The Bully

In Clyde there always hummed the deep machinery of violence. His pale, lashless, empty eyes, his emotionless mouth — they were a lie. His easy, liquid stride and the subduing murmur of his voice were all a lie. Clyde was blonde and lean and three years older than I. And evil. The boy could kill.

Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace by Walter Wangerin

I had pushed the memory aside, a habit I have with unpleasant memories. I choose not to think about them.

When I dropped my daughter off at camp one summer, though, it flooded back. Try as I might, to stuff it back under the rock where I had hidden it, it was there, leering at me, taunting me, stripping me down to nothing. Again.

SCN_0406I think I was eight years old when it happened. I went to Girl Scout camp, all by myself. I had begged my mother for the opportunity. Probably someone had come to my Brownie troop and given a presentation. Oh, those presentations can make camp seem so appealing! Girl Scout camp – swimming and hiking and singing around the campfire. It sounded so fun.

“But you won’t know anybody there,” my mother had said. I went anyway.

Our tent was of heavy green canvas, set on a wooden platform. The doors rolled back like jellyrolls and were neatly tied. The other girl inside were unrolling their sleeping bags onto cots. As the last to arrive, I got the leftover cot near the back of the tent.

tent-romanyThe counselor had us all sit on our cots and say our name, our age, and where we were from. I was the youngest by two years and from a different town. They all knew each other. It didn’t faze me. Oblivious to all but the fun ahead, I never saw the danger.

About the third day of camp, I went to change after swimming. The counselor wasn’t in the tent, but most of the other girls were. As if on cue, one of them stood guard at the door while the rest circled around my cot. They took my clothes, all of them, and threw them out of the tent.

One girl called the shots. “Hold her down,” she said. “Tickle her.” They obeyed her commands. “Keep tickling her.” They held me on the cot and tickled me until I wet myself and cried.

As quickly as it started, it ended. They left me alone in the tent, shivering, wet, crying. I grabbed my towel, a wet dirty heap on the floor, wrapped it around myself, and ran outside to get my clothes. No one was around. I spent the rest of the day with my counselor, probably annoying her with my puppy-dog closeness, but never whispering a word of what had happened.

It happened a second time before I wised up to the fact that I should not go in the tent alone or when the counselor wasn’t there.

Something is twisted inside the heart of a bully. The funny thing was that I grew to fear not the bully, but the pack.

As a psychology major in college, I learned that experiments have shown that what people do as part of a group is different from what they do as individuals. They give it names and labels — mob mentality, herd mentality, pack mentality — but it all amounts to the same thing. We don’t always think for ourselves.

What I learned from my bully experience is that we walk a fine line of independence and interdependence.

It’s important to think independently. I don’t think every girl in the pack of girls that tickled me was twisted. One came up with the mean idea; the rest followed. I will think for myself, thank you very much, and not be sucked into some perverse idea of fun.

A lone wolf, though, is a prime target for the bully. It’s important to know who the safe people are and to trust ourselves to them. There is strength in numbers, but those numbers don’t have to be a pack.

In Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, Walter Wangerin places himself, over and over, in the role of the villain. In the story of Clyde, Clyde is clearly the villain, and yet Walt still blames himself for giving information to Clyde that allowed him to bully another weaker individual.

His mother, knowing that something was wrong, tried to get him to talk about it.

“Did he hurt you, Wally?”

This was my mother beside me on the street. I accepted her coming without surprise. I stood up and buried my face in her stomach and continued to cry.

She held me. “Did Clyde hurt you?” she said.

I shook my head, but I couldn’t answer her. I just hung on.

“Wally? Wally?” she said, stroking my hair. These tears of mine were endless, bottomless. “Wally? Why are you crying?… How can I help you if I don’t know why you’re crying?”

Because I am the one who told the other kids about her in the first place. …

Walter never told his mother about the bully any more than I told my mother about my experience. He blamed himself too much.

For me, some things just stay inside.

Although hidden, they shape us.

With God’s grace, they don’t twist us, but they mold us into wiser and more compassionate people.