Memories with Richard Bleil
Born in 1963, I grew up during a time of civil strife. Martin Luther King was killed in 1968, when I was five years old and just starting school. Of course, I was too young to be reading the news, or understand the turbulent times. We lived in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, called North Riverdale, and I would walk to and from school, about a mile, four times a day before they began serving lunch in school. The neighborhood was segregated, and I think it made my parents nervous.
The neighborhood wasn’t very safe, and my school encompasses kindergarten through eighth grade. It was survival that made you want to fly “under the radar”, and not be noticed by some of the bigger kids. We had no sports teams, and there was no reason to be the hero of the school.
Right after fifth grade, and my first schoolboy crush (on Kim K) on a young student named Kim, we moved to the opposite side of Dayton to a southern suburb called Centerville. Here, the makeup was largely Caucasian, and most people fit into the upper middle class. There was quite a bit of money floating around with some families, and the neighborhood was far safer. Here, the goal of students were to be the sports heroes and to be noticed.
And here I was. I was always a small boy, having been born four pounds five ounces, and I never really grew into my age. To say I was a ninety pound weakling would have been an insult to all of the ninety pound weaklings who could have beaten the tar out of me. I was shy, had learned to be invisible, and had none of the sports skills so heavily coveted in the area.
That made me the perfect target for bullies and anybody looking to prove how big and tough they were. For example, for some reason they had gathered all of the kids in the library in my middle school one day, in a building that was designed to be large and open by design. I guess I was in eighth grade when a boy from one of the lower classes literally and quite intentionally walked across the floor directly towards me and kicked me right in the genitals. He turned and ran as he, and his friends, all laughed.
I still remember another small boy like myself, another one frequently picked on by the bigger boys, snapping. Waiting by the doors for the buses, suddenly he just snapped, and started screaming as he jumped on his tormentor and began beating on him. The tormentor fell to the floor as the boy kept beating on him, screaming, just like in the movie until a teacher came and broke it up. What the final straw was that set this boy off, I do not know.
Some of my tormentors were random, but I also had some common ones. One of them was rather smaller than I was, but he hung around with his friend who was larger. His larger friend never bothered me, but I got the sense (or perhaps I was told) that if I tried to retaliate against this little tormentor of mine, then his friend would step in. He would try to come up with ways to belittle and insult me, and frequently would insist that he would kill me. During a school “carnival” day, he insisted that would be the day that he would do it and frightened me so badly that I skipped school that day.
Nobody ever did anything about any of this. The teachers were aware, and I would tell my parents, but the only thing I would ever hear is how I needed to stand up for myself, while being reminded by him of the consequences if I did, getting into a fight with two instead of one, and the trouble I would get into with the school if I did. So, it just kept going.
There was the day that, finally, I had had enough. I was in the classroom alone when the two walked in, and once again, the little kid started trying to bully me, but I had been having a bad day, and just couldn’t take any more. I grabbed him by his wrist, and when he took a swing with his free hand, I managed to catch that one as well. Holding his hands, I shoved him backwards and pinned him against the wall. I never did really strike him, but when he tried to push back, I simply slammed him back against the wall, and issued a few threats of my own. When he promised that he would stop bothering me, I just let him go. I turned to his friend and asked if he wanted to do anything about it, but his friend, looking shocked, just sheepishly said no.
I have no advice. I have no idea what to suggest on how to end bullying, and none for the bullied. I was lucky. Mine was a little putz, and they were both cowards, so without taking a swing all I had to do was back them down, and it worked. But it won’t always. My heart goes out to those with tormentors, be them other kids, or spouses. My heart is with you.