My friend Mark Zemelman was in town last week, and we met for coffee in Evanston. I have known Mark since first grade, and the topic turned to people we once knew or have known for a long time. I mentioned my struggles with bullies at Boy Scout camp one summer and then at Camp Echo, a YMCA camp, the following year. One of the top bullies from each camp turned up a few years later in my high school drivers ed class. Either they didn’t remember who I was, or they didn’t let on. “They didn’t remember,” Mark said. “It wasn’t personal.” Mark is probably right, and a more recent exchange reminded me of his wisdom once again.
When I tell people, “I went to Evanston,” I think there’s an assumption that a problem with bullies would come from students from low-income backgrounds. That wasn’t the case with me. For three consecutive years, plus summer school, I had one class with a kid at least one-and-a-half times my size from a wealthy family. He would tease me, make antisemitic comments, and physically threaten me in class. I should have told someone but did not. This harassment mercifully ended senior year, when we did not share classes. The memories of this continuous nastiness remain vivid in my mind. I’m over it, but bullying doesn’t go away easily.
Last week, I posted a comment to my high school class Yahoo! Group and invited comments and queries by email. The bully, who once before had attempted to add me as a Facebook Friend, emailed me, saying, “I’m curious as to why you’re in favor of Prop 8.” I couldn’t believe he was sending me what appeared to be a friendly, innocuous message. I replied, “I’M curious as to why you bullied me for three years at Evanston.”
He replied and suggested I had the wrong guy. He insisted, and I believe him, that he doesn’t remember any of it. I was stunned. But then I remembered what Mark said. It wasn’t personal. I was there, and I was convenient. So he picked on me.
My new bully policy:
1. It is not fair to spread gossip about bullies for transgressions committed decades ago. You will not find this person’s name here, and I won’t repeat it when I see my classmates. I now regret mentioning other bullies’ names, as it’s quite possible they have improved themselves. I certainly hope people don’t judge me by my high school persona, and former bullies deserve the same clean slate.
2. It is fair to demand an explanation, as I did. An apology is warranted, in my opinion, regardless of whether the bully remembers the incident(s).
Should I “Add him as a Friend”? I haven’t decided yet. I guess I could if he makes another request. Since I responded via FB to his message, he has two weeks to view my FB profile--the main advantage of being added. If he lived nearby, I suppose we could be on good terms. But he took delight in making my life difficult for three years. I can’t pretend that didn’t happen.