applied history

The bus trip from ninth grade to senior high was more than just distance. Read the rest of this entry »


I had been thinking about bullying  since I saw that cared deeply about it.  Here is the first of three  true stories about bullies from 35 years ago in a small town sixty miles east of Cleveland, Ohio.  We would have been ninth graders, king’s of the junior high, about 14 years old.


She had rich black hair that hung down to her shoulders.  Farm raised and bred, she was a big girl, a fully mature woman amongst the children we were, but never admitted to be.  Different, she dressed modestly with long dresses, which I almost always remember as blue,  sometimes with a knitted  shawl draped over her shoulders, a spider web of blue yarn.   Her eyes were gentle and kind, and I don’t recall I ever heard her speak.

There were sixty of us in the band, and she was brass like us, but not like us.  We were the coronets and trumpets the spark and spunk of the room and we surrounded her.   Chris, the star of the football team, Michael and I footballers of less glory but equally as cocky, and Bob the first chair sat behind looking down on her, the others flanked her, like destroyers escorting a harmless merchant in a flotilla.   Mr H_ the instructor was out and like a tornado arising without reason or warning, it began.

Bob with his stutter sent the first dagger, “You p-p-p-pig”, loud enough for us all to hear, but quiet enough so that the other fifty chattering kids would never notice.   Chris was next in with his buzz saw laugh, as he threw taunt after taunt at her.   The others jumped in and began pelting her with wads of paper, spitballs, and more taunts and names.

Debra just bowed her head and began to shrink, her shoulders rounding, her arms closer in, as if each word took more and more of her away, leaving less.   I sat and did nothing.   I could have stopped it, but had not the courage.  Her kind eyes searched for a defender, and found none.  I heard Chris gather his spittle and launch a huge hawker on her back, and the white slime hung over the weave of her shawl.  My eyes were transfixed by the motion of the spit as it moved down the woven web of the shawl as if it were alive, when I heard Bob spit.

Then it was over.  Mr H was back and with a wave of his hand the warmup scales began in their precise beauty and order.

Many years have passed, and in them I have occasionally been able assist or stop something before it gets out of hand.   But it never atones for the time I failed to act.