by Thom Van Vleck
I recently read a story about an author who tracked down a kid that had been a bully to him in his youth. He talked about how his father had died and he was placed in a private boarding school. His one connection to his father was a wrist watch that he carried around and he talked about how the watch “transported” him back to a happier time….until the bully took it from him and threw it out a window! The story tracked how this bully impacted the author’s life and then his mission to find this bully again. The story took a familiar turn from one of revenge to one of looking at how his reaction to the bully made him stronger.
I have a “bully” story. I imagine most of us do. Considering my size now you might think that I was a big kid. I was not. I was actually one of the smallest boys in grade school. Tommy (aka Shorty) was the only one smaller among my small, rural school that had less than 20 in my class. I was shy, I was very sensitive, and let’s be honest…..a big bullseye for a bully. From around the 2nd grade to the 6th grade Bryan was my bully and he made my life hell. All the usual stories but one sets it up quite well.
We were on the play ground in the 3rd grade. My Dad’s advice was to stand up to him. He said bully’s were usually cowards and if you stood up to them they would respect you and back down. So I tried it. I got beat up and to make matters worse the teacher made the bully stand up in front of the class and apologize to me. It was right out of a movie, but as he offered his most sincere apology and the teacher turned around he looked right at me and smashed his fist in his hand and mouthed the word, “LATER”. Later was on the bus…..I lost count how many times I got punched.
In the 6th grade he recruited me to join his minions. My initiation was to punch a girl in the back of the head. I was at an important decision point in my life. Become like him and join him or hold true to my own beliefs and stand up to him. I refused and while I’d like to tell you that I beat him up on the spot and lived happily ever after that’s not what happened. He beat me up….again….and again I went home crying. He was simply physically superior to me.
Like a lot of kids I turned to weight lifting. I have to admit, one of my primary motivators was to some day look up Ol’ Bryan and give him a taste of his own medicine. We moved just far enough south I changed schools and while the two schools were very close this meant I didn’t have to deal with Bryan much. Soon I graduated and went in the Marines. Genetics and hard work kicked in and I was soon pretty big…and I like to think I got pretty strong! Bryan became a memory.
So, about a decade goes by and I was at a bar in town watching football with a couple of friends. One was my buddy Jay who also attended both schools. I brought up Bryan the Bully and told him about how I motivated myself to lift weights with the thought of punching Bryan right on the nose. To my surprise Jay said, “Well, here’s your chance, he’s sitting right over there!”. I looked over and there was this guy who had once physically been several inches taller and 20 or 30 lbs heavier….now was about 5’7″ and maybe 165lbs. At that time I was 6’3″ and well over 300lbs.
Jay did not like Brian and wanted to have a little fun. I have to admit I was thinking about having a little fun myself. After all, revenge is a dish best served cold. Jay walked up and began talking. He and Bryan had went to high school together whereas I don’t think Bryan saw me much after the 6th grade. My full beard and long hair I’m sure added to the change. The tables had turned!
Jay began to remind Bryan of who I was, in a teasing way….giving him hints until he figured it out. When he realized who I was his eyes got really big and that’s when Jay dropped the punch line. “You know, Bryan, that Thom told me he started lifting weights so that some day he could look you up and beat the holy living sh!t out of you!”. Well, the look on his face was priceless and worth it. But the reality is I’m not a bully.
It was at that bar I found out that Bryan’s father was an alcoholic and abused him. His father also got caught up in a check kiting scheme and lost everything including the family farm. Bryan was the classic bully. He was in pain but took his pain out on others.
I actually owed Bryan a bit of a thanks. You see, he motivated me. I know for a fact that there many times in my youth I would think goofing off was a better option than lifting weights but I wanted to be ready for the next bully. So I lifted. I did a lot of heavy bag and speed bag work as a teen as the gym was also set up for boxing. Many times Bryan’s face was on that bag!
We all have negative things happen to us. Everyone will be bullied at some point. But to me, the real question is are you going to allow yourself to be bullied. Some things can’t be helped but the biggest mistake one can make is when they allow what can be helped to be taken out of their hands. Now when I think of the word bully the first thing that comes to my mind is Teddy Roosevelt. BULLY FOR YOU!