Our lives exist in a string of vivid moments, strung together by darkness, gaps lost to time. You can’t remember what you did yesterday, but you remember everything about an experience from twenty years ago.
This is particularly true of my childhood, where there are many periods I remember with photographic detail. Then I scratch my head wondering what happened in the year before the next memory.
This was a blend of both, a string of detailed moments that were interrupted by a bully, followed by more darkness.
How the bully came into the picture
I spent my summers in sunny Merrit Island, Florida. My fondest memories were formed in those rainy summers with my grandparents. It was the 80s and 90s, and neighborhoods were mostly safe. We ran wild and free, doing as boys often did, getting into mischief, roughhousing, and tracking in dirt, much to the chagrin of our grandmothers.
My grandfather worked for NASA, as did my best friend Ryan’s dad. We used to get together every day. Sleepovers were common.
The thing people misunderstand about bullies is that they are often friends too. Becoming a bully isn’t reserved for some foreign invader. This was the case with Jayson. He was 14 and we were around 10, making him sizeably larger. There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood that were his age, so I think he got bored and hung out with us.
I always try to pathologize bullies as it's interesting to analyze where it all comes from. Yale researchers found that it tends to be one of three things: trouble at home, trouble learning, or a callousness (blindness to others suffering). The latter point is often reflected in brain scans, with underdeveloped portions of the brain that promote empathy.
There was nothing glaring with Jayson. He did have a much older father, who was in his 70s and had this strange obsession with trains, turning the entire house into a train station.
A declining truce
Ryan and I started as friends with Jayson and everything seemed cool. Then our relationship deteriorated. He’d start being rough with one of us, yanking a video game controller out of our hands or pushing or tripping us for no reason.
Our respective names were replaced with new glorious titles: stupid, idiot, retard. We’ll chalk his behavior up to the throes of adolescent hormones and his dad’s train hobby (joking). Regardless, Ryan and I avoided being near him. In fact, it got to the point where we starting hiding.
Occasionally, he’d show up out of nowhere in my backyard and be ‘on one’. In hindsight, there was a particularly funny incident. Ryan and I were playing catch. Then the giant, Jayson, appeared. He walked over to Ryan, who was a meek, nerdy kid with a good sense of humor.
Jayson was pissed off and towering over Ryan. Without any reasonable provocation, Jayson pointed down at him and in an aggressive voice said, “I’m going to give you four options: A) I punch you in the face, B) I kick you in the crotch, C) I kick you in the shins or, D) I peg you with this baseball.”
Ryan scratched his chin and said, “Hmm. By any chance is there an option E?”
Jayson answered the question for him and kicked Ryan in the shins.
The reckoning that came
Ryan and I were playing on the side of my grandfather’s house. We were building a makeshift treehouse. The project was insanely dangerous and in need of supervision.
Jasyon appeared out of nowhere. At this point, I suspect Ryan and I both groaned a bit. It’s weird how bullies go out of their way to spend time with people they hate. If you don’t like the person, why bother? The neighborhood was huge and had lots of fun stuff to do. Leave people alone.
“Hey stupid, I want to pet your dog,” he said, gesturing to our 110 lb Gordon Setter, who was just behind the metal fence.
My dog’s name was Trapper.
He was a nice dog and not aggressive. However, he had a lot of energy. Gordon Setters are a hunting breed. They are meant to run for hours and hours. We probably shouldn’t have owned him because that energy became the bane of our pet-owning existence.
Jayson insisted on petting him. Begrudgingly, I led Jayson to the gate to the backyard. I told Jayson, “Be careful. He jumps.”
Jayson said, “Shutup and just open the gate.”
Trapper is at the gate, wagging his tail rapidly, feeling the surge of excitement that accompanies pending human attention. Then, as soon as I open the gate, Trapper lunges out and jumps vertically on Jayson, hoping to lick his face. I moved forward, “Down, Trapper!”
As I grabbed the dog by the collar, he came down and raked Jayson’s forearms with his nails, leaving rows of pink on each forearm, though no blood was drawn.
Immediately, Jayson’s face turned into that of a small baby and he let out a wail. He turned and bolted, running home while crying. Ryan and I looked at each other and smiled.
The conclusion and takeaway
Trapper’s Jayson-takedown such an unusual memory. It particularly stands out because we never saw Jayson again after that day. My unruly dog, which was a pain-in-the-neck for twelve full years, ushered the exit of a bully from my life. It was his one great gift. I suspect Jayson was just too embarrassed to show his face again. My dog had given his tough-guy persona some bad PR.
I don’t think most bullies are bad people at heart. It’s usually just other things at work and their own lack of empathy, which isn’t always their fault.
There is a lesson in this though. Call me superstitious but I’ve always believed the energy you send out into the world eventually works its way back to you. It’s not always as obvious as a bully finally getting beat up by a bigger person. It’s often more subtle, coming back to haunt you days, months, or years later.
Call it some law of attraction. Call it karma. Whatever it is, I believe ‘it’ is there. I’m just going to live the best life I can, bringing as much kindness into the world as possible.