Growing Up With Bullies
“All right Ridgway, you know what this means?”
“Not really. Remember I’m new to your school.”
“It means you are gonna meet me after school.”
“Does this mean you are giving me a ride home? I usually take the bus.”
“Oh yea. Your gonna get a ride all right.” Scott shoved me up against my locker and the boom echoed down the hallway.
Somehow I doubted his sincerity, especially since he’d just caught me talking to his new girlfriend de jour. How was I to know? Scott was the captain of the football team, quarterback, and student body president. I knew that. But keeping up with the identity of his current girlfriend was not something I did as a rule.
Mr. Jewels our science teacher pretended not to know what transpired as our eyes met upon entering his class. No doubt he had been the recipient of a few ass whoop-ins himself when he was a kid in high school. It was like a rite of passage, or something. You had to take the punishment or you never grew up. You had to fear the alpha male, especially if you were the new guy. I had just transferred from out of state. The only thing these Texan born and raised kids knew about Californians was that we were either a punker or a queer.
I hated my life. I hated my parents for splitting up. I missed my friends. Mom? No I cant really blame her. She did what she had to do. Dad had left her for someone half her age and she was forced to move back home to Texas and stay with grandpa until the divorce was settled.
I actually did like living out here with grandpa. He had a farm with horses and cows. I previously had spent my summers out here, but had never interacted with any kids. His farm was huge and the nearest neighbor was childless. So I spent my time following him around. I drove his tractor. I milked cows, I learned how to drive that 57 chevy. It wasn’t even my idea really. Grandpa needed to get to the next county where they sold alcohol. In Texas there were dry counties and it was illegal to sell alcohol anywhere within the county limits. The nearest place was Mingus, about sixty miles away. Grandpa would let me drive home as he needed to rest after hitting some of his favorite spots after acquiring some libations from the liquor store. I liked those places. They were dark and neon lit, and noisy. They had shuffle board and pin ball machines. Grandpa gave me quarters. Life was great then. Now grandpa wasn’t here to protect me. Dad wasn’t here. I was on my own.
I don’t remember what was taught in class that day. It seems like I was in a nightmare. The air was abuzz with excitement for most of the student body. I wasn’t scared really, just lonely and feeling like an alien from another planet. I wasn’t a punker or a queer. Before moving here I had worked on a dairy farm before and after school. Not unlike the life these rural kids had in Texas. It was hard work but that was all we had in the northern california town I grew up in. We lived in a forest with giant redwoods. There was a statue of Paul Bunyan greeting tourists when they drove through. I had never seen a punker or a queer. We did have hippies. They lived in communes and traveled around in colorful busses. Their kids didn’t go to our school. In some ways I guess those kids were our outcasts.
I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to have this whoop-ass-meet-and-greet. But my way was laid out for me as kids lined the way. The girls and other geeks stood in silence for the most part, carrying their books, or walking their bicycles towards an empty field. As I drew close there could be no mistake I had arrived at the meeting place as a cry arose. Fight Fight Fight. The rest of the class bullies were assembled in a circle and Scott was in the center. His football jersey announced he was number twelve. I grinned to myself thinking that must be his IQ.
“What are you grinning at Ridgway? I was glad he wasn’t referring to me by my first name. Reggie. It made me even more of a target having a name that rhymed with Pedgy. As in there goes Reggie the Pedgy Or lets go give Reggie a Wedgie. Being short and slight didn’t help. Even some of the other target geeks would pick on me. They would if they could have joined in with shoving me into my own locker and slamming the door shut, trapping me inside until my cries for help brought a janitor or teacher. My hair was usually wet from the occasional swirly. For those readers who haven’t had the privilege, a swirly was dunking someones head in the toilet and then flushing it. I was late to class sometimes attempting to dry it with those hand dryer machines that blew hot air.
I set my books down in the dirt, One of the big kids kicked them and my homework papers blew away in a dust devil. I watched them fly away. My mind was blank. My plan was to simply fall down, roll into a defensive ball and hope for the best. I had never been in a fight before. My dad had been too busy to teach me how to defend myself.
Suddenly Scott roared like a bear and he flung his almost adult body towards me from the center of the ring. I raised my hands to protect myself and that is when the miracle happened. We went down in a heap but Scott jumped up. His face was bleeding. Their was blood all down his jersey. I don’t think the stain ever really came out.
“You broke my nose.”, he said almost as if asking a question. I laid still and watched in horror thinking, what have I done? He is really gonna pound me now. But the fight was over. Someone offered Scott a towel and he shuffled off with his gang. They were all attending to him. After all he was their quarterback and captain of the football team and they were playing Friday.
From then on things were slightly different for me. It was imperceptible but I noticed I was being treated differently. The bullies left me alone. No more locker shoves. No swirly sessions. I even got to ask one of the pretty girls out for prom that year. And she said yes. Somehow I was building up some confidence and people noticed. My self esteem was returning and I even had made a few friends. Lets not kid ourselves. They were the outcast kids but friends nonetheless.
I got a job at the local twirly top which was the hang out and turn-around spot for our town. The kids with access to cars would stop at the drive through on the way down the main drag on saturday nights. Now I wont say I got my revenge but the idea did go through my mind when one of the football players would drive up to my window and ask for take out. Especially the one who kicked my books and lost my homework that day. It would have been so easy to add a little something extra to his secret sauce.