By: John Jericiau
I’m going to write about something that I have kept secret for over 30 years. Mom and Dad, when you read this please don’t be sad or upset, because I got through it in one piece. Boys, when you read this some day (and you will), just know that in your generation there’s more awareness in this world about things, and your Papa & I try hard to never let harm come your way. And Alen, when you read this remember that the person you fell in love with (and continue to love) is the culmination of many past experiences, good and bad. I also have felt that sharing this information with you was more of a burden on your heart than an ease on mine.
But I can no longer remain silent. My silence is a show of disrespect for all the 13 year olds that have followed in my path and suffered the same pain and suffering as I have. Being quiet does nothing to help the thousands and thousands of kids that have to live their lives the way I had to.
I’m talking of course about bullying. After having seen the unrated movie Bully tonight as part of our date night (not exactly a romantic comedy), I realize that one of the things that I can do – I mean that I must do – is share my little story. If more people speak out about bullying, maybe more people will care about it.
My family and I lived in New York City until 4th grade, and I really don’t remember much about school there other than I liked it. I was interested in learning new things, and I was always excited to meet other kids and make friends. After my younger brother was hit by a truck (but survived) as he and I crossed what we thought was an empty street, my parents hightailed it out of there and moved us to the suburbs about an hour north of the city. Excellent public schools and beautiful countryside greeted us with open arms.
I dove right in to 4th grade, team sports, and any other extracurricular activities I could. As I progressed through elementary into junior high school I grew into a healthy, albeit skinny, teenager with no real issues (except for zits and braces) except for one thing – the school bus. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of nice friendly students on my bus route. It was a bus route that picked up all the kids that lived on the outskirts of my school district – we were literally a stone’s throw away from the next school district – so the other kids were not neighbors or close friends, but nearly all were still pleasant enough. Nearly all, except for the Smothers brothers.
Of course, Smothers is not their real last name, but because some of my high school friends might be reading this I’m going to omit their real name. The point of writing this particular blog is not to out them but rather out myself and bring myself down a path of healing and action for those that follow me.
I’d always kept an eye on these two as I rode the bus, because they were trouble and everyone knew it. I stayed clear of them, and counted my blessings that, thanks to some angelic route planners, the bus would pick me up near the beginning of the route and the Smothers brothers near the end of it. I sat near the front and friends filled in the other seats around me long before they had a chance to get on and make their way to the very back of the bus. Occasionally we would hear yells or screams of pain from innocent bysitters, but for the most part I had nothing to do with them.
All that changed when a newly hired route planner reconfigured the bus route just before I started 8th grade. We got the notice in the mail but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Terror hit me, however, when sitting on the busride home that first day and I realized that I was now the second to last stop of the bus route, and the Smothers brothers were the last! Our bus driver was completely oblivious to the happenings on the bus each afternoon, so for all intents and purposes I would be alone with this duo for almost ten minutes every day. I tried not to panic, but my worst fears were almost immediately imagined.
It started with throwing things at the back of my head and progressed from there. Kicking the back of my seat. Smacking the back of my head. Flicking my ears. Spilling things on my shoulder.
Thinking back, I have absolutely no idea why I told no one. I don’t know why I didn’t fight back. I know that I was (and still am) extremely embarrassed that it was happening, so it became my little secret. But I really wish I nipped it in the bud, because it escalated. Grabbing my books and throwing them out the window. Trying to grab my shoes and do the same. Punching me. Shoving me. Beating me.
This went on for months, but then finally I’d had enough. I ran. Literally. I started to run the 4 miles to school every morning and take a shower there before the morning bell. I upped my extracurricular activities at school so that I never had to take that bus again. But they still weren’t completely unavoidable. Once the brothers happened to bump into me at my locker at the end of the regular school day, so they stuffed me in it and locked it. Once they happened to see me go in the boys’ locker room right after school, so they snuck in, threw me across the locker room, and broke my ankle.
Didn’t these losers know who I was? Didn’t they know I would one day be Student Body President and Prom King? Didn’t they know I was popular, friendly, and an all-around good guy?
I don’t want my sons to experience this. It seems an inevitability when it comes to teenage boys, but maybe that’s actually a mindset that we can change – one story at a time.