Thoughts: About Bullies

oyster basket

I got a late start today.

I slept in till 7:30, which for me is late, late, late. Then there was the snow. Not a blizzard by any standards, but it still had to be cleaned off the car before I could head out. I couldn’t go straight to my office (OK, my coffee shop where I work some mornings.) because first I had to run by the shop and deal with my other car, which died on my son last night.

Finally, about 9, hours after I am generally well into writing, I got my start.

My poem this morning was sloppy. Forty clever lines that totally disguised what I wanted to say in a lot of very glib and artsy language. It took me quite a while to whittle it down to the three lines that really said it all. I’m not even sure if, at three lines, it qualifies as a poem. More a pithy comment, well written perhaps. But I am a poet and by gum, so I decided to call it a poem. You can decide for yourself. It’s the post just before this one.

And now here it is, ten o’clock and I am just getting down to work. Or at least I will after I finish this meandering little piece.

My work is weird. I don’t have hours. I have appointments and deadlines, but I have the luxury of having a lot flexibility in when I do what I do. I rarely schedule, for instance, appointments early in the morning. This gives me time to write in the mornings, when my mind writes well. And it gives me time to fight that same mind when it decides it wants to be unruly and depressed.

Today it was a bit unruly. My mind likes schedules and recently, it’s been out of whack schedule-wise. No big deal. That is life, after all. Stuff happens. People need things. Good things happen too, fun things and opportunities. Stuff breaks. Life 101. But after a few days of it all, my brain seems to want to rebel. Throw a temper tantrum. Not want to work. Feel a little sorry for myself.

What a brat.

My life is good. I have good work to do that inspires me and challenges me. I have a woman that I love and who loves me. I have two kids to delight in, one who lives with me, and a second one who is moving back to Vermont in a week or two. I have a house, two cars and a cat. I get to be creative. I get to listen to music. I am warm and dry in the winter. The bills get paid. Despite the array of pills I take every morning (or perhaps because of them) my health is good. I have books to read. I live in a beautiful place with interesting people all around me. I have cheese in the icebox.

Take that, brat.

Sometimes my depression is something I need to fight. A big dark blob like the dark sky in Tolkien’s novels. But after years of fighting it, more times than not, it’s become less than that. I know I can beat it back. I am not afraid of it any more. I know I can lose only if I let it win. That as long as I fight back, it’s a brat. A bully. And it will back off when challenged directly.

I’ve had some experience with bullies. One of my grandfathers was one, a big strong man with muscles forged from a lifetime of logging in the Carolina swamps, who bullied his kids, his wife and because I was a skinny young teenager, me. At fourteen I snapped once and took a swing at him.

It was pretty laughable, really. This is a man, who in his late seventies was confronted with a robber at his boat marina and with one punch, laid the man out flat. My grandfather finished counting the money from the register before he called the cops. So a skinny fourteen-year-old kid taking a swing at him was a joke, I am sure. But you know what? He backed off. I never had any trouble with him again. He and I got along for the rest of his life.

I learned something that day. Bullies hate to be confronted or exposed for what they are.

Mostly now, I ignore them. That, I have learned, drives them crazy. They want to feel powerful, these bullies. It is the same whether they are physical bullies or emotional bullies. They need to feel that sense of their own power. Fighting back breaks the cycle, sometimes, though at times they do cause some pain in the process. (Ask me sometimes about the bully I confronted at 15. He basically leveled me. But he DID leave me alone after that. I guess it was too much work.).

Yeah, I’ve done the confrontation thing, both physically and verbally. I’ve become pretty good at both. But I don’t like what I become when I fight back. I can fight hard and dirty and find someone’s vulnerable spots pretty well. I’ve learned from some of the best. But I always, even after I win, feel like I lost because I came down to their level. And I don’t llike that at all,

Ignoring them though? My experience is that they hate that even as much confrontation. It says to them that they, for all their bluster, lies, and threats, don’t matter. It says that we see through their lies and manipulations and fear-mongering and are just fine with who we are. That the last person’s opinion that matters is theirs. It shows trust that the people around us can also see what the bully is.

And generally th,ey do.

I wonder what happens to a bully when enough people get it, when they can’t bully any more because people are not afraid of them any longer. Do they change? Or do they keep trying to bully a new crop of victims? Do they just end up alone?

I have no idea. I am not sure I want to. I don’t even want to give them that much consideration. I don’t even want them to matter that much.

I just know I want to live differently. I want the people in my life to be there because they want to be there. I want them to care for me because they care for me, not because they feel threatened. I want the people in my life to fee safe, physically and emotionally. No eggshells in my house.

I didn’t get this way easy or early. No, I caved a lot, and my journey out was up and down for a fair number of years. Sometimes I was brave and sometimes I wasn’t. I got where I am not because I have any great virtue or strength. I got there by making all the mistakes, some of them more than once, and from time to time stumbling into the right thing, until finally, I got it. Sadly, that seems to be how I got to a lot of my best qualities. But I do get there.

Bullies still exist in my life. I have a couple of them doing their best to make my life miserable. At times, they are a pest. But they are not a threat. Just because they are full of lies and hate doesn’t give them the right to have me think about them a lot or worry about them, or rob my life of the joys that abound around me. I could expose them, fight them, make a public spectacle of them. It could be quite the show. But people would be hurt who don’t deserve that hurt. Revenge is not all it’s cracked up to be. I would not like who I’d become in the process. And I like who I have become so far. It took a long time to get here. I’m not giving that up for anything.

Sometimes, I like getting old. You get a certain perspective.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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