The Bully

I was only 9 years old, but I knew that Otto was trouble with a capital T.

He’d thrown my schoolbooks into a snowbank and laughed while I bawled like crazy as I retrieved them. It wasn’t the first time. I was terrified. Imagine you’re the smallest kid in your class and some kid – the size of a rhino – is standing between you and a safe passage home.

Once you’re in his sights, that short walk home suddenly becomes filled with terror. Otto, who was in my 4th-grade class, was a bully and nearly as big as some of my teachers. Never knowing for sure when this goon would pop out of nowhere added to my stress. Most kids look forward to the end of the school day. Not me. I dreaded going to school for the same reason.

For months, Otto (not his real name) would verbally or physically threaten me. Fighting back was not an option – not if I wanted to live to tell about it.

One day, he stepped up the harassment. Otto was waiting for me as I took a shortcut on my way home from school. This time, he had a buddy. The bully took the rubber off his shoe and hit me in the face with it. Otto smirked in satisfaction as I cried. His friend just laughed.

My Mom only spoke about this once. She said they went to the bully’s parents’ home. With apologies to Marlon Brando in “The Godfather,” I imagine my Dad’s conversation went something like this: “I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall my (daughter), if my (daughter) is struck by a bolt of lightning, I will blame some of the people here.”

After that, I was able to put Otto in my rearview mirror. He never physically tormented me again.

You might think: So, that’s the end of it. But it wasn’t.

Life is rarely tied up neatly like it is in the movies and in books. In Carl Hiaasen’s novel, “Hoot,” you might get a vicarious thrill when Roy Eberhardt gives his tormentor, Dana Matherson, his comeuppance and Matherson is sniveling in jail. Or, you dread every encounter J. K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter, has with Dudley Dursley and Draco Malfoy, who later make peace toward the end of the series. The worst outcome is when the conflict turns deadly, as it did in S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” when Johnny killed the Soc, Bob, to save Ponyboy’s life.

I can’t recall even talking to Otto for the next four years that we went to school together. It’s like we were strangers passing each other in the revolving door of life. It’s been decades since I’ve been in fourth grade. Yet there’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think of Otto and wonder who he’s harassing now.

If you know of someone who is bullying or being bullied, please speak up. Stop the bully from doing more harm.

I was lucky. My parents stepped in, and peace was restored.

Many others long for the same intervention and a safe place they can turn to when they’re feeling threatened.

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