In hindsight, sometimes I wonder if I might have had an easier time…

July 14, 2019, 12:20 PM

Sometimes I wonder if, in hindsight, I might have had an easier time in school if I had just beaten the crap out of a few kids.  Seriously.  I got picked on quite a bit, particularly in middle school. I got made fun of for my weight, I got made fun of for the way I walked (which I found out much later was due to overly tight calf muscles, which is remedied through stretching), and I got made fun of for my mannerisms.

I admit that I was a bit of an easy mark in middle school.  I wouldn’t fight back, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I was in a martial arts class at the time that emphasized never starting a fight.  Additionally, and more importantly, when students get into a fight in school, fault was typically assigned equally regardless of what happened, and so both students got suspended.  Thus even if you were not the one who initiated the fight and you were trying to get the other kid off of you, you were still getting suspended.  Since my parents had decided before I was born that I was going to college, getting suspended was viewed as the worst thing ever.  Recall the “you might as well wish you were dead” remark from when I got suspended in fourth grade.  We later found out after we moved to Virginia that the elementary school suspension wasn’t in my records.  Whether that was sloppy work on Mrs. Carmical’s part or what have you, I don’t know, but officially, it never happened.  However, getting suspended going forward was a no-go, because of the assumption that it would affect my ability to get into college.  As it turns out, that assumption was mistaken, because no college cares about what you did in middle school.  But for that mistaken assumption, I had a rough time.

In reading various discussions online, one thing that I saw over and over was that when the victims of bullying retaliated against their attackers, it generally put an end to it.  One story from online that stuck with me was where a girl who was being bullied walked by and jabbed a pair of scissors into her attacker’s back.  She got in some trouble, but the end result was that her bully now feared her.  Seemed like a good result.  She ended it.  And in a fight, if everyone is getting suspended, it really changes the dynamic of things.  With nothing to lose, why not inflict maximum damage?  Give the kid something to remember you by.  Bet that they won’t mess with you again after that.

And as it turns out, people do respond to calling them out on their nonsense in a meaningful way.  One instance from sixth grade happened completely by accident.  This one kid who was on the other team would act like a flamboyant asshat around me, directing this behavior at me, every time he saw me.  I realize now that his behavior was more of a reflection on him than it was me (since his out-sized behavior was calling more attention to himself than anyone), but it still bothered me.  I didn’t know his name at the time, so I gave him one: Butthead (this was before Beavis and Butthead was a thing).  It seemed apt, because it described how he acted, i.e. like a butthead.  Now fast forward to December, when I had been dealing with his crap for a few months.  Mom and I were at Food Lion in Stuarts Draft, and he and his mother were also shopping there.  I said, loudly enough that he could hear me, “Oh, look, it’s Butthead.”  My mother was mortified, and I heard about it all the way home, and then even after we got home, mostly because she didn’t understand the context (she knew nothing about the situation up to that point).  But, you know what?  I never got any more crap from that kid again.  We were in the same homeroom in seventh grade, and I never heard a peep out of him.  Wouldn’t you know it, calling him “Butthead” in front of his mother worked.  I wonder if his mother queried him about it and told him to knock it off, or if he was just embarrassed enough to give it up.  I’ll never know for sure, but whatever happened, it worked.

Seventh grade was the worst for bullying, though, partly because it was just an awkward age all around, and partly because one of the main teachers took a very hands-off approach to dealing with interpersonal conflicts.

The teacher that I’m referring to is Frank Wade:

Frank Wade, from the 1994-1995 Stuarts Draft Middle School yearbook

Frank Wade was my homeroom teacher in seventh grade, and also taught social studies.  I have a feeling that he was ready to move on from being a teacher, as he had just earned his certification to be a principal over the summer.  This was also his fifteenth year teaching at Stuarts Draft Middle School.  Whether the desire to move up professionally affected his performance of his job as a teacher, I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.

As far as dealing with interpersonal conflicts went, Mr. Wade’s approach, in a nutshell, was to tell the kids to work it out themselves, and take no action until the matter boiled over and it turned into a fight.  Then he just had to swoop in, pull the two kids apart, and send them all to the office to let the administration deal with them.  And then once the kids were sent to the office, it wasn’t his problem anymore.  This method also meant that he enabled the bullies by giving them free range to do their thing, since he refused to intervene until it came to blows.  The problem with this is that seventh graders aren’t quite mature enough yet to work things out amicably on their own.  They still need adult guidance in working things out without trying to kill each other.

Besides being an enabler, Mr. Wade was also a bully in his own right.  I’ve written before about how he made fun of me on the last day of school for having perfect attendance, which was a better attendance record than he could say about himself that year.  He also, on multiple occasions, yelled at me for an action that the principal had taken the previous year to help me deal with bullying during the early morning hours.  He disagreed with the action that the principal took, and essentially called me a wimp for having had that arrangement.  If it were up to him, I’m sure that he would have just thrown me to the wolves and let something boil over to a fight, which would have been consistent with his hands-off approach.  I found his remarks about that to be completely out of place because it was really none of his business, as he weaponized an old situation for his own benefit.  I also found it to be quite unprofessional since he was openly trashing what his boss did in a situation that he had nothing to do with, in front of students.

On another occasion, I was talking with another kid, completely outside of school, and spoke candidly about what I thought about Mr. Wade.  The kid snitched on me the next morning, and I got yelled at by Mr. Wade shortly thereafter. I remember that he said, “You can’t talk about teachers like that!” and telling me that it was slander.  I know now that he was 100% wrong, but at twelve years old, I didn’t know well enough to tell him to go screw himself.  At that young age, I didn’t know what the word “slander” even meant.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that whenever a teacher says “you can’t say that” to start a discussion about behavior, the rest of what they’re about to say is nonsense.  After all, we know that their “you can’t say that” claim is patently false, because I just said it.  If you want to maintain your credibility, don’t say something so easily disproven.  “I don’t like what you said” is probably a better phrasing, but I suppose that “you can’t say that” appeals to people trying to assert some amount of authority.

In any case, on a third occasion, we had a substitute on a Friday.  During a holding period that we had because of the way that lunch periods were structured, a number of kids all had ganged up on me and began physically attacking me.  I went up to the front of the room where the substitute was, trying to get some help in dealing with these bullies all ganging up on me.  She told me to sit down.  I refused and explained why, and she told me not to talk over her.  I’m pretty sure that I was right, and I didn’t go back to my seat for the rest of the period, because I wasn’t about to put myself back in that situation as long as I had anything to do with it.  The substitute told me at the end of the day that she was sending a disciplinary notice up to the office on me for what happened during that holding period, and not on the kids that I was being bullied by.  Thanks for nothing.

When I talked with my mother after school about what happened, her response surprised me: I should have just walked out of the classroom to remove myself from the situation.  Mind blown, because the thought never crossed my mind.  After all, most of the problems that happen in school come about because we can’t leave, and therefore are unable to remove ourselves from a situation.

The following Monday, I got loudly chewed out by Mr. Wade for my allegedly bad behavior, along with another reminder about how he would have just thrown me to the wolves when I was in sixth grade.  Nothing was said about how his being the biggest bully around was the only way that he managed his classroom, and that in his absence, the kids went wild.  Of course not.  It was my fault for standing up for myself when I had several kids trying to get rough with me.

I also got a referral to the guidance counselor from Mr. Wade during the second semester for my “behavioral problems”.  I enjoyed going to see the guidance counselor, because it occurred during that holding period, which meant that I would not have to deal with Mr. Wade and his abuse that day.  In other words, it was a refuge.  The guidance counselor, unsurprisingly, was firmly on the school’s side, which also enabled Mr. Wade, because that stance assumed that the school staff was always 100% right, and that the student was always 100% wrong.  It doesn’t allow anyone to consider that actions taken by the school staff could have contributed to a situation.  So the guidance counselor wasn’t really of much use, but nonetheless, talking to the guidance counselor about Mr. Wade and the bullies that he enabled was far better than having to actually be with Mr. Wade and the bullies that he enabled.

I also got the sense that Mr. Wade found me to be annoying in general.  I asked a lot of questions, and he clearly didn’t want to answer them.  Fairly early on in the year, he enacted a policy, that applied only to me, where he would only allow me to ask him one question a day, and after I used that, he would not answer any more questions for me unless I submitted them to him in writing.  I thought my questions were important, as I was often trying to verify the stuff that the kids told me (in other words, making sure that I hadn’t missed a memo somewhere).  In any case, his limiting my ability to ask questions was a jerk move, but it certainly fit the character, in that he considered certain things to be outside of his job description that he shouldn’t have.

Meanwhile, if I were to do it all again, I would have absolutely beaten the crap out of this kid:

Michael Stonier, from the 1993-1994 Stuarts Draft Middle School yearbook

This is Michael Stonier, seen here in my seventh grade yearbook.  He was really smart, but he was also a little shit.  We had a number of classes together, and we were in the same homeroom.  Mr. Wade’s hands-off method enabled Michael Stonier, because any attempts to work it out amicably just led to more bullying.  And I was too afraid of getting suspended to just slug him and make him fear me instead of his viewing me as an easy mark.  Beating the crap out of him might also have sent a message to the other kids, that you didn’t necessarily want to mess with me.

Michael Stonier’s transgressions towards me were numerous, but a few incidents stand out.  One was during school spirit week.  The first day was “high school colors day”.  That involved wearing the colors of the high school that you would eventually attend (Stuarts Draft Middle School at that time sent students to two different high schools, depending on where you lived).  My mother had bought me a white polo shirt from a local sports apparel store that said “Stuarts Draft Cougars” on it.  I didn’t find out until I got to school that it was the same shirt that the (female) cheerleaders wore, which Michael Stonier was quick to point out.  I ended up wearing my jacket closed the entire day in order to cover the shirt to prevent additional commentary on said shirt.  That would have been well enough, but Michael Stonier was more than happy, on at least three occasions that day, to pull my jacket open and show everyone what I was wearing.  So three times that day, I was physically attacked for the clothes that I was wearing.

On a second occasion, we had an early dismissal due to inclement weather.  That put dismissal during sixth period, when I had Phys Ed.  Since the dismissal time fell in what would otherwise be the middle of the period, the Phys Ed teachers didn’t have us change clothes or anything.  With only about twenty minutes of class time, they just treated it as a holding period.  Because our spots in the gym were arranged alphabetically by last name, Michael Stonier sat right behind me.  He kept going on and on about how I should get liposuction because I was fat, and even came up with a rhyming song for it.  I was delighted when that abbreviated period was over, because it meant that I didn’t have to listen to his crap anymore, at least for that day.

The last memorable occasion with Michael Stonier is the one that really takes the cake.  On April 4, 1994, while at lunch, Michael Stonier told me that a girl that I didn’t particularly get along with was planning to beat me up after lunch.  I didn’t believe a word of it.  Then he left for a little while.  Then he came back and told me more details about what would allegedly happen to me.  Still didn’t believe him.  Imagine my surprise when, while I was standing at my locker, this girl started attacking me.  I was too shocked to react in any meaningful way.  Mr. Wade came over, pulled her off of me, and sent us both to the office.  In the office, she gave a nice tale of things that never happened, and we each ultimately got one day of in-school suspension.  During my day there, among other busywork assigned, I had to write an apology letter to her for my alleged transgressions.  In other words, she beat me up, and I was the one who had to apologize.  Talk about adding insult to injury.

It wasn’t until much later that I put two and two together and figured out what really happened, i.e. that Michael Stonier orchestrated the whole thing.  I told you that he was really smart, but was a little shit, didn’t I?  He talked to the girl, who was kind of dumb to begin with, during the lunch period about me, feeding her complete fabrications, and got her all riled up based on these falsehoods.  He then gleefully told me what the girl had said that she would do to me after lunch.  Then he just sat back and watched it all happen.  We both got sent to in-school suspension, and he got away with clean hands.  That realization had me seeing red, but by then, it didn’t matter anymore.

Somehow, I managed to keep that incident from my parents.  At the time, I was too embarrassed to bring it up to them, and the school never asked me for the form that I was supposed to get signed.  My parents learned about it a year or later, when a friend casually brought it up while we were talking about stuff while my mother was nearby, and she overheard.  He didn’t know that she didn’t know about it, and my mother was actually kind of impressed that I was able to keep it from them, as it was well into eighth grade that they found out about it.

In any case, I wonder how much of that could have been prevented had I just beaten the hell out of Michael Stonier at a few strategic junctions.  The jacket incident, I think would have been justified, because he attacked me first.  That being fairly early in the year (early October), it would have set the tone that I was not one for him to trifle with.  Then the few days off from school for the suspension would have meant no abuse from Frank Wade for a time.  Now, my mother would have made sure that a suspension would be quite unpleasant, but if it made school more pleasant afterward by essentially neutralizing Michael Stonier (i.e. mess with me and I will give you something to remember me by), that might have been worth it.  Plus I imagine that his parents had no idea about how he acted in school, and if he had to explain to his parents why he got suspended, they might have had a few things to say to him.  Likewise, if I had realized at the time that he was the mastermind behind the incident where the girl beat me up at my locker, he most certainly would have deserved to get in on that action as well.  After all, I was already in trouble, as I had been assigned to in-school suspension.  Kicking the crap out of Michael Stonier for that would have been very fitting, even if it meant that my in-school suspension day would probably have been upgraded to a full-on suspension.  But it would have gotten him kicked out as well, and likely would have made the rest of that school year easier, since I imagine that it would have kept him at bay for the remaining two months.  Unfortunately, as too often is the case for many bullies, he never got his comeuppance.

These days, I consider seventh grade to be my second-worst school year, after fifth grade.  Thankfully, eighth grade was a much easier year for me.  I had a much better homeroom teacher, and Michael Stonier and I almost never crossed paths.  He was on a different team, and we had zero classes together.  I think I only saw him twice the entire year.  And then when it came time to go to high school, I went to Stuarts Draft, and Michael Stonier went to Wilson.  Good riddance to him.  Frank Wade, on the other hand, well… there was no cure for him.  The way things were scheduled in eighth grade, we would pass each other in the hall every day around 11:00, and he would make this face of disdain at me every day when we passed.  And of course, even as late as 2007, he still couldn’t help but to take a cheap shot at me, even to my mother.  Of course, Mom got the last laugh on that one, since I was working in the DC area by then, which exposed him for the bully that he was.  Last I checked, Frank Wade had retired from the school, with his last several years spent working as an assistant principal, and he is now taking special needs children out on fishing trips.  Hopefully, he treats them better than he did me.