Monday, September 13, 2004

Foster Files Part IV: Bullies

A few blocks away from the house I grew up in was a small creek that fed into a lagoon. My friends and I used to spend hours playing in the creek, turning over rocks and trying to catch bluegills with our hands.

One day, my friends Don, Stevie, and I were hanging out down by the creek catching crayfish. We found an empty coffee can in the creek and were using that as a bucket to hold the crayfish in as we caught them. While Don and Stevie were wading in the water, two boys saw us and came down to see what we were doing. They were on the opposite side of the creek from me, and I remember feeling a little worried as they walked over because I saw them pointing at my friends and whispering to each other as they came closer.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” one of the boys yelled.

Don looked over at Stevie, and then without looking up said, “Nothing. We’re just trying to catch stuff.”

“Well, who said you could do that? I didn’t tell you that you could catch anything here. How old are you punks?”

I told them we were eleven, and that we came down there all the time to catch things.

The shorter boy picked up some rocks and started throwing them into the creek next to Stevie, splashing water all over him. He said that since they were thirteen, they could tell us what to do. He tried spitting on Stevie, but missed. Then he told my friend Don to dump out the can with the crayfish in it.

Don looked up and said, “We’re not bothering anybody. We’re just catching crayfish.”


The boy sneered at Don and said, “I said, dump out the can or I’ll come down there and beat the crap out of you.” Then he picked up a big clod of dirt and threw it at Don’s head.

Don quickly dumped the crayfish out and started to walk toward my side of the creek.

“Ha! Look at the little sissy! What? Are you gonna cry? I didn’t even kick your ass – yet!”

Feeling slightly safer since I was a girl, and on the opposite side of the creek, I said, “Well, wouldn’t you be scared of kids two years older than you?”

The bigger kid said, “Hell, no. I’d beat the crap out of them, too.”

Hmm. Let’s see. Who did I know that was two years older than these bullies? Of course! The Fosters! This was my cue to call in the cavalry. Don and Stevie climbed up to my side of the creek and went home. I quickly ran over to the Fosters’ house and found Aaron and Sol sitting on the porch eating Popsicles. At the time, Aaron was twelve and Sol was about fourteen. Not quite two years older, but I figured he’d do just fine.

I told them that some big kids were picking on my friends and me down by the creek, and that they said they could beat up anyone – even older kids.

“But you could totally beat them up,” I promised.

That was all the encouragement the Foster boys needed, so they chomped down the last bites of their Popsicles and ran down to the creek with me. Before he left, though, Aaron grabbed a broken hockey stick that was laying in their front yard, just in case I had underestimated the bullies’ strength. When we got there, the two bullies were walking on the big rocks in the creek, looking into the water where Don dumped the crayfish.

After quickly sizing up his opponents, Sol was the first to act. He stepped down onto the rocks and said, “So why are you picking on my friends? They said you made them dump out their crayfish, and said you were going to beat the crap out of them.”

Before the kid on the rocks could answer, Sol quickly walked over to where he was and pushed him into the water. It was only about a foot or two deep, but got the kid’s shoes all soaking wet. The soggy bully jumped up onto the other side of the creek, and Sol and Aaron immediately followed.

“Jenny said you said you aren’t afraid of anybody, and that you’d even beat up older kids. Well I’m fourteen. Why don’t you come here and kick my ass?”

The bullies started to slowly walk away and said, “We didn’t say that. We just told them to put the crayfish back in the water.” Sol was never one for conversation, so he grabbed the tall kid by the back of his hooded sweatshirt and yanked him to the ground. Aaron went after the short kid and tackled him to the grass as well.

“You like picking on little kids? See how you like it!”

Then Sol grabbed a big handful of grass and dirt and told the tall kid to eat it. When he wouldn’t, Sol grabbed the boy’s head and shoved the dirt into his mouth. Aaron must not have been feeling overly creative, because he told the shorter kid to eat some willow leaves that were on the ground by the creek. Then he grabbed a whole pile of them and jammed them into that kid’s mouth.

As the four of them were wrestling around on the ground, I just remember quietly standing on the other side of the creek and feeling very safe and protected. Like justice had been served. But then something happened. As the boys tried to spit out the dirt and leaves from their mouths, the taller one started to cry. Not a lot, but a few tears were coming down his face and mixing with the dirt smeared on his cheeks.

Then, the shorter one said, “We’re not thirteen – we’re only eleven. We’re in fifth grade. I’m sorry we picked on your friends. We were just joking around.”

Aaron and Sol could see that there was no more fun to be had with these two boys, so they gave them both one final shove goodbye, and then walked across the rocks to my side of the creek. As the Fosters walked home, I watched these broken bullies wipe their faces on their shirtsleeves.

Revenge didn’t feel like I thought it would. I thought I’d feel happy that someone taught these mean kids a lesson. They threatened to beat up my friends when we weren’t doing anything but minding our own business, having fun on a summer day. But watching them just made me feel kind of sad. And guilty.

I still thought the kids deserved to be scared since they were so mean to me and my friends, but seeing them cry, and admit that they weren’t as old or as tough as they claimed to be really bothered me. I guess I learned something that day that most adults already know – bullies are just scared little kids, desperately hoping that no one calls their bluff.