Mitt Romney recently had a story circulating about him in which, as a young man, he took it upon himself to hold down some guy and forcibly cut his hair. Romney’s since offered a notpology about his youthful pranking and says he doesn’t remember the incident in question but knows with focused clarity that he certainly didn’t think the other guy was gay! Heavens no! So he doesn’t remember doing the thing, but he knows he didn’t possibly do it for that reason.
I didn’t mention this story at the time because I didn’t see the point. Everyone knows Mitt Romney is an unapologetic asshole and by all reckoning has been one for some time. Hell, even people who are charged up about voting for him know this, and it’s one of the reasons they like him. I didn’t think it added anything to the ongoing narrative, since all it meant was people who already didn’t like him would just have themselves another hate parade and everyone else would just shrug and dismiss it as irrelevant or a fantasy of the liberal media or whatever those people tell themselves.
Then I read this article, in which the writer uses this story as a springboard to his own tale as a bully. A lot of things in that story hit home for me.
Despite being a weak, small, skinny nerd in school, I wasn’t bullied that much in school. The exception was in Junior High, when a hateful little kid named Blake decided to make my life a living hell for a while (he eventually solved my problem by dropping out of school). I remember him quite well, and have even looked him up on Facebook. Yep, he’s there.
Part of why I had an okay time of it in middle school was thanks to a kid we’ll call Tom. Tom was a guy who I was thankful to have around because he kept the bullies away from me. After all, he was a much more attractive target.
I know how I felt having Blake torment me and I know that as bad as that was, Tom had it infinitely worse. I had one kid who had decided to pick on me; Tom had many of them. I feared the time between when school let out and when my would-be-played-by-Jack-Warden bus driver would eventually come to pick us up (Blake rode my bus); Tom feared every single moment of every single day, I’m sure. Blake pushed me around but never punched me; Tom got into plenty of “fights” (consisting of someone else beating on him). So yeah, nothing I went through can really compare to what he went through, so we aren’t linked in bullydom, at least not in that way.
But we are in the way that I contributed to his being bullied.
I never physically assaulted Tom (that I remember) but I certainly aimed some verbal and other abuse at him. I needed him to be kept down because it spared me, and it made me know that I was not, at least, at the very bottom of the ladder (this was, incidentally, before my experiences with Blake). I can tell myself that I didn’t do much to him, that if he remembers me at all it’s probably not as one of the major antagonists, but the fact is, I did some things. I picked on him because he was the established person to pick on, because it benefited me both directly and indirectly. Like the author of the above article, that’s something I did.
What do I do with this? I know how to easily get in touch with Tom, but my experience (and the experiences of others) are that going to the person and apologizing is kind of self-serving and counterproductive. I don’t want Blake to suddenly show up out of the blue and apologize for making my life miserable decades ago. I was glad when he left my life and don’t want him back in, even to say he’s sorry. It happened, it’s over, I’ve moved on, and there’s nothing to be gained from revisiting it. The only thing such an exchange would serve would be for him to feel better, to feel as though he “did something” and I’m not really interested in him feeling better. That’s not my job. If I go to Tom and say, “hey, I’m really sorry” am I genuinely improving anything at all for him, or am I once again using him to make myself feel better?
On the other hand, is that just rationalization to avoid what would — and should — be an awkward and embarrassing conversation? Am I pretending to spare Tom’s feelings in order to spare my own? In other words, am I once again using him to make myself feel better?
I don’t know the answer here. I am truly sorry about what I did. It was not only mean, it was cowardly and manipulative. It’s one of the things I carry around as Something I Did. If it means anything to Tom, should he read this, I remember it (I especially remember an incident in Mr. Chapman’s social studies class) and am ashamed of it.
I’m also pretty sure that Tom isn’t the only person I should feel bad about treating this way.