I never thought I'd punch him.
I never thought I was even capable of punching anyone, in fact, let alone sending John Baker Jr., the tall kid with blonde hair and a vicious laugh, to the hospital with a broken jaw and a fractured cheek. I'm not really a violent person, though I do have my moments of quiet anger. I sort of thought we all do. But here I am, sitting at Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, being told to journal about my feelings. Most people don't end up in Montana like this. Most people aren't bullies, and I'm a bully, so they say. I guess maybe I do experience it a bit more than most people.
When I'm angry, I can't think straight. All the ideas I'd have about what I was going to say if John teased me about some bruise on my arm, or about the comic book I was carrying, all those pre-planned, witty comments I had would simply vanish. I'd draw a blank if I tried to remember them, but usually I'd forget to try. And his comments always seemed controlled, calculated to maximize the humiliation, but to minimize the appearance of any effort on his part. They were so intentionally casual, so wickedly offhand, that any response I made felt--and would certainly appear--to be an emotional overreaction. Usually his comments, if written down and taken out of context, would even sound kind. But if I didn't respond, it would look like a tacit submission and acceptance of his dominance, of my submission.
Any parent or teacher would hardly recognize John's laughter as vicious, or even recognize his comments as the eroding droplets of water on the face of a chinese water-torture patient. There was no "hey faggot!," or "you smell like shit!," or anything so obvious. It was always something much more casual. "Hey, what'dya got for lunch for me today?" "Hey, you're not gonna come hang out with us?" No, of course I'm not going to come hang out with you, and you know I wouldn't want to, which means I know why you're asking. "Hey man, really, I got nothing against gays; I can help you find a good boyfriend if you want." Such an evil, sympathetic-sounding voice, Of course the girl I liked most would never spend time with a doormat like me, and John knew it too. He'd seen me watching her at lunch, and commented on it at the time.
But of course, no teacher would ever put the whole picture together; they simply weren't around enough to hear him contradict what he'd said to me a mere two days ago, and by itself, it all sounded inclusive. Kind. Sympathetic. John was a good person to them. Popular, good at sports, reasonable grades, and involved in community service projects (where he mainly just goofed off with his friends). If I ever did respond from my heart, I'm sure whatever might have passed my lips would have sounded as unjustified, vicious, and bullying as John's comments actually were.
That was the diabolical beauty of his bullying. He kept his head and his wit, while draining away mine. He was an absolute vampire.
I'd dream sometimes about beating the living shit out of him. In fact, I was almost ashamed, even as I was having them, of how brutal I could be in the world of sleep. I fantasized about punching him in the stomach until he doubled over, then punching him in the kidneys and face until he fell down. I imagined, with horrible glee, pulling out a knife and kneeling on his arms, pinning him face up under me. The knife moved towards his face and I would slowly, deliberately press the edge to his lips. Only in a dream-world could I cut off his lips while he thrashed and screamed. Without any emotion on my face, I cut out his tongue. And with a final feeling of triumph, I stuffed his tongue in his right ear, and his lips in the left. I felt like a cop handing out a speeding ticket, such was my feeling of the pettiness of the justice being dispensed. Such was my feeling of justice. Such was my ruinous rage.
I challenge you, Ms. Robinson, if they photocopy this and send it to you, to tell me you've never dreamed of something this brutal yourself. Tell it to my face, so I can see your eyes as you tell me I'm abnormal for thinking these thoughts. I'll bet you can't do it. You'll say "but I never punched someone," as if that answers the question. As if all of our shared dreams, our subconscious understanding of the injustice of everything, of how we protect the bullies and the sociopaths and then rain down condemnation, ridicule, and hatred on those of us who don't have the social savvy to twist your stupid rules back on themselves and make balloon figurines out of them.
That's what makes me the bully from all of this. Where John was wise in the ways of navigating the ins and outs of cliques, etiquette, etc, I had the social dexterity of a blind elephant. Where John could lie with the grace of an angel, I had no poker face. Nothing but the truth could sound plausible from my lips, and even that was sometimes tricky. I hated liars, and I was proud of my disability.
My advantage would have been in the realm of honor and virtue, since John had none to speak of, and it's far more difficult to fake. But honor has long since been replaced by rules, laws, and policies. That's what my dad used to say anyways, and I believe him. There was no rule that someone like John could not flip and use for his own purpose. No policy to oppose bullying that he could not use as a shield for his own behavior. His words flew in below the radar, below the threshold of what we defined as bullying. Redefine it, and he'd simply ratchet back a bit. They could have made all speech against the rules, but no law could stifle the evil in his heart and his ability to communicate it, someway or another.
That's why, Ms. Robinson, you'll never understand that when John asked how my day was going, and whether or not I planned on asking Rebecca out (right in front of her! he was saying this to me, before I was ready, humiliating me, right in front of her!), you may well never understand that you can't put a label on bullying, and that what John was doing was vicious, not kind. Evil, not friendly.
That's why you'll think I'm a psychopath, that I'm unbalanced, that I'm a loose cannon, who needs counseling and therapy to control my anger for turning around to walk away, then spinning back and throwing all of my weight down my arm, into my closed fist, and onto the side of John's sympathetic, smirking face. Maybe I need drugs to drain my passion, which could have fueled my progress on the clarinet or drawing, but turned to this instead. I never thought I'd punch him, never thought I could be driven to do that, and then driven all the way out to Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, and being told to journal about my feelings. I never thought I, Aaron Peleides, would be a bully,
But here I am.