I got made fun of a lot in middle school, especially in 6th and 7th grade.
Even though I made good grades, I hated school for this reason. After one particularly rotten day of getting shredded by my “friends,” my mom could tell something was wrong. She always picked me up. Once I climbed into our Dodge Caravan and slid the side door shut, all she had to do was ask a question, “Are you okay?” and I burst into tears. I blubbered, “They—[breath]—made—[breath]—fun of me today.” I kept it pent up all day because I refused to cry at school. Only happened once: a single tear when I knocked heads with another kid so hard that I got a concussion.
What got it all started was a lame duck comeback I made to a kid named Adam. Our altercation started on the basketball court during recess. I was an average player at best, but that gave Adam no right to be a ball hog. I gave him a piece of my mind about it. We were still bickering in front of Harding Hall after school. I’m sure we threw around lots of You’re a retards and You’re a queers.
My main problem was the complexity of my retorts.
Big Mountain’s cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I love your way” was playing on the radio at the time, and I thought I’d use that as a springboard for the definitive insult of the day. Not a good idea. First of all, my insult required that I sing part of the song and change some of the lyrics. Here’s a piece of advice: never sing an insult. Here’s another piece of advice: if you have to explain your insult to the person you are insulting, then you’ve already lost the argument. Go ahead and just walk away.
News of my lame riposte spread. Before long, the whole grade knew. I was an easy choice for the position of whipping boy and scapegoat. Each day at lunch, Adam or Jay, the ringleaders, would choose the victim. Cory, Mark, or, on most days, me.
I took this abuse for months.
Then, one day I bought a large drink from the cafeteria. I filled my paper cup with Cheerwine and had every intention of drinking it.
I chose a seat at our eight-person roundtable, fully prepared for another forty-five minutes of abuse.
Jay sat his tray down at the seat next to me. He pulled out the chair and stepped in front of it.
Without thinking, I did it, I sank to their level, I played dirty.
As he bent his knees to sit, I emptied my full glass of Cheerwine into his seat. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t consider the consequences. My mind was on mute, and my body made an instantaneous tactile decision.
His eyes opened wide as if to say, “Something’s wrong.”
I concentrated on my food.
His chair screeched on the floor as he pushed himself back from the table. Liquid sloshed and splashed on the floor.
I looked up in time to see him pull his jeans around to investigate the source of his confusion.
His bottom was tinged with red and dripping. He looked at his soaked pants, then looked up and scanned our faces. His face contracted.
Then, the most amazing thing happened: he burst into tears. This tough guy who made fun of me every day, who made my life miserable started crying in front of the whole cafeteria. I hadn’t even done that.
I felt bad. I had humiliated him. Even though I was no more a coward than he was, I’d become what I hated. I resolved that no matter what I wouldn’t use guerilla warfare anymore.
Everything was different from that day forward.
I soon learned to package my intelligence in sarcasm and direct that at anyone who rubbed me the wrong way.
I’m still trying to get rid of the bad habits I picked up in middle school. We were all just trying to survive.
Cheerwine helped me topple the biggest bully at school. Who would have thought.