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Inanity of Violence: Bullies and Bullying

by George Jones on April 16, 2011

Bullying has been around for some time, but our view of it is finally evolving.

My sister was no less immune than any of us were to being both among the bullies and the bullied. Being some 4 and 5 years older than my brother and I, our sister Linda was our lord and master in the absence of our parents – and she ruled us like French peasants.

BullyBut there were children bigger and stronger than her, and she was the subject of ridicule by them. Most notably, she was tormented by Eddie Bristol, a bully’s bully whose family, unfortunately, lived right across the street from us.

My sister’s diminutive stature and remarkably frizzy hair made her a likely target for a bully and Eddie made her life a living hell for no other reason than he could. Such is the way of bullies; they torment others for their own sake.

Eddie and his friends would start on my sister every bus ride to and from school. The afternoon rants were always the worst. I don’t recall how long this lasted, but it terminated in the fall, that much I remember. So, the duration of this particular bullying episode probably lasted a month or so before my father conceived a remarkably simple, if ruthless, solution.

I recall very clearly my father finding exasperation with my sister’s ongoing torment. He had started with the typical parental bromides about ‘sticks and stones’, but could see that no amount of feigned indifference would really leave an impression on a consummate little prick like Eddie Bristol. For that, some ingenuity and pluck would be required.

USMC drill sargeant

My father inspired us in similar ways.

My father began an outline of action for my sister to take the very next day. Since she was all of perhaps 11 years old and wanted to make her dad proud, she listened intently to his strategy. Fortunately, children are very malleable at such a tender age and my father’s guidance found a receptive audience; my sister had the moxy to make it work.

The next day went pretty much like the others, but the bus ride home was different. Eddie and his lackey, one of the Dawson boys, were riding herd on my sister calling her “frizz bomb” and other variations of epithets directed at her hair, manner of dress, and just about anything else an 11 year-old male brain could come up with to break the will and self-esteem of an 11 year-old girl. It was ugly and there was nothing to be done about it – yet. Anyway, they eventually found another target after becoming somewhat baffled by my sister’s eerie serenity on that particular day.

In fact, it would seem they’d completely forgotten their taunts – and their target – by the time the bus reached our street.

The bus stopped, as it always did, at the end of our street and delivered us our daily salvation from the seeming inanity of secondary education.

Eddie Bristol strode past my sister’s seat on the bus with nary a second thought about her frizzy hair and how contemptible he found her – and was completely unaware, or unconcerned, about my sister being behind right behind him as he made his way to the front of the bus.

But, as Eddie began to step down the first of three steps that would get his impertinent ass off the bus, my father’s plan swung into action.

It is a long trip to the pavement if you don't use the stairs.

My sister swung her foot forward to catch the foot Eddie would have used to step on the first step as she gave him a purposeful, kinetic shove to amplify the effect of her foot arresting the travel of Eddie’s own.

Eddie Bristol’s books – and body – landed on the pavement outside the bus with a thud. He broke his fall with his hands and face which was probably pretty painful considering how unforgiving pavement can be. As he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees in a feeble attempt to get up, my sister drove the heel of her foot – hard – into Eddie’s outstretched left hand, being sure to hit the bull’s-eye – his fingers – as Dad instructed. The blow broke two of Eddie’s fingers.

As Eddie began to react to the excruciating pain emanating from the nerves along the metacarpal bones of his left hand, my sister kicked him in the face with sufficient force and accuracy to further fulfill my father’s vision of justice: breaking that motherfucker’s nose. Blood poured out of his face like it was coming out of a spigot.

My sister then descended onto a now crying, bloody, and helpless Eddie Bristol with the fury of an avenging angel. She clawed at his face and kicked at his groin and head until it was reasonably clear that Eddie wouldn’t be getting up any time soon. My father’s instructions were very clear on that point: disable him to the point that he was no longer a threat – hence the focus on breaking fingers and noses.

Although this is an example of a regressive method of dealing with a bully, it was nonetheless effective – to a point.

Eddie was indeed reduced to a nuisance for a time, but the broken fingers-and-nose-thing touched off a 13-year running feud between our two families. This would result in every child in both families experiencing a number of emergency room visits resulting from innumerable physical assaults on each other as the fathers of both families directed an internecine campaign of warfare through their children.

Never again could one of us walk anywhere in the neighborhood alone without the certain apprehension that the Bristols’ retribution was at hand. The fear of a certain and painful beat-down is an all-encompassing fear at any age, but it is particularly acute when you are a child.

The retaliatory beat-down did occur and I was the unfortunate victim. I got surrounded by Eddie’s two younger sisters and brother right after getting off the bus. I was able to protect my nose from getting broken, but received more than one-hundred scratches and contusions all over my body from the 20-minute kick-fest the three Bristol kids delivered. Both my friends and my younger brother abandoned me to this fate when this attack broke out and it remains in my mind as the one time in my life I felt utterly and positively alone. My eventual salvation was the arrival of my father who, on his way home from work, noticed that the bloody heap at the side of the road looked vaguely like his son. This incident, too, was eventually avenged – which then invited another bloody attack – and so on it went … for another 12 years.

This cycle of madness didn’t end until Eddie’s younger brother Brad was killed in a motorcycle accident – only to be followed by a car accident killing Eddie a short time later.

Fortunately, I had run into Eddie at a party in town about a month before the accident that claimed his life. He’d been in the Army and I was finally out of high school and neither of us were inclined to continue the feud. We were both wary at first, but apparently we were both happy drunks or simply tired of the repetitive violence. Anyway it became clear that we were no longer enemies. Apparently, time will heal old wounds.

Ironically, I ended up giving Eddie a ride home from the party that night and we shared some mirth about the absurdity of the neighborhood conflict that had consumed our youthful energies. We each took notice of the serendipity of our “reunion” – such as it was. Neither one of us expected it, but we both drank to it. Eddie seemed genuinely pleased with my assurance that no one in our family took pleasure in his brother Brad’s recent untimely passing. We talked about how our lives had evolved in the space of the bizarre estrangement of our families. It was very much like the reunion of two old friends.

Eddie was no longer the bully I remembered; he was more thoughtful and engaging than I could have expected. Over the next several weeks we had some additional conversations when time allowed. We at least could share a friendly wave when it didn’t. The weight of being vigilant was gone and we were now just two contemporaries trying to make sense of our young lives and finding the direction of our dreams. I was thankful for this overdue reconciliation and considered it a blessed gift when I eventually recovered from the shock of Eddie’s tragic death just a month after our reconciliatory ride home from that party.

The tragedies of losing both Brad and Eddie made the wistful memory of our neighborhood war seem particularly exasperating.

The single incident of bullying on the school bus, followed by an egregious retribution off it, resulted in a protracted period of episodic violence that consumed the childhoods of the seven children thrust into it. Our parents should have known better.

Using violence to get justice is the stuff of Hollywood; it just doesn’t work in real life. In our case, it simply begat a cycle of violence that served no purpose other than to cause physical injury and make everyone immersed in it perpetually fearful.

The media is putting a new focus on the topic of bullying since a distressing body count of bullied children made it difficult to ignore. Schools are also engaging the topic, but more needs to be done to inspire our youth to a more egalitarian disposition towards each other.

The consequences of failing to address bullying by changing the way our children interact are dire. It’s up to adults to act like adults and show them the right path.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie Weymouth April 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Again, the similarities of our fathers. My Dad once told my brother, who was being bullied, that if he didn’t beat the shit out of that boy, my dad would beat the shit out of him (my brother, that is). Scott, promptly followed my Dad’s orders and beat the living shit out of Tony. The thing you need to know about Tony was that he was a bit “mentally challenged”!! Have I mentioned that my Dad was a DI in the Marines?


George April 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I believe it! Your dad conveyed that gritty, toughness you could only get as a Marine Corps DI.

I guess my dad, like yours, figured there was only one way to deal with a bully – and I think they were right. My sister’s actions did put an end to the bullying … but then things took an odd turn. 🙂


JT April 18, 2011 at 8:58 am

Says something about the acronym WAR (we are right).


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