“The biggest bully I ever faced was underneath my own skin.” Johnny Cash.
Paulie Greco appeared. In the schoolyard. I saw him. Rising like a demon above cracked concrete. I couldn’t focus on anything else after that. For hours. Through the massive, thick Brooklyn public school windows behind heavy-gauge steel grating, I could still see him. I couldn’t stop seeing him. Waiting. I couldn’t stop feeling the ice, the fear coursing through veins I didn’t even realize I had inside my body, my head. Until they started throbbing. 2:15pm. He’d been out there. Since noon. High noon.
I remember shaking uncontrollably at my desk the closer the small, black super-ticky clock hand inched moved towards 3. My heart beat heavy in both ears. I wondered how I was going to lose blood, teeth. My spleen. I heard somewhere you could live without a spleen. That oddly seemed to calm me. Would I be able to walk? Please god not the face was all I could think. Thinking positively – Perhaps a good pummeling would work off some of the belly fat I carried around thanks to Drake’s cakes, Yodels to be specific.
Oh Yodels – the unnatural perfect food.
I didn’t do anything to him. In fact, I stayed far from him. I was always aware of his space so I could purposely avoid it. He hated me because I was fat, I wore green corduroy pants in the summer (thanks mom), I was diverting the attention of a puerto-rican beauty in spandex pants who didn’t give him the time of day – she liked my brains over his brawn. I was friends with his girlfriend (the damn cute girls always liked to be friends with me because I was, non-threatening, funny troll-like figure). I had bigger pimples, maybe. For one reason, many reasons, every reason, this guy hated my guts.
All I knew? I was dead soon. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. Rest In Peace. In a dirt-blood pile. Smashed behind a city school.
America’s favorite bully then in rerun form – Butch from The Little Rascals.
There he was – leaning against a shaky schoolyard fence. Greasy dark hair. Black leather jacket with chains (as I think about it, looked stupid in June). He’d deftly bounce off the chain link, then shuffle – from one foot to the other. Right. Left. Right. Left. Rocking. Like a psycho planning a pounce on chubby prey. I’m sure he noticed me through the smudgy glass and steel-cage monster panes of glass. I know, at the least, he smelled me. My fear. I think it made him rock faster.
3pm was here. I couldn’t feel my legs, not sure how I rose from the desk…Numb.
I walked slow. To the bulls-eye. Not sure of my fate.
1). External bullies never go away. Throughout your entire life they’ll re-appear. Even those who were once close friends can turn. Corporate masters like to bully too. Because they can. Shareholders, Boards of Directors encourage it (mostly by demanding greater results). Bullies hate the truth, however. They diminish in power once they know you’re not afraid and you possess the strength of the truth. But you’ll need to shiver in the ice water, feel the cold of loss, first. Today, many companies can pay less in wages, avoid raises, ask more out of you, work you out of a position for others less skilled, because they have the power. As the economy slowly improves, their ability to bully and scare will diminish. Be patient. Stay true to your cause. You shall prevail in finding greater more lucrative ventures.
2). Get to know your inner bullies. The bullies who push against you from within. They do stick around you until death. You know them. You’ve faced them. The ones who constantly, mentally pummel you. Telling you you’re going to fail, fall, falter. The ones who nag at you. Encourage you to flee. It’ll take some strong self-analysis to understand your interbullies as I call them, but if you remain aware, you’ll face your internal Paulies head on. You may stumble short term; oh, they’ll rock you, shuffle you up, but you will win, eventually. It’s inevitable. The more you fight them, the greater understanding you’ll have of their crude methods to shake you. Your mind begins to grow smarter than your interbullies. It’ll take time but it will happen. Don’t give up. You’ll surprise them when you least expect it.
3). Don’t be bullied to be stupid with money. There’s a lot out there to taunt you to overspend or misuse credit. Stand your ground. Stick to a budget. The less you spend the more empowered you will become. The more secure you will become in your future. A bully should possess a negative net worth. Not you.
4). Discover your reinforcements. Seek and then never forget what/who supports you. Understand the need to train for battle. Friends (some you never knew you had), exercise, a good diet, sleep, deep breaths, meditation, reading, heartfelt discussion, all need to be employed as you fight the bullies around you. It’s ok to wallow in Yodels a bit (if you can find them); too many will weaken your body and spirit. Know when to shut down the devil’s food (which is a devil’s food).
I couldn’t feel anything. The larger Paulie grew in my line of sight, the more steadfast my pace. I wanted to flee in the other direction. I kept walking. Straight. Closer.
I recall closing my eyes briefly. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t do anything wrong. If I got beat so be it. With all the adrenaline running through me I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have felt a thing. So it appeared to be an opportune time for a thrashing. I just wanted one good shot. One good kick. One surprise that would shake him.
I stopped near the rocking bully. He stopped rocking. About seven feet from him. I tried to move in but couldn’t. Frozen. He moved towards me.
He spoke. Rough Brooklyn. Mostly hoodlum. Mumbled.
“You talk to my girlfriend?”
“Yea,” I said. What was I going to say? “She’s in my homeroom class.”
“I know people. I’m related to gangsters. You understand that?”
I knew that.
“I know people too. I hang out at Torragrossa’s Funeral Home. I watch them embalm dead people after school. You think my mother could get a discount if you kill me?”
I continued before he could say another word:
“You’ll need to realize I won’t die so easy though. If I can take you with me, I will,” I said. No reason why. Anger perhaps. All I know is I meant it at the time.
I had nothing to lose.
At that moment his girlfriend, my friend, ran up (reinforcements) and screamed at him not to touch me or it was over between them. He backed off.
A few weeks later I found out that he was a bit scared of me after that incident. It wasn’t his girlfriend’s threats. It was the fact that I watched the embalming process. It was a bit of information he wasn’t expecting. It was a surprise. A shock.
Bullies hate surprises. Shocks. The truth.
And apparently the embalming process.