Do you remember those horribly cliché stories about fat kids being bullied, never fighting back, and then never making any friends because no one else wants to be bullied too? That's the story of my life (well sort of anyway). The part about being bullied when I was younger is true enough, but the part about never fighting back or making any friends… not so much. Not only did I fight back, I oftentimes won. My greatest victory was during my 4th grade year in elementary school, when I had five close friends to protect from the other kids. This is the memory of the last day this particular group decided to pick on us, and it's the beginning and end of a war.
The little ruffians seemed to sort themselves by gender. Both groups were equally vicious, the main difference being that the girls didn't pick on us very often, but stuck around until the end of elementary school; and the boys only attended the school a short while, but harassed us daily. My friends and I were always the ones sought out first. We never started the fights, but we always fought back. Whether fighting back included physically confronting them, verbally assaulting them, or simply getting them sent to detention just depended on the situation. I, being the leader of the group in my mind, always made sure to protect my friends and, if necessary, get revenge for anything done to them.
One such incident happened on a bright, sunny, Friday afternoon during recess in the middle of the huge open field behind the school; the school being Theresa Bunker Elementary, home of The Bobcats. The small, single-story, brick building in the shape of a giant "L" was nestled in the middle of several neighborhoods, surrounded on all sides by older style homes and apartments. The field itself took up most of the space on the rectangular lot and was positioned directly across from the smaller portion of the L. Under the searing afternoon sun, the decaying brick on the side of the building seemed to radiate heat and dryness. We were leaning against the walls of the old building; and after melting under the heat and getting dust all over our clothes, we decided to frolic about in the field to pass the time: playing a game where we chase the shadows of clouds, trying to pass from one spot of moving shade to another without being caught by the sun. As the feathery clouds drifted lazily overhead, a tall youth wearing all black stood right in the middle of our path with his arms firmly crossed. His spiked, bleached hair with the tips dyed red only added to his menacing presence. His stance and the smirk plastered across his face perfectly reflected his pompous attitude. His name was Matt, the transfer student. He stood there with his two friends flanking either side. We stood our ground a few yards directly in front of him, not willing to lose in a battle of wills. We had numbers on our side, but numbers don't mean much when only one of the team is ready to fight from the get go. The war had begun.
Both groups held their ground while Matt and his cronies spewed insults at us from afar. His favorite insult was calling us "tubbytubbies" after the children's show, Teletubbies. He felt that he was quite clever for coming up with it too. Just seeing his smug little face chanting "Tubbytubbies!" over and over again irritated me like nothing else. After a while of allowing him to rant, my friends shaking behind me were starting to get angry too.
Slowly advancing, he just kept going on and on, feeling the kind of superiority that only those who harm others can feel. It's a sweet feeling with a bitter aftertaste that's keeps you coming back for more. It's similar to procrastination; it feels great in the moment, but always comes back to bite you in the butt.
I stood perfectly still, the only signs of emotion came from my head staring at the ground, my balled up fists, and a slight quiver making its way from my fists to my feet. Unbeknownst to them, I was just waiting for him to get closer before I made my strike. For as he was drenching us with his foul, verbal diarrhea, he was unconsciously walking foreword, trying to see what he thought was my tear-stained face. When Matt's gang was just a few feet in front of us, he laughed out, "Tubbytubbies! Are you gonna' cry? Huh, Tubbytubbies!?" I jerked my head up and glared deep into his eyes. My smoldering gaze must have surprised him, for he paused for a moment. That is when the impact of my fist hitting him square in the chest registered in his tiny mind. He didn't fall over, but stumbled backwards a bit, and for one brief instant, he let down his guard, and I saw pain and fear creep onto his features. My friends and I, seeing through his moment of weakness, then released all our pain, fear, and anger upon them by yelling and screaming slander back at them with all our might. Matt and his goons looked shocked to say the least, their eyes wide and their mouths agape.
When I look back, I think he was probably a bully at his previous school, and that he had merely resumed his extracurricular activities after he transferred. He never had the experience of his victims standing up to him. He picked us to bully out of the masses because we looked like easy targets, but he made a mistake.
After they got over their initial shock, they started to throw insults back at us, hopelessly trying to regain some of their lost dignity. It was an absurd snowball fight of insults. Words like 'babies,' 'losers,' 'tubbytubbies,' and 'nerds,' whizzed past our heads, scraping a path along my cheek at one point. While desperately trying to avoid them, we hurled out our own censuring words, words which weren't all that far from the truth (if you ask me). As the conflict reached the boiling point, I raised my arm in the air, aimed my fist at Matt, and charged, letting loose into a savage scream.
Matt wasn't distracted this time, so he deftly dodged my fist, then he and his lackeys turned tail and ran. We paused for a bit, flabbergasted that we had managed to fend them off like that; but with all that adrenaline still pumping through our bodies, we gave chase after him. They ran with all their might away from our anger and frustration. Our anger and frustration kept our tired, overweight bodies from giving out. We all ended up running back and forth from one end of the field to the other. They bolted in between the net-less soccer posts, and around the chain link fence that housed the baseball diamond in the corner of the field; and we adamantly kept up our pursuit. The distance between them and us never shortened, but it didn't grow either. We kept up pretty well for a bunch of overweight grade-schoolers running in the scorching afternoon sun.
Suddenly a cacophonous sound came crushing down on all of us like a ton of bricks. We all froze in place and look around, confused. When the siren-esque noise tolled again, it jarred us all out of our stupor as we realized that it was the bell to come back inside. Recess was over, and so was our battle. As the bell rang for everyone to come back to class, covered in sweat, Matt made one last dash for freedom. His cronies had a similar idea and sped after him. The adrenaline was shocked out of our bodies by the bell, so we silently watched on as Matt and his gang crossed the border between grass and cement, and approached the old school building. The only audible sounds were the pounding of our hearts in our ears, the slapping sound of their shoes on the pavement, and the world's heavy breathing. Matt didn't notice that we had stopped, however, so he just kept sprinting towards the lines of kids waiting to be let inside.
The lackeys did take notice that we had paused in our pursuit so they slowed down and stopped under the sparse shade of the basketball hoops to catch their breath. We all looked on as Matt reached his destination and slouched in the shade to the side of the double-wide metal doors panting heavily. Only then, when he cast his wavering gaze back toward us, did he realize that we were no longer behind him.
As the other students started crowding in through the doorway, completely unaware of the war that had taken place, and as we all stood wheezing under the hot sun gasping for breath, I couldn't help but laugh. I laughed as I fell to my knees, grasping at my stomach, and tears streamed in rivets down my face. Laughter is contagious, and soon all of us were sobbing. It started slowly, gradually building up and spreading outward like a virus from the friends closest to me… all the way to Matt. Soon all of us were laughing, crying, breathing, and forgiving, under the blistering gaze of the sun. As we finally stood and meandered back to class, I turned my tear-streaked smile towards the sky and let the sun's warming rays dry my tears until not even a stain was left. The war was over. What began as two groups ended as one. What ended as one never crossed paths again, as come the following Monday he did not bother us. Then, after a while, he slowly just disappeared from our lives entirely, until all that remained is the memory of that glorious war.