YOU MIGHT SUSPECT that a small boy who was so unnerved by the ladybird buttons on his dressing gown that he asked his mother to replace them with normal ones was, how shall we say generously, somewhat timid.
Correct. As something of a master at avoiding confrontation, I only ever got into one fight in my school years. Sadly, even that wasn’t really a rare moment of bravery so much as cowardice lured out of hiding.
I was about thirteen, sitting in class with the other boys waiting for our teacher to arrive when Benny, as I will identify him, bashed me in the face, causing my nose to bleed.
He had arrived at the school mid-year. Maybe being a latecomer made him a target of taunting from lads who had already formed their friendships, but it probably had more to do with his scrawny frame, nerdy glasses, and delicate manner–all three of which exceeded even mine.
As a result, he was the target of endless sneers and jeers and the occasional “accidental” bump into the wall as he walked down the hall. Back then it may have been called horseplay. Today it’s known as bullying. I didn’t like it and I didn’t participate, but I sure didn’t do anything about it.
Someone must have finally pushed him too far this particular day, because he swung at the person next to him and somehow managed to hit me by mistake. I’m not sure who was more surprised: him, me, or everyone else. There was a moment’s awkward silence. And then I told him to meet me on the school sports fields at lunchtime the next day.
It was hardly a clash of titans. It wasn’t pretty but it was pretty quick. I recall he connected once before going down under my flurry of wild swings, and then thankfully a teacher came to break it up.
Victory felt pretty hollow. Though I got some approving nods from the boys who had gathered to watch, I knew that I hadn’t been strong when I’d called Benny out. I should have confronted his mistake, but my manner and motive were wrong.
I’d actually been weak, provoked to action by fear of what everyone around me would think or say if I didn’t respond in a way that I assumed they would consider appropriate.
I wish I had an opportunity to tell Benny that I am sorry for what I did, though he may not even remember that day; for him it was perhaps just another in a long list of wrongs. But I still regret choosing the crowd over my conscience.
Photo credit: Kovsky13 via Foter.com/CC BY-NC-SA