The Wonderings of Kate
He loathed me. It was confusing and frightening. I was an overweight bookworm with glasses and he was the golden boy. In fifth grade, he wanted my seat on the school bus, so he threw me out of it. I tried not to cry. My arms had finger bruises. My parents told me to fight my own battles. He was two years older and a head taller.
When I was twelve, he threw a lacrosse ball at me, hitting me in the ear, tearing my earring out. Blood dripped and I heard him laughing. I didn’t bother telling my parents. It wasn’t just about me fighting my own battles. It was about community pecking order. Even the neighborhood dogs followed the same rules. For my parents to approach his on my behalf would jeopardize their standing.
I don’t know why he liked hurting me. The bus stop was a gauntlet of taunts and insults. I was that kid who read books at recess rather than be picked last for kickball. I was put into a class with older kids to assess whether I was being challenged. He’d stare at me when I answered a question correctly. It made me nervous. I tried to stay away from him but it was a small place.
By high school, I’d skipped a grade and was only a year behind. His animosity simmered. The worst was New Year’s Eve. I was fourteen and no longer overweight. He was the size of a grown man. I’d gone to the ice rink. When he showed up it was clear he was drunk. I decided to leave.
He must’ve followed me into the locker room. When the lights went out, he shoved me to the floor. It knocked the breath out of me and my knee slammed into the concrete. He was slurring, saying horrible things about what he wanted to do to me. The smell of whatever he’d drunk was overpowering. I still had my skates on. I tried to kick him with the blades. His pants were undone so I turned on my stomach to hide my face from his efforts to force himself on me. He pounded my head into the floor.
I must’ve been screaming. Someone turned on the lights and dragged him off me. I locked myself in until he’d stopped shouting incoherently, first right outside and then in the distance.
I felt sick, dirty and stupid. It was the following evening before I emerged from my bedroom and faced my bruised cheek and black eye in the bathroom mirror. My knee throbbed. My father asked about my face. I shrugged.
Later that night, the boy who’d pulled him off me called, voice taut with anguish. I assured him I was fine, nothing had happened. I couldn’t burden him with the truth, not when his best friend had attacked me. I didn’t tell my parents; I thought they’d falter in fear of this boy man’s power. But mostly, I felt I’d done something to deserve the assault. It haunted me.
The first person I ever told was the man who became my husband. He could barely contain his rage. He talked about what he would say, and do, to the monster who’d done this to me. This was why our daughters would learn to defend themselves, study martial arts. It took me a long time to realize that I hadn’t done anything to my attacker, hadn’t been too smart or too outspoken or too ugly. He was simply a bully who preyed on the physically weaker, relied on his physicality and community status to feed his depravity. And, there was no safe place, no telling a trusted adult.
When I learned more about the cycle of abuse, I feared for this man’s wife and children. A man as cruel as he would have to undo his psyche to overcome the propensity for violence towards women. Maybe he turned away from the ugliness in himself. But if you don’t see that ugly, there’s no reason to stop.
As it turned out, we had sons. I’d thought we’d have daughters, raise them to be strong and independent. But it was more important to teach our boys to be kind and look out for others. They don’t stand for injustice or inequality and they loathe a bully. They know when to fight their battles and when to ask us for help. Good trumps bully. Pass it on.