There are two kinds of kids in junior high. Those who are bullies, and those who are bullied. I was in the second category.
It wasn’t easy at that time, especially when you’re 12 or 13 years old, smaller than most of the bullies and had neither the confidence nor the physical skills to defend yourself. I was a target.
Maybe it’s because I had little self confidence (who has a lot at 13?). I looked the victim so I was the victim and I, like most other junior high boys, was trapped in the jungle and had to live by its laws.
I was ready to get out of school for the weekend and felt a thud on my back. I turned around and saw that a big, new guy to school was the culprit behind the thud and called me by my last name “Cobb.”
“So you think you can beat me up?” he asked me. “No I didn’t say that!” I told him earnestly. (I honestly hadn't.) “Well, I heard you did and we’ll definitely talk about this later.”
Every Friday night, our local YMCA held a dance for junior high kids. I always looked forward to the dances and that week was no exception. But, when I was talking to my friends with girls all around me, this guy came up to me and bumped me on the chest. “You really think you can beat me up?” he asked me again. I told him again that I hadn’t said that. “Well, why don’t you and I settle this after school on Monday? Meet me in the parking lot at 3 pm,” he said.
My fun night was over.
It was a terrible weekend. This guy, in my mind, was going to kill me. I went through every scenario I could think of. Should I call him and try to talk him out of it? Should I tell my parents? I talked to my friends about these ideas and they laughed at me.
Don’t call him, they said, and definitely DON’T tell your parents. “Well," I asked them, “Will you at least tell everyone that I’m super tough so maybe he’ll back down?” They agreed to that, but all of us knew deep down that wouldn’t work.
I remember vividly that Monday afternoon, walking through the circle of people crowded around to see this fight — the fight between this big, tough guy and me. It was the longest walk of my life.
One of my friends told me that if I delivered the first blow, I might have a chance of winning. So I did. But I think this only works in the movies. In this case, me throwing the first punch made my nemesis madder. He pushed me back, started swinging, pinned me against the schoolyard wall and pounded my chest and face. I felt like a weakling, didn’t make much of a showing and was humiliated.
Fast forward to my 40th high school reunion.
He was there; so was I. He seemed a lot smaller. My best friend thought it would be fun to bring my antagonist and me together so he grabbed each of us to share a moment. Even after all these years, I was a little anxious. But the moment had come and we were going to meet again face-to-face.
Of course, we began talking about that fateful day — the fight. We both clearly remembered it, but you know, time does heal wounds — literally and figuratively. We looked at each other, two middle-aged men at their 40th high school reunion talking about a 7th grade fight, and we laughed.
Later on though, I thought about the reunion encounter some more.
He wasn’t as big as I remembered. Yet, it was his bigness that loomed in my memory over these past 40 years. I smiled about that. Not only does time heal wounds, it brings perspective. But this insight about time also challenged me.
Part of my mythology, growing up over the years, was how brave I was that day standing up to a bully. So I’ll continue to claim the memory of The Fight. Yes, I’ll be wimpy, but heroic. I will remember standing up to what seemed like a giant of a bully, an illusion that has now been tempered by time.
Isn’t this what memories are? They range from the glorious to the disheartening; we carry them with us, and when we can revisit them, they yield new insights.
P.S. I hope he doesn’t read this.