When I was six I met Bully Melanie. She wore brown shoes with scuffed up toes, the laces dirty, graying and often untied. Her brown hair was stick straight, flat against the sides of her chunky cheeks. Her squinty brown eyes bored into me, so I avoided them. Which is probably why I remember so much about her shoes. I heard her coming before I actually caught sight of her, the way she kicked the big gray rocks on the playground where we sat to eat lunch. Announcing herself, her arrival.
At lunchtime I perched on an old wooden bench flanking the playground with my friends Elizabeth and Mandy. My metal Wonder Woman lunchbox was open in front of me, its contents carefully packed by my mother. My ice-cold thermos of milk made the other kids laugh (most of them had juice), but it kept everything else cool, including my favorite egg salad. I could have done without the soggy cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, but Bully Melanie didn’t discriminate. She simply sauntered up to me and took what she wanted, holding out her fat hand and oozing a sense of entitlement. Gruff words were exchanged. She smirked knowingly, while her posse waited, watching her work. Yanking things out of my hands, she set off with my lunch and my self worth tucked neatly under her arm.
She never called me by my name. I don’t even know if she knew my name. One year older, but she seemed so big and tall. As she towered over me, I felt scared and shamed, so I let her take what she wanted. A banana here, a sandwich there, sometimes a bag of Doritos or a little red box of Sunmaid raisins. Sometimes all of it. And then Mandy and Elizabeth would kindly hand over bits of their lunches while tears rolled down my cheeks. They sat speechless, terrified as I when Bully Melanie appeared, but after she left they’d ask me why I let her do it.
Because she made me feel small.
She scared me.
She was mean.
She didn’t take “no” for an answer.
SHE WAS A BULLY.
And where oh where were my teachers when all this was going on?
I don’t remember. But they were not there. They did not see.
I had no advocate. No one to step in and come to my rescue.
I was too young, scared, and ineffectual.
Bully Melanie: I wonder where you are and if you continue to steal things from other people? I wonder if you have children and if you’ve taught them that’s how to get what they want? Or have you stopped the vicious cycle? Do you remember what you did? Do you care? Sure, a little lunch every other day–maybe not a big deal, but perhaps it’s part of the reason I feel compelled to finish what’s on my plate all the time; because I’m afraid you’re going to appear and hold out your hand again, waiting.
Bullies are everywhere.
They come in all shapes and sizes, young and old.
The difference now?
I don’t bow to bullies.
I stand up tall.
I say, “NO, you won’t do this,” loud and clear.