THE PLAYGROUND BULLY

I wondered how long he’d continue to harangue me.  After nearly two hours of pointless arguing, I hung up the phone and stared out the window.  Talking to a bully is not only exhausting, it’s an exercise in futility.

There was a particularly vicious girl who dominated the playground in seventh grade, a tall gangly girl with buck teeth and a bad temper.   She wasn’t especially bright or well-liked, but most agreed that that given her ferocity that it was better to be a marginal friend than an opponent.

Even the boys kept a wide berth.  She towered over the roughest, elbowing them out of her way in the hall, more swaggeringly macho than their overheated imaginations could conjure.

I observed her one day holding court after recess, handmaidens and toadies gathered ’round in concentric circles.  Suddenly, I felt a pity so profound, it caught me off-guard.  My teen self objected vehemently;  Surely she was the most loathsome creature ever to prowl junior high.  But yet this feeling wouldn’t budge and it forced me to watch her most closely.

True, she didn’t provoke the battles as much as wage them as a mercenary, usually acting as proxy to someone less skilled (and more cowardly) than herself.  She walked home alone after school, deserted by the throngs of admirers who kept her company during the day.  She never attended the dances or mixers and, other than to pummel them, was never seen in the company of a boy.

The truth was later revealed when I overheard her confiding the name of her teenage crush to a less-than-discreet companion. Within hours, the entire school knew and the object of her affection was mortified.  He loudly voiced his dismay, denying any and all romantic affiliation with the lady in question.

So I was more than a little surprised when I discovered her weeping behind a door in the gymnasium.  Wouldn’t it have been more in character had she sought out the cad and gave him a dusting?  Instead, she wept the bitter tears that only an adolescent girl knows how to shed, all her bravado dissolving into the wad of dirty Kleenex clutched to her eyes.

She seemed so terribly sad, so heartbreakingly lonely that I would have comforted her had I not been convinced it would lead to my doom.  Bewildered, I crept away to ponder the ironies that life was beginning to show me.  It was so much simpler when I was a child; things were black and white.  But those demarcations began to blur as I marched out of childhood into the storm of adolescence.  Who really is a villain or a hero anyway? 

I thought about that before I made my last phone call.  Maybe this real-life monster was only terrifying in his zeal to control the circumstances beyond his ability.  Perhaps the bluster, the unreasonable posturing were just his attempts to manipulate the outcome he dreaded.   Even so, how could two people diametrically opposed ever reach a compromise?

I let go of my own expections and dialed the number.  Before I could get a word out, he called for a truce.  Did he recognize the playground bully in himself and rue that he had driven away that which he loved most?  Maybe.  Or perhaps he was just as weary of fighting as me.

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