Or, Words From the Reformed High School Bully

I have this reoccurring dream. Not really a nightmare, because I don’t feel scared. Just ashamed. In my dreams I hold my junior high best friend, Justin, down to the pavement. I am sitting on his chest with his arms pinned under my legs. I am pounding him in the face with my fists, leaving huge gashes and bruises. “I’m sorry Justin. I’m sorry.” Each time I say it I hit him again, the welts and blood spring up immediately. His eyes look more hurt than anything. It’s the kind of look that someone gives you when they are really disappointed in you. A look I’m all too familiar with.

“It’s OK Jake, I forgive you,” he replies. That usually brings me out off my sleep. Sometimes it’s hours before I can get back to it. Every time I wake up from this dream I feel like shit. You see, I have done some terrible things, and I’m here to offer my apology…

When I was young, growing up in military bases across the globe, I was kind of an outcast. Not really due to my father’s occupation. There were a lot of kids on the bases. Perfect nuclear families. Two point five children. Dog. Cat. When we lived overseas we went to DOD schools and had no contact with non-military kids. No, I was dumb, fat, and a head taller that everyone else. I was so clumsy that some parents of my friends wouldn’t let me into their homes.

Girls? Forget about it. About the only thing I had were friends. You see, when you’re a military brat you seldom stay in one place for very long. At least this is how it was for me. The friends you do make are very important, even if only for a short time.

I have always been fortunate, and surprised to have the kind of friends that I did. That I do. Surprisingly enough, when I was a kid my friends were nothing like me. I mean they were outcasts too, not accepted into the socially elite groups of junior high. But they were graceful, intelligent, athletic people. Most of them were skateboarders. My best friend, Justin, was the coolest of them all.

Justin was a small, weak youth. He had a great sense of humor though, and always seemed to find the comedy in any situation. His mother had been stabbed to death years ago in a drug buy gone wrong. I was always amazed that he didn’t seem to harbor any damage from this. Years from then I would discover that after Justin moved away his father would pass away from a brain tumor that had gone undetected. I can image Justin, forced to live with his grandparents now, not taking it all that bad. I can see him poking fun at his grandparents, saying, “You’re next! You’re Next!”

I think the fact that we were so different made us inseparable. Justin always seemed to get into trouble with the jocks, which at the time weren’t really jocks (not yet anyway), and I would bail him out. Being larger than most people my age, that was not a problem. I needed Justin’s wit on many occasions. I remember being saved from many “busting” sessions by some sly remarks directed to my attacker. In retrospect people could have drawn similarities to the character Master Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Time went on and we grew up. In a year I grew more than a foot in height, thinning my composure considerably. I became an intimidating and popular young man. Suddenly I had found charisma and confidence. My relationship with Justin quickly dissipated, as I became one of the "in" crowd . It amazes me that all anyone wants to do when they’re a kid is to fit in and have friends. Everyone’s looking up or down the ladder, never at who’s on the rung beside him or her. It’s really funny how similar everyone is. When I was friends with Justin most of our days were spent playing Atari or riding bikes. When I became popular and had “all the right friends” we did exactly the same thing. I really felt gypped at first. So here I was, up there. Higher on the food chain. Eventually I completely forgot Justin. I avoided him at first, then ridiculed with the rest of my new friends. Quietly, Justin took it all, but I could always see this puzzled look in his eyes.

The next year I began playing football for my junior high school. Things got worse. There was a kid, David, new to our school who made an easy target to jagged-tooth predators like me. One day I found myself playing on an opposing team in a rousing game of basketball. While making a free throw David, being less than experienced in sports, ran up and attempted to block my shot. I was in mid-air during this, and on the downswing of his block David’s hands brushed down my chest and past my groin. I immediately went to a fellow jock and said, “Dude, that mother fucker is gay! He just grabbed my fucking nuts!

David heard none of this but thought I was complaining about him blocking my shot. He stood there as all of us whispered and gawked. He stood there and shook his head in acceptance. The beating we gave him is something I bet they still talk about. The gym coaches pulled us off, but no punishment came from it. We were football players, and as much as the coaches tried not to show it I think they were proud of us. In some disgusting way I think we filled a quota in the standards of public school. A few months later in history class I found that David shared a love of comics. We became fast friends, and remained close until the day I left Goldsboro. On several occasions I ignored or pretended that David wasn’t a friend, and he always seemed to overlook this when we hung out. Like I said, I was blessed.

At high school I felt like some kind of damned elitist. At the time we lived in North Carolina. I was one of the few freshmen to play varsity football. My first real girlfriend came along. A really evil girl, a beautiful cheerleader, who took the dull expression on my face as a license to abuse the weak. There was one kid in particular, Wayne, who was probably not that bad of a guy. He was physically weaker and slower than me, but from what I hear he had a great personality. Somehow or another he crossed paths with Stephanie, my evil girlfriend, and the next thing I know Wayne had touched her ass. Or called her a slut, or made some rude comment to her. Some fucked up shit like that. Anyway, that’s what she told me, and being the stupid lug that I was I ate it right up. Now that I was popular and hip and all that shit I finally had what I needed to clench it all: a target. I cornered him repeatedly, taunting him into a fight. For about a year whenever he was at school he was unsafe. It got so bad that the principal used to walk him to the edge of the school property after school.

It was shortly after that, in my sophomore year that my life took an amazing swing. During the last game of the season I had my kneecap crushed by a helmet. For about three or four months I went from a wheelchair to crutches. After the surgery where my prosthetic kneecap was installed my status at school changed.

Immediately I noticed that my jock friends wanted little to do with me. You see, now that I was damaged goods I was useless to them. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and reckless. I grew my hair long, started wearing all black, smoked, and generally hated life. I was bitter to everyone, including my new “stoner” friends. It was here at the gentle age of fifteen that I discovered pot, cocaine, speed, and acid. The level of violence in my life seemed to escalate greatly. When you find yourself in a situation where you are not bright and get little respect you will likely resort to what you are good at. For my new friends and I that meant fighting. We fought with black gangs, jocks, and adults. We fought each other as well. One ceremony most heralded was the birthday ceremony, which basically boiled down to whoever’s birthday it was got their asses beat. We wore those bruises proudly. We were true barbarians.

Another move my senior year to Hagerstown, MD. I made a strong conviction to change myself again. Try to find something a little less destructive to do. I was fortunate yet again to find very special friends. Good people who seemed to think that I was an interesting person. It took me a long time to grow into the person I am now. To learn about and appreciate other styles of music than Hardcore, not to mention welcoming other shades of the spectrum into my wardrobe. It took quite a long time to get here, with someone I can look in the mirror and be happy with. I know that experiences are what build character, so you should have no regrets about the past choices if you are happy with what you’ve become.

Unfortunately, I just wish I had not stepped on so many toes along the way…

So Justin, Wayne, David, and anyone else, who has ever been made to feel weak, stupid, or inadequate during their adolescent and high school years, please accept this small apology from a reformed bully. If it helps at all when I have that dream, and every time I think of myself then, I still see that dumpy, clumsy geek.

Originally written by me and published in Restaurant Fuel Zine issue #2, 1996

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