• Kevin O'Keefe

Bully

Updated: Nov 8, 2019


My pupils dilate, I can actually feel the black expanding, while my blue iris contracts. Blood leaves my extremities and thunders toward my heart. I hear the valves of my heart open, and close, automatically like a tollbooth gate. My peripheral vision gets blurry and the only thing I see directly in front of me is his nose, which looks like flesh colored Play-doh.

I say, “Now you’re in my personal space.” He backs up, rolls some deodorant to under his arm and calls me another name. I forget now which one.

I say, “That’s number seven.”

It’s been a long time since I was in junior high school. Yet here I am being bullied in a locker room.


Have you ever traveled in time? Been twelve and past fifty in the same instant? I have. I did. This was just this past week or maybe it was forty years ago, who’s sure. Time can be a smoky bitch. So let’s return to something more corporeal. My throat got dry and words escaped like convicts tumbling over a fence, one after another but with an erratic rhythm. Who knows what the other guy- this fucker was feeling. He was twenty years younger, five, maybe six inches taller. I’m sipping air through a straw and standing on ice that cracks, but not directly under me, as far away as a train whistle.


The Bully calls me another name. I say, “That’s the eighth name you’ve called me.” I don’t know what else to do, except broadcast it. He’s poking, prodding, looking for the right combination of words and actions that’ll make me go ballistic. Later my wife will tell me he was looking to connect, to wash away the humiliation he received at someone else’s hands. At the time it all seems so surreal that when I thought about it later I speculated that drugs might be involved (or the lack of them), like maybe he’s gone off whatever meds make him palatable to the world or he was coming down from a coke binge, or maybe this was ‘Roid rage.

If this was really me in junior high I would’ve talked myself out of this mass, or pretended I didn’t hear well. I certainly wouldn’t confront him in any way. If I was on top of my junior high game I might’ve tried to make him laugh. If that didn’t work I’d do my Road Runner imitation. Maybe (just to get a thrill) I’d call him a name from a safe distance, but because I’m a middle aged man (most of the time), one who likes to think he may have one last fist fight left in him, I stand my ground, and tell this guy, since he asked, exactly, What is my fucking problem.“My name is not ‘buddy’, or ‘dude’, or ‘clown boy’. It’s Kevin and if you want to talk to me that’s the way you address me.” 

I saw his wheels spin and I hoped he was one of those bullies that blows away when confronted with a pinprick of clarity. He finds another name to call me– not very creative and quite the potty mouth. I respond, “You’re all talk aren't you?”


If this was a movie, like Karate Kid, he would kick my ass. Then I would find Mr. Mioshi. He’d be stern, but his glint of kindness would reel me in. Mioshi would begin to teach me in some mysterious defense method. I’d learn to be not so mouthy, maybe eventually, even a little humble. I’d learn the secrets of the warrior, trust his old ways. Then, after my transformation: the Big Test. I return to the scene of the crime–the junior high locker room to encounter the bully. I show a little fear when he and his two cronies corner me. Bullies like that. I call for non-violence, mixed in with some false respect. The Bully snickers and then delivers a torrent of abuse. One of his buddies nods his bobble head. After I try to pass them peacefully, the Bully sucker punches me. So I fight. He’s surprised, even a little impressed, but still I pose no threat he’ll enjoy kicking my ass. He senses my new found power and begins to suspect a miscalculation, but it is too late. Our clash spills out into quad where the entire junior high is drawn to witness from the windows of their classrooms. One of his pals tries to trip me up. He tells them to stay out of it – Fair fight. 

That curly red-haired girl notices our conflict and though she hates violence instantly recognizes this as a fight for justice. She wants me to be safe but also punish the bully so that others won’t have to suffer in the future. Though injured, I heroically vanquish him. The Bully is carried off the field by his buddies. Later that day I will walk the curly red-haried girl to the steps of her dance studio.


Back to the present day.

“You wanna take this outside?” he asks.

“Sure, we can go outside.” 

And just like that we leave the locker room to the parking lot. I am walking slightly ahead of him, quite unsure of what I or we will do, but somehow confident that if he touches me, throws the first punch, I will rip his head off. I am surprised at the depth of my rage and am cognizant that I am literally in fight or flight. 

He says, “OK, let’s drop our bags and go, right here.”

I say, “Sure.”

But I notice I don’t drop my bag. I smile as if possessing a secret, a secret I will later reflect as the suspicion that I could kill if I had to. 

He says, “I’m serious.”

I say, "So am I.”

I notice though I am still walking to my car. 

He calls me a few more names.

I say, “That’s number eleven.”

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