Bob made fists and started punching. I didn’t punch back. I didn’t know how to fight and didn’t want to make the situation worse. The part that sticks with me, though is how quiet it was. The kids weren’t yelling or making loud noises and I was just getting punched.
I fell to the ground in a ball. I felt a few kicks and the kids walked away. Then my friend approached agin. No adults to break it up. They didn’t even see it. It was probably not a long time, but it certainly felt like a long time to me. I didn’t feel like I could do anything. I know I was crying, but, of course, didn’t want anyone to see me. I never got the speech from my dad that I had to suck it up and be tough, I just knew that boys shouldn’t cry. There was even a song on the radio around that time that had the lyric “big boys don’t cry” in it.
I didn’t want to be quiet about this, because I didn’t want it to happen again. To this day, I don’t know why it happened or why I was chosen. Did I act a certain way? Was I still an outsider to this community? I have no idea.
I went home and told my mom what happened. With, I’m sure, the best of intentions, mom told me that the best thing to do would be to stay quiet and not fight back. She told me to never fight back, because that would just make the situation worse. I listened to my mom, and regret the next few years of “not fighting back”. More on that to come.