Bully for Me: The Fourth-Grade Recess Showdown

Bullies. Harry Potter had Dudley Dursley... Ralphie Parker had Scut Farcas… And in terms of these epic battles of Good versus Evil, fought and lost on the Great Playground of Life-- why, me, I had Tanya “Teeny” DeLuca.

Teeny was, in fact, really small. But what she lacked in size, she more than made up for with a troublemaker’s finesse.

Her procedure was like that of a barracuda. This thin fish with razor-sharp choppers slowly, carefully sidles up to its potential meat and then-- BANG!-- shoots in for the kill. Atypical behavior for your average grade-schooler, okay. But this Wild Kingdom episode played itself out over and over again, for myself and every other member of the fourth grade.

Oh yes, no one was truly immune from the torment, the fists, the cornering after class. But it wasn't long before she'd honed in on Yours Truly as one of her extra-special targets.

In retrospect, I can hardly blame her. With braces, glasses, good grades and a chronic case of politeness, I see now that it was just another well-worn scene in this, our natural world. Cheetahs pick off the injured gazelle... Bullies trounce the gangly nerd-girl in the brown plaid and loafers.

It’s the circle of life.

Her first move in class was, as I think back on it, a exercise in Bully Genius. Not surprising, really, because she'd been honing her skills for about two years now on the mean streets of suburban Jersey.

It's good to have a hobby.

This particular day, she'd bided her time until our teacher was out of the room, and then reached across the aisle from her desk to mine, and seized my hand. In a second, she'd dug her fingernail into its surface, deeply enough to make it bleed.

Holding on with the power of a constrictor, she worked feverishly to rub her pencil point neatly into the wound while I struggled.

"There!" she hissed, smile peeling back over glistening white predator teeth. "I put lead in there! You have lead poisoning now! You're going to die."

"Oh no! Lead poisoning!" I cried, cradling my arm as she released it. I recall wondering whether the school nurse had an antidote for that... Or for the death thing. I could see the silvery graphite there in the wound, imagining particle by particle seeping into my blood. I cried and mourned my untimely demise. I'd had such big plans. And now they were gone, snuffed out at age 8 by lead poisoning.

"And if you tell, you'll really get it," she warned.

Worse than death by lead poisoning? Oh good gravy, did the tortures ever end?

I spent the rest of the day not feeling very well, convincing myself it was the poison seeping into my system, and too afraid to tell anyone what happened. By evening, my mom had set me straight about that whole pencil graphite not actually being lead issue. And my world seemed a brighter, cheerier place once more. In the world of Kiddom, trauma could wash away like chalk paintings in summer rain.

But Teeny, oh, she wasn't done with me yet. Later that week she cornered me on the playground with a couple of hulking sixth graders at her side, pummeling me with foul words I’d never heard before. Every couple of days thereafter brought brand new perils.

Then the tide turned in one single day.

Recess had never actually been much fun, even when it wasn't Bully Season. Because the school was afraid of some kid getting injured on the playground and being sued, they ripped out all the swing sets and jungle gyms so we wouldn't hurt ourselves. We also weren't allowed to run, use balls, bats, or other sports equipment, play hopscotch, jump rope or climb the trees...

They considered wrapping us all in bubble wrap, but were concerned about heat rashes.

Cards were forbidden because it was gambling. An out-of-control set of jacks could poke out an eye.

This left us wandering around the macadam like a bunch of laid-off union workers-- bored, surly, and looking for anything to liven things up a little.

Josette and I would pretend we were characters from Star Wars or The Dukes of Hazzard-- pretty much anyone less likely than we were to have their lunch money stolen-- and hope we were invisible.

But Teeny's keen graphite-colored eyes could see.

I don't know what it was exactly that set her off this day. The offending glint off my bottle lenses in the sun? The haughty snap of my elastic argyle knee socks? The overconfident rattle of the metal lunchbox in my hand?

But Teeny DeLuca was ready to rumble.

She cornered me at the flagpole, pushing, and spitting out filthy names like tobacco juice, which I was convinced she chewed in her off-hours. And as I looked down at her contorted little mug sneering up at me, suddenly I realized...

This wasn't fair. I didn't deserve this.

Just because I got good grades, and wore thrift store clothes, and couldn't see, and had crooked teeth, and stringy hair and maybe wasn't exactly the social butterfly of Classroom 18, it didn't mean I had no right to exist...

Just because I didn't have dock worker epithets... or fists of fury... or a bunch of sixth graders with anger management issues ready to back me up, didn't mean I had to take this...

I mean, what did I have?

I had a durable, metal "Dukes of Hazzard" lunchbox.

Ah, that wonderful, wonderful sound! The glorious clatter of lunchbox on outstretched fist. The contact made her cold, marble-like eyes fly open wide with shock and renewed rage. She tried again, knuckles flying, but for every punch—wham! The Dukes struck again.

This battle-- Teeny versus the Dukes went on and on-- possibly until our fourth grade moving-up ceremony. By this point, a crowd had formed around us and Teeny was beginning to realize their overall sentiments were not exactly on her side.

"You put down that lunchbox and fight fair!" she spat, anger and now fear creeping into her voice.

But I’d put up my Dukes for the first time in my life, and I wasn't stopping now.

Then suddenly my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Ciccetti was there, guiding me away. Someone else had a hold of Teeny, who was kicking and struggling, still ready to finish the round.

The bell rang and we were officially sent to our corners.

I heard words like "suspension" soar over the crowd like a paper airplane. And that's when I started to cry. Not only would I have suspension for fighting in school, but my lunchbox was dented. My parents were not going to take kindly to this. First lead poisoning, and then public execution. All before I was ten.

And to think I’d shown such promise.

That's what ran through my head as Mr. Ciccetti escorted me into the school. He held the door for me, as I walked through the threshold to certain doom, tears streaming down my face and speckling my steamed-up glasses.

I remember how he smelled warmly of cologne as he leaned down and asked me just one single question:

"Did you really hit her?"

"Yeah," I breathed in-between hitching sobs.

His mustache rippled a bit, finally turning up at the ends. "Good."

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Da Old Man said...

I'm beyond words. I couldn't help reading this in the voice of Shep, by the way. What a perfectly crafted tale. And the good guy, ummm, girl, won over evil.

Unknown said...

DaOldMan- Hey, thanks. So glad you enjoyed it! Shep was a great narrator, wasn't he? He had a wonderful kind truth to his voice.

Anonymous said...

I dealt with a bully in kindergarten. Janet was about 6 feet tall and I was roughly the size of a small garden gnome. She liked to push all of us smaller kids down in the bus in time for those exiting the vehicle to almost trample us. One day, she pushed me. Tired of this and not yet possessing enough attitude to overcome the extreme size difference she presented, I did the only thing I could come up with...I pretended to hit my head and have amnesia. I even kept it going through the whole school day...causing her to tearfully admit her bullying to our teacher out of fear for my future brain health. She never pushed anyone on the school bus again.
The amazing part of this story is I ran into Janet 15 years later at a mutual friend's birthday party. She told me how traumatized she was when she hurt me so badly and how that episode changed her and she would always go after bullies to stop them from hurting others. I only felt a small pang of guilt when I admitted to her that I had faked the whole "traumatic injury" all those years before. She was surprised, appalled, annoyed and then finally grateful for the life lesson my little 5 year old self taught her that day. Of course...she avoided me for the rest of the party.
Susan H

Unknown said...

Sue, that is just a great story. But even though I consider myself an honest person, I kinda think I might not have told her the behind-the-scenes truth on that one. I think I might just let her have her life-changing incident.

PS-- coming up with having amnesia at age 5-- that was sheer genius! :)

Alice said...

Woo hoo! Awesome!

I was never the popular girl, but my height has always assured that no one messed with me.

And I worry about BoyChild. He's not a fighter by nature, but if you piss him off enough he's going to completely crush someone at school one day. Minus the lunchbox.

Unknown said...

Alice- Yeah, you know what Popeye used to say, "I've had all I can stands and I can't stands no more!" I think every non-bully kid experiences this at one point or another. I hope BoyChild hangs in there okay.

Erick said...

I was always the short guy in class - but I learned to talk my way out of a lot of things. I think this skill develops at an earlier age for us runts. ;)

Unknown said...

Jaded- Ah, yes-- if you could confuse your opponent, you often were able to elude them. :)

Miss Shirl said...

Everyone has a bully I think. A kid in my business math class continuously bugged me. Even during tests! I got mad jumped up went to kick him told him to shut up little &%*#^@! Kicked the metal of the desk instead and sprained my toe. Missed the next day of school because I couldn't walk. Turns out the teacher turned against him too. She switched classes w/ the Spanish teacher while he was in the bathroom. He sat in the Spanish class for 15 minutes before he realized that we switched. Said the Spanish teacher was speaking Japanese. One word DORK!

Unknown said...

Shirley- Ah, bullies may be mean, but they're not necessarily bright. :)

crpitt said...

I am sorry but I can't read your blog any more, firstly you make me laugh too much and secondly you make me remember so much stuff from my own history that I completely forget what I am meant to be doing!

I have taken to having with little notepad bix open whenever I read this blog, so far I have 6 bloody post ideas with the words 'link to jenn' written next to them!

crpitt said...

That is box not bix, I blame you for the typo too!

heh :)

Unknown said...

Claire- Heh, I was initially thinking "Notepad Bix" was some kind of English biscuit I didn't know about. :)

Ah, but sharing ideas is good! Laughter is good! And, um, biscuits are good, too. Notepad Biscuits for everyone! :)

I'm curious to read what you come up with, post-wise. It's always entertaining to see the mad inner-workings of your mind.

crpitt said...

Behold the inner workings of my mind :)

evil hamster link to jenn
jillian does the funky chicken/drives a bus
beach babes

Raggedy Anne link to jenn

wordle/johari window update posts

jenn cadbury's white flake

Boglins eating face. link to jenn

Clown video link to jenn

Parrots link to jenn

Pub Quiz, get your pens ready!

Unknown said...

Claire- Heh- I don't know if I'm more worried that you even have that list, or that I actually understand where you're going with a few of those items. :)

crpitt said...

We shall get on like a house on fire in September :)

Unknown said...

Claire- I really think so-- I'm definitely looking forward to it! :)

Anonymous said...

Good for you little Jenn. I can't tell you how many times I'd get pulled into the principals office for some offense and have no idea what he was talking about. My girl bullies were really sneaky, they'd point the finger at other kids and get them in trouble too. Didn't help that one of them was a teacher's kid so everything she'd utter was the truth. Even if the evidence was stacked so high against her she'd still sail thru while hte rest of us would get threatened with the paddle. I still can't stand that little bee with an itch. :(

Greg said...

Who knew the lunchbox had such intrinsic value beyond transporting food!?! I was a little disappointed with the story, as I'd hoped you were going to double-dog-dare her to lick the flagpole, but then I realized you were in Jersey and it wasn't likely to mean as much.

Good for you standing up to her, finally! God, I hated the bullies (they are still rather annoying in their grown-up forms, too!)...but I met a very dear mutual friend of ours whilst ducking into the library to escape them, so there's that, at least!

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Ah, the bully political system worked differently in every school. That's lousy when one of the bullies is the kid of a teacher, though. My bully spent a reasonable amount of time suspended for her various ills, so at least I can say it was fair in that way.

Greg- Ah, the lunchbox is a mighty, powerful weapon, not to be mishandled! No, no dog-dares were to be had in my school-- our protocol mostly just involved fists or French tauntings. :) I did however SEE A Christmas Story after the incident with Teeny DeLuca, so I felt a certain amount of satisfaction at the similarities.

I love the library image... and somehow it surprises me not one whit. :)

Barry said...

I bet it all went on your permanent record too :P

Jenn Thorson said...

Barry- Well, I don't know for sure. But I never did end up suspended, but Teeny DeLuca did. I think the fact I was known to be a complete goody two-shoes actually helped in this case, because I think the administration realized which kid was the problem child and which kid had bully trauma. :)

Anonymous said...

Yay for you! Can you hear me cheering from across the Pond? I had my bullies, too (yes, plural) and I've blogged about bullying, but not with such humour. Great post!

Unknown said...

Jay- Heh, thanks for rooting me on long-distance and 20-some years later... It's always good to have the back-up when you've fought the good fight no matter when or where it happens. :)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your blog Michele

mr loser said...

Good story, liked the visuals, especially the trama-chalk painting simile. I "earned" several days detention for WATCHING a middle-school fight.