The topic of bullying has played a significant role in my life. It has both caused a lot of pain but also sweet triumph, and it has led to self discovery. With this series of blog posts I am going to share my experiences with bullying. As I share my experiences I will not share every moment of bullying because there are way to many but I will share some of the more significant moments. These moments have changed my life, and you will see why.
(This story takes place in El Pastillo, Puerto Rico, which is a little town southeast of Ponce Puerto Rico in the middle of the southern most tip of the Island of Puerto Rico. My family and I lived there until I was four but because things were not working out between my parents, my mother decided to take my siblings and I to the states. Some years later my father, being the sweet talker he is, talked my mother into returning to Puerto Rico, and my family returned but it was for a brief time. I was about six or seven years old at that time, and my mother then decided to leave my father for good. So my mother moved my siblings and I back to the states, and we have been here ever since. As a fyi in this story I refer to the bully as “the older kid” and or “the kid.”)
I was in second grade, the school I attended was called Luis Munoz Marin. The classrooms were hot, and a day spent in them felt like forever. I had just learned how to speak english back in the states (what a dawning task), and had not used my Spanish in two to three years. Ironically, Spanish was my first language but because I was away from it for two to three years I had to relearn it. In six to ten short months I learned how to read and write in Spanish. Yes I know it was intense.
So there I was new to everything. I was in a new environment, there were new kids, and a new way of life that I was not used to. As is custom in a neighborhood like the one in El Pastillo, most people are aware of the trouble makers, and they avoid them at all cost. El Pastillo is an impoverished neighborhood. The saying, “An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth,” rules over the law, and it is not uncommon to see neighbors handling civil matters in uncivilized ways.
The children in a neighborhood like the one in El Pastillo are not angels. They learned from their parents, and handle issues amongst themselves the same way the parents do. Often times violently, and dangerously. Even in third grade. So this is how my first recorded instance of bullying played out in my life:
There was a kid in the class that for whatever reason many of the other kids in the class were afraid of. Why, I did not know. I was away for three years, I was not familiar with who was who. I found out later on that this kid’s family members were known troublemakers, and that this kid fell in line with them. In school he was known as a bully, and he had a major advantage. He had failed three grades so he was much bigger than any of the other kids in second grade. His size alone was enough to scare any of the kids in the class.
Now here I come along I didn’t really know the kid. I had never experienced bullying so I had no reason to be afraid. Also, I had older relatives in the neighborhood that would protect me. So I never felt like I was in any real danger, and on this particular day I became his target. Why me, I am not sure. That’s a question that I’ve always asked myself through my experiences with bullying.
So as was tradition with the teacher in this class, right before lunch we would get a cursive writing assignment. Basically, the teacher would put a paragraph up on the board in cursive, and she would challenge children to write the paragraph down. Those who finished their writing assignment the fastest would be allowed to go to lunch as soon as they were finished, and the reward was sweet. Lunch at Luis Munoz Marin was the highlight of my day everyday. That aside I have always been an extremely competitive kid. In regards to the writing assignment I would try my best to finish first every time, and I normally did. I did pretty good I would say, at least I remember it that way.
One day I was wrapping up the writing assignment when the older kid decided that he needed my eraser to erase something on his paper, and instead of just asking me for it he thought that just snatching my pencil off of my hands would suffice. I guess it’s a bullying thing. I was oblivious to what was happening or getting ready to happen, and it all happened so quick. In a moment the kid said give me your eraser, and before I could even say no he had snatched the pencil out of my hand. I felt powerless, confused, and violated. I know it doesn’t seem like much but it felt like a trespass was committed unto me. After those initial feeling subsided, which happened within seconds, anger rushed in.
Now the teacher for whatever reason had stepped out of the classroom during this moment, which always seems to be the case with these things. The kid proceeded to his desk with my pencil in hand, and began to use it to erase his paper. So I run over to him, and a light scuffle begins. I somehow manage to put the kid in a head lock. How, I have no idea but I did, and I had blood on my mind, which is terrible to say but I felt hurt and I wanted to inflict pain on this kid. I then proceeded to the chalk board with his head between my arms, and I noticed the pointy part of the chalk holder. So I tried to slam his head into it but the teacher had come in just in the nick of time, and stopped us. She was extremely unhappy, and I had no idea what would happen next. As it was custom in Puerto Rico during this time, I was asked by the teacher to place both of my hands in front of me. I had no idea where she was going with it. The teacher then takes her ruler and whips me across both of hands. I found this practice to be extremely weird, and I didn’t understand the point of it. The same thing was done to the other kid as well.
Now you would think that the story would end there but it does not. This was only the beginning. Afterwards, we were dismissed for lunch and right away I regretted my decision to stand up to the kid. I came to my senses right about the time I realized how big he was, and also after he approached me and told me we were not done. The rest of the day was a nightmare. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. There was the name calling, and there were threats. I was also occasionally punched in the stomach or back. I was so terrified that didn’t think the day would end, and you’re probably wondering where were the teachers at. Well kids can get pretty creative in being sneaky about doing certain things. Also, in the neighborhood it was a custom for us to not tell people in authority anything if it would get someone else in trouble. An “Eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth,” remember.
So remember when I told you I had older relatives (by older I mean the majority of them were in middle school and high school), well somehow they got wind of what was happening. After school one of my older relatives approaches me and asked me what happened. I told them, and they wanted me to point the kid out. So I did, and they went after the kid (to violently attack them), but instead of getting into a fist fight with the kid my older relative gets into a fist fight with the kid’s older sibling. The fight was incredibly insane. It was the first time I had ever experienced something like that. There was screaming and blood; a large crowd formed around the fight, and I had other relatives telling me to get away. I think in the end my relative cut the other kid’s relative, and everyone had to disperse. It was a nightmare if I may so.
The next day the kid didn’t show up to class. I found it odd but didn’t think much of it. Two days later he shows up to class, and I didn’t really notice at first but he was bruised up pretty bad. At some point in the day there was some outburst between this kid and the teacher, and the kid breaks down crying. I mean he was sobbing crying, and it was actually extremely sad. In his outburst the kid tells the teacher that he was jumped (assaulted by multiple people) by one of my older relatives and his friends. Now I had no clue that anyone had done anything, and I was unaware that people even did things like that. I was so young and so innocent to things of that nature but it happened. After class that day the kid walks over to me. I was a little scare at first because of everything that had happened but then I was surprised. He asked me if I wanted to be his friend. I thought it was odd at first but I didn’t see why not. We were friends for a short period of time, and I learned a little about the kid.
His family, like many other families, was the definition of dysfunctional. They had problems, upon problems, upon problems. As a kid you don’t understand these things but as an adult looking back I realize that the kid was hurting. Why he decided to be a bully I have no idea but I am glad those initial violent encounters did not have an adverse effect on our families. As far as I know we did not have any more issues after that, and instead of an enemy I gained an ally for a short period of time.
This experience taught me some valuable lessons. The first being that I could trust, and be comforted in the security that was provided by my relatives. My relatives were there for me even though it wasn’t in a legal manner. This was extremely comforting. I learned that standing up to the bully doesn’t always stop the bully from bullying you. It my situation it made things worse not only for me but also for my family because they got involved. I learned that any individual whomever they may be had the ability to surprise you when you least expect it. The kid didn’t have to be my friend, especially after everything that went down, but he decided to be. This was unexpected for me. Lastly, I was introduced to bullying in the classroom that day, and though it was so long ago the experience is still fresh in my mind. It seems to have been tattooed to my mind.