Standing Up

First of all, it took courage to do what I did although I will be judged cruel for doing it. I was protecting others, and things do not always appear to be what you think they are. I didn’t become famous for what I did; no one knew, probably no one cared. Mom told me to look after my sister at school and I took this request seriously because I loved Susan and felt important looking out for her. Sometimes though, my sister bugged me, she interrupted my games or butted into secrets, sometimes she got in my way.

This is not a story about that, its a story about me standing up for myself and every other kid on our school bus, which included the French kids that went to Ste. Croix, as well as all the little kids that went to the morning session of kindergarten. I can’t remember the ringleader’s name, but I can still see him in my mind; I can see the whole thing clearly untainted by remorse or regret.

The bully always sat in the back of the bus with the older boys and got to his seat before the school bus reached our stop. Three stops later, the bus stopped for the bully’s goons.  The orange headed C____ brothers bounded on the bus, running down the aisle with idiot grins to sit with their leader. This happened everyday of the 173  required school days scheduled by the state of Maine during the 1960s. The boys were never sick because their old man wouldn’t let them cut school for any reason. One brother was in my grade, the other was older – a fifth grader, or possibly sixth.

The C____ brothers were mean and stupid; they provided the brute muscle needed to carry out the ringleader’s demands. This fall the bully demanded lunch money from all the little kids and the goons collected the quarters, making threats to hush the kids up. Collection of seat money went on for a couple weeks – not everyday, just when their funds got low – until I realized I had to put a stop the bully’s enterprise. It didn’t look like anyone else was interested in the bully clean up project.

I wasn’t a tomboy and I didn’t know how to fight, I wasn’t tough but I was tall, taller than the C____ goon in my class. I was also smarter than both brothers put together which looking back, wasn’t exactly boasting, the older brother stayed back and the younger one couldn’t think for himself in the classroom. I made a plan. I watched the goons go up and down the aisle making kids cried as they handed over their money. I glared at them as they snatched the milk money from my sister’s sweaty palm. I didn’t share my plan with my sister because she might give the whole thing away or worse, tell Mom and I didn’t want any adult to know what I was going to do.

After the bus pulled into the school bus drop-off and stopped, the C____ brothers pushed their way off the bus, stepping on toes, shoving kids into one another, and causing some of the little kids to cry all over again. They just had to be the first ones out of the folding bus door and as they bounded onto the play yard the other kids carefully filed off the bus. The school buses back then (I think they were the Bluebird line) were not outfitted with the mirrors and safety devices that today’s buses have. The bus drive could even smoke while he drove the bus. All he had was a huge rear-view mirror to check on us kids to make sure we were behaving.

I got off the bus when the line allowed me to cut in, Susan went first down the steep steps, then me. Susan ran to meet her friends without a backward glance and I turned sharply and pressed my body stealth-like against the cold steel bus to wait for the older boys to depart in their slow cool way. The ringleader always got off last and I think that he was the only kid that actually talked to the driver – maybe they were related.

As the ringleader cleared the last step I grabbed him and swung him up against the bus. Startled, he began to holler for the C____ brothers but they were causing other kids misery and couldn’t hear his bleating for help. I think the bully was scared a little, he didn’t know what I was capable of so he tried to talk his way away from the bus. I wouldn’t let him move, I knew that I had only a few minutes to set him straight before the bus moved or the brothers came looking for their leader. I whacked the bully around his head, punched him in the chest and made him cry; I told him that he wouldn’t be taking any more lunch money during our morning bus ride. I was shutting down his business for good; he blubbered like a girl. I grabbed his jacket lapels in a knot under his chin, or in his case since he was wearing a light gray barracuda, his front flaps, to balance myself as I kicked him in the shins. Then I let go of him and watched him lurch through the schoolyard gates.

I patted down my skirt and readjusted my knee socks, and after everything felt normal and right inside, I picked up my school bag, metal lunch box, and walked toward the schoolyard to find my best friend Hilary. I felt pretty good about myself during the short walk, like I had changed something for good, like good cowboys on Roy Rogers felt after they saved a farmer’s wife from ruin. I felt powerful. This feeling lasted well past the beating I faced when I saw the C____ brothers race up to their snot-nosed buddy, saw them look in my direction and steal myself as they ran toward me. I didn’t cry out when they grabbed my braids and spun me around and around. I focused on staying upright, on keeping my bag and lunchbox from flying away from me, on keeping my skirt down and my courage up.

No one came to my aide, no teacher blew her whistle or hollered for the boys to leave me alone. The buzzer didn’t ring to save me. The only thing that I remember besides the whirling sky was my lunchbox suddenly opening and my waxed paper sandwich, apple and cookies fly out slow motion-like (oh no!), my plaid thermos coming loose, flying in an arch toward the clouds. This was the only damage that concerned me, the only consequence that I cared about as I heard the crunch on impact, and tinkle of broken glass as it hit the asphalt of the yard, a sound that I knew so well. I shouted, “Noooooo!” I broke loose from the goons to scoop up my lunch. My ruined thermos! My mother had warned me that if I broke one more thermos I wouldn’t be getting another one and this was my last thermos. This is the reason I started sniffling and feeling sorry for myself, as I stuffed my lunch into my lunchbox.

When I looked around to see if anyone noticed me I found that my beating had remarkably not disturbed anyone and that the boys had run back to their master like good dogs. The day would go on like all the others except for one thing – the goons hadn’t really hurt me and the ringleader had lost face to a girl. Maybe no one witnessed the event, maybe the goon brothers ruffed me up as ordered but I had gotten to the ringleader and now he was weaker, less powerful, he became a mere deflated bully.

Now here is the surprising part, the part where I look like a jerk: the ringleader wore braces on his legs, one of his legs, the legs that I kicked, was shorter than the other. He wore a shoe attached to his leg brace with a four-inch heel which made him a crippled kid (disabled, in Special Education terms). But that wasn’t all – he was also hard of hearing and wore a hearing-aide. Back then, a hearing-aide looked like a miniature radio, like a chrome mp3 player, with perforated holes and twisted wire cord ending in a single earpiece.

I had experience with a hard of hearing person (my mother wore her hearing-aide tucked into her slip) and knew more about the hearing-impaired than most anyone in the schoolyard that day – I should have felt bad for slapping around a double-handicapped kid (multiple disabilities) – but I didn’t. He was mean and rotten, and he used his handicap against us kids in such a spiteful way that I felt avenged. Thinking back, I am amazed that he had so much power and that he could command the C____ brothers so completely. No one ever taunted him, no one ever, ever thought of standing up to him and telling him to buzz-off. Except me;  equal-opportunity-me. No one asked for lunch money on my bus route again while I was on the bus. And, no one wondered why.

10/24/2008 KBB

2 responses to “Standing Up

  1. A salute to all the girls out there that are brave enough to stand up to a boy and possibly his trailing goons. Being handicapped, as they called it back then, should never prevent someone from getting what they deserve when they are plain mean. Good for you Kat. I’ll have you know that Kat turned out to be a No-Boo Boo- cloth for you special ed teacher in her later years and because of it more students thrived.
    * * *
    I stood up to a boy just once, which might explain why I ended up in a series of adult love relationships that lasted each way longer than they should have.

    The boy I stood up to was named Kerry and I couldn’t avoid him no matter where I went. We were the same age, rode the same bus, and were in the same class. He even lived down the street from me and of course was bad to the core and that’s why I had a crush on him. All summer long, each weekend, and during the evenings all through childhood he and I would battle our love hate relationship out and play. We built rival tree forts, captured each other with ropes, tied one another to trees, chased each other with weeping willow whips, and even yelled at each other from the tops of opposing giant pine trees. When we did work together is was for the purpose of building massive dams down at the creek that when properly built flooded a low lying area the size of three school busses. This water mass would then be utilized for watery battles with make shift rafts. I cherished this time of working along side him to build dams as much as any frontier woman felt pride in working along side her man. Our relationship was a stormy but good one I thought as long as we were on home turf.
    At school however it was a completely different story and I did not like it one bit. Kerry took it upon himself to completely ignore me. I guess it was the, Boys should not be seen interacting with girls, thing. Being completely ignored drove me to a level of insanity that only could be satisfied with revenge and revenge is better left thought out. And so I did just that and slept on it over night which I still find to be helpful when making any type of significant decision. My plan was simple. I would go to the school the next day and give him one last chance to show some recognition that I existed, and if there was none ,then I would as a last resort knock some sense into him. Children of course are short on talking things out and quicker on action whether it be to confront or to tattle. Upon waking on this given school day I had a foreboding sensation that grew as the morning went on like thunderhead clouds forms over a ridge threatening to rip loose by the end of the day. I took these unsettling feelings as a warning and decided it was best to head to school over prepared verses under. I grabbed my over the shoulder woven bag with the wide shoulder strap, emptied it down to leave the bare necessities, and then loaded it with slightly smaller than fist sized rocks as I walked down to the school bus stop. What I needed these rocks for I didn’t really know. When at last recess came I was glad of it because what ever was to happen soon would be over. Kerry had kept true to form all morning. He did not look at me on the bus, did not choose me during spelling team line up, and even moved once at lunch to get farther away from me when I chose a table near by. Heading out to the playground I made sure my shoulder bag was properly with me. This wasn’t a suspicious act because my lunch was often carried in this bag and girls often carried their bags out to the playground as a holder for jump ropes, dolls, and the such. I saw Kerry near the swings and went steady as an arrow in his direction. His back was turned the whole time so he failed his first chance to flee. When I was within three to four feet I came to a halt because I suddenly couldn’t think of what I had planned on saying. I mean what could I possibly say that would change anything? My just standing there thinking through however was enough to tip him off to an animal sense of danger. In an instant he swung around and looked as if he had just been electrified. At this very point I feel now he had a multitude of options at his disposal, but regrettably choose the poorest one, and that was to lean in my direction and call me a STUPID GIRL under his breath just loud enough so only I could hear. I’m sure his next move if he had been given a chance, would have been to abruptly walk away. His words stung and my feet felt nailed to the spot. ” You STUPID GIRL.” He repeated a little louder because I hadn’t moved;” Don’t you get it? Get the hell away from me”. Then and only then did he turn to leave. As he did I let the shoulder strap of my bag slip down into my hand in a move as swift as any sharp shooter lifts his gun without loosing site of the target. If I had known what I was capable of next I might have turned myself in right then in order to take a lesser charge. I’ve never been one who has liked dramatic nasty consequences. With the end of the strap loop gripped tightly in my left hand and the weight of the rocks in the bag pulling down at the other. the laws of discus physics took effect. I swung the bag around while turning at the same time until my low building arch reached about head level. It was then that I crossed the line of what revenge should and shouldn’t look like. With full force my bag of rocks hit Kerry in the side of the head and he went down bag and all flat out onto ground. He lay there like a bird felled from a tree and didn’t even twitch. I was sure I had on TV while watching westerns seen that dying took longer than this so thus was certain he was faking it. I kicked him once hard in the side and jumped back knowing he could leap up at any second and be as pissed off as a bee shook up in a jar. Surprisingly he didn’t move and it was then and only then that it dawned on me he might indeed be dead.
    Killing someone is a crime and even in fourth grade I knew that. Boy would I get in trouble at home. Luckily though Kerry didn’t die on that day and after remaining out-for-the-count for 5 minutes, riding to the hospital by ambulance, getting stitched, and resting for 2 days at home, up he went on to bigger things in life including becoming a thief and getting arrested over and over again. He also went on and off heavy duty medications as an adult that were meant to fix some mental marble that broke loose on that day.
    Interesting enough after serving my time for the discus rock offense life on the outside went back to what it was before, with the addition of teachers now making sure Kerry and I were apart.. Good things did come out of this though. His interest in me outside of school grew from our normal chasing and bantering to he inviting me out to see a James Bond movie or two and even venturing a kiss. I guess I just had to show him that my love was serious business. Love is as you know serious business as is standing up to bullies. What I learned from all this is that all human beings have a breaking point and once pushed beyond are capable of well doing well thing most of us only dream of doing. The recent airline steward who reached his limit with a rude passenger, spoke a few obscenities over the intercom, grabbed two beers and slide down the emergency shut on a runway, is a perfect example.
    So, be cautious in how far you wish someone, and know that love when denied can explode. Above all treat others with kindness.

    • I forgot.
      Here’s a description of Kerry at 10.
      Tall, wiry, and muscular.
      Super thick straight dark brown hair.
      Tremendously bushy black eye brows grown
      completely together the middle.
      Thin long face with a wicked ear to ear grin.
      Favorite movie – James Bond
      Favorite TV show – Wild Wild West
      Favorite colors – Black and red
      Content of his pockets at all times – Pocket knife, string, handful of nails, and some wire
      Favorite Uncle – A man who owned a marina and had tons of women
      Favorite Bike – Banana Sting Ray
      Favorite Foods- Not specific. What ever he could talk his way into that you were having.
      Special Skills – Breaking into newly build homes in the development for the sake of playing doctor.

      So do again be cautious in how far you push someone, and if you should meet Kerry tell him in my opinion – Love is a grave mental disease of which there is no cure.
      I have not forgiven him though for one thing and that was stealing my diary and reading out loud from the top of a tree that I loved him and wished to be his James Bond girl.

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