I was in 7th grade. I was always on the lookout for any thing I could do or say that could elicit a laugh from others. Was I funny? Probably not, but I tried. In Health class, our teacher often made us read aloud from the text-book. I was a pretty good reader and even then I loved the sound of my own voice. But you know, if you remember 7th grade or really any grade, you might remember some students do better at reading aloud than others.
Sam Metcalf was in that class. We had gone to different grade schools but, Independence was and is a small town. We had played Little League Baseball and Little League Football together. He was popular and a great athlete. He was handsome, too. Were we friends? I’m not sure I would call us friends.
When it was his turn to read, he sometimes stumbled over his words, stutter a little. In class when the person reading aloud came to a big or new, troublesome word, often another classmate, a know-it-all, would join in, help out. On one afternoon, I saw my opportunity and I seized it. As Sam read aloud from the text-book, when he paused at just the right moment, I interjected. “And,” I said. The inference being Sam was so dumb that he didn’t even know how to pronounce the simplest of words. I got a laugh from the whole class. Sam looked up, surveyed the room, then finally zeroed in on me. He laughed, but honestly, he looked a little crestfallen. We went about the rest of the hour, other people read. I congratulated myself for getting such a big laugh. King of the 7th grade.
When the end of class bell rang, as we scuttled out, my teacher called me over and told me I had to come back after school to talk with him. I knew what it was about. So at the end of the day, I went back to Mr. Jones’ room. He told me that reading aloud was harder for some students than others. He told me that what I did to Sam was cruel. I pouted as he chastised me. I had been teased by so many people much worse than what I did to Sam. “But HE laughed at it,” I implored Mr. Jones, as a sorry defense. Mr. Jones told me that maybe he laughed to cover up the fact that I hurt his feelings. Eventually, I got it, or sort of got it. I can’t remember, but I think he made me apologize to Sam. And I don’t remember there being bad blood between us for the rest of our junior high and high school education, so I guess he forgave me. But…
My last post was a repost of something a friend wrote on Facebook this weekend. It’s a bullying story about getting a friend request from one of his former middle school classmates. I’m still thinking about it. About a year ago, I wrote about being bullied in, actually, that was 7th grade too. It was one of my most trafficked blogs and I think it’s because we all connect with bully stories. We read it and remember our own experiences. Also, we read it and root for the underdog.
One of the things I have thought about this week is what constitutes bullying, especially in those mercurial years like 6th and 7th and 8th grade, where one minute two kids are friends and the next, there is a power shift and one kid is “popular” and the other is an outsider. I think about things I said or did and things that were said or done to me and sometimes, I honestly can’t decide if certain memories are bully-ish or just the normal negotiations of grade school, junior high and high school.
Is it possible that Sam was scarred for life from what happened in Health class that day? It’s possible. It’s also possible that he doesn’t even remember the incident, that I am the only one claiming this baggage. I truly admired Sam and was more than a little jealous of the breezy way he navigated 7th grade. Everyone always loved Sam and I don’t doubt, wherever he is now, they still do.
On my Facebook wall, I put out a plea and I am repeating the plea here, too. In the next few weeks, I would love to share guest blogs on the topic of bullying, from as many viewpoints as possible. I made the joke that the topic feels so 2011, bullying really had its “moment” a while back. But as I said earlier, it’s something that has touched many lives. And you know, if you are reading this thinking, I am so tired of reading about bullying stories, I would love to hear that too. If you are reading this thinking about how you used to be a bully, please know there is value in that story also. We are all of us, bullies and bullied at one time or another. I just don’t think 7th grade is ever very far away for any of us.
So, the forum is open, we would love to hear from you. I would love to hear from you.