I met Mike when I was in six grade. He was in eighth grade at the time and a friend of my older brother. We both went to the same middle school together and lived right down the street from each other.
As a middle school kid, I was more than just a little awkward. I had glasses, braces and played chess. The classic, Nerd. My personal brand involved being the youngest kid in eighth grade math and performing impressions of Steve Urkel, a well-known Nerd from a television series.
I thought Mike was generally a safe person. He never said anything to me at school. After school, he would always pretend that he was my friend. He would convince me that he would be nicer to me. I always forgave him and decided to give him another shot.
But time and time again, he would pester me with his words and continuously make fun of me. Day after day, I dealt with the teasing as I walked home.
Back then, I had a backpack full of textbooks. People probably wondered how a kid so small could carry a backpack that looked so big. Like an ant carrying one hundred times its weight. But the real burden was carrying the emotional weight from his oppressive comments.
Each day, I would try to escape his wrath. Some days, I would escape to the haven of a close friend’s house, begging him to let me stay a few hours and then asking his mother to drive me home. Other days, I would take different routes, to try to avoid Mike. But most days, he would find me. Jump out of the bushes and scare the living day light out of me. Slug me in the arm jokingly.
At the end of our street, there is a house with a green hedge surrounding their lawn. This hedge has always been perfectly cut, creating a square shaped tube around the front yard.
One day, Mike asked me to stand in front of the hedge. He told me, he would never bother me again if I just stood there. I didn’t know what he was going to do, but naively, I decided to comply. Mike rushed at me, lowered his shoulder and struck me right in the chest. As his body pounded into me, I flew backwards over the hedge. I landed on my backpack full of books and the wind was knocked out of me. I started to crying.
Mike seemed shocked. He might have actually been compassionate. Or he might have just been worried that I might need to see a doctor. Surprisingly, that was actually the last time Mike ever bullied me. He did keep his promise.
A few years later, I shot up to my 6’ 2” status and saw him roaming the halls from time to time in high school. I had many opportunities to pommel him into the ground for harassing a kid that couldn't protect himself. But I didn't. I decided revenge could never get me anywhere. Surprisingly, I felt no ill feelings toward him and just looked at him as something from an ancient past.
Years later, I would see an overbearing boss grilling a defenseless employee with his words. I saw the employee’s body shrink in confidence with each word uttered. In plain sight and public view, when no one else would say anything, I walked straight up to the boss. I told him, he had no right to be yelling at the other employee in public. His criticism could only be taken as humiliating and demeaning in this context. I let him know that if he had anything further to say, he could escort the other employee to a private area and complete the conversation there.
I was soon fired. But in my lifetime, that is probably one of my proudest moments.
I have always been grateful to the bully who picked on me. Not because it broke my confidence. Not because it led to a low self esteem. Not because years later, the term “Geek” or “Nerd” would still strike directly at my core. But because it caused me to learn how to have grace with others. To be sensitive to their hurts. And in the end, I guess I decided to get my real revenge by protecting the weak.