Sunday, October 16, 2011


I was in the third grade when it began in the schoolyard, during a recess. Nicky, my age, same grade, approached me and demanded a candy bar that had been packed with my lunch. My reaction to the beginning of this ordeal has never been clear to me. There had been no prior contact with him.  He was bigger, meaner and tougher than me. That was the basis for the beginning. The suddenness of his approach and his sadistic manner frightened the hell outta me. His face, especially his eyes, reflected a bad seed. I gave him what he wanted and he slapped me. A few kids noticed but said nothing.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
That night, I slept very little.

It picked right up the next day. Half a sandwich extorted. Then it became my entire lunch. I was living in two worlds. In class, I almost forgot and was almost happy, but with recess, the nightmare returned. The demands intensified. He wanted my belongings. First, my lucky-charm rabbit's foot. Then, my wallet. Then, whatever change my mother had given me. It got worse. I began secreting things out of my bedroom in the hope that it would please him. Sometimes, it didn't and I was pushed, tripped and threatened. One night, while supposedly falling asleep, I tried to analyze the sordid mess. Bottom line; I was terrified. Fear had become my way of life. I was afraid to stand up to him. And I hated myself for being a coward. My burden of being bullied was compounded by self-loathing. I had no idea where the end was and found it hard to believe that an end was possible. A classmate, who knew everything, implored me to, at long last, tell my parents, but I demurred. That was unthinkable. To reveal my lack of courage to my Dad would shame me forever. Being an only child obviated the intervening help of an older brother. It seemed I had no lifelines. Then, fate stepped in.

One early evening, my parents had a sit-down with me. Aside from noticing my change of mood and behavior, they had discovered the disappearance of my many personal items. I was confronted and finally fessed up. My Mom's reaction was shock, sympathy and forgiveness. My Dad's was that as well but with the governing emotion of anger. He was really pissed. At me, but more so, at Nicky. He wanted to know where Nicky lived and realized that it was just a mile away. It was summer, daylight 'till 8p.m. or later. "Let's go!"

He was not "Father", he was "Dad". That just about says it all. Blue collar and a graduate of Street Smarts University. Looking back, he was a downtown guy, a savvy, wonderfully loving and super dad. He held my hand as we walked, encouraging me with every step. I was glad that he was taking charge, but still mortified and more than a little afraid as we approached Nicky's house. A middle-aged woman was sitting on the steps. Nicky's mother. My Dad told her the story, in detail, making no effort to mask his hostility. At first, she refused to believe any of it, vehemently shaking her head from side to side. But my Dad would not be put off. He kept repeating the accusations and challenged her to bring her son forward. And, then, he saw, on the steps, one of my games which rightly belonged in my room. The woman instantly recognized it as something not belonging to her son. She began screaming for him to come out of the house. When he took in the scene, especially the look on his mother's face, he showed his capacity for fright. She took off one of her shoes and began hitting him on his head, demanding that he bring out all that was mine. My Dad handed my stuff to me, as he was assured that due punishment would be meted out and the reign of terror was over. Nicky never looked at me. Even once. Not a glance.

On the way home, being the type of guy that he was, he neither lectured nor scolded. He simply said,"I bet, if you ever see that kid again, you'll knock the crap out of him." He was able to appreciate the hell I had been through, and the shame, right up to the finale. Boy, did I love him. Even when he was taken, just prior to my thirteenth birthday, I never let dwindle, and continued to bask in, the comforting memories of our relationship.

I did meet Nicky, again, two months later. I was playing ball in the schoolyard when he appeared with some friends. He looked at me with a smart-ass smile but said nothing. I said nothing and did nothing. I did not live up to my Dad's expectations. I didn't have the guts. I never shared this epilogue with anyone.  I was too ashamed. I repressed my feelings and this effectuated a character flaw which stayed with me for several years, extending into my young adult life, until I was able to face it, grab it, and throw it away.

It took its toll in a self-destructive way, a desire to punish and take myself to task.

Whenever someone would do or say anything to me, which I took to be insulting in nature (and I was wrong in this regard about 99.9% of the time), I would not immediately react. But, beginning that very night, I would indulge in the guilt, shame and vengeance game, and when an indefinable point had been reached, I would argumentatively meet the person, who hadn't the foggiest notion of what I was talking about, and offer (just short of a challenge) to fight him. This never materialized because my perceived foe would innocently say something to diffuse the situation and make me feel silly. The confrontation,nevertheless, in and of itself, would pacify my inner turmoil, and I would, that night, sleep soundly. Even if I would have gotten the worst of it, in an actual fight, I would have felt better.

As I grew older, I was able to realize that the "confrontation" was really with myself, and that this proclivity was completely inconsistent with, and had no place in, a normal adult life.

Emotional experiences, during formative years, often leave their mark. for better or worse. In the latter case, the cop, inside us, hopefully puts up his hand and stops a red light from being run.

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