I have never been in a fight, not really. There were some close calls, to be sure. In elementary school, I was bullied for my rotundness. I passively endured, knowing that physically fighting would only result in discipline at school and at home. But at the start of my sophomore year of high school, and after having been the subject of an older student’s heckling, vandalism and emotional abuse my freshman year, I did address the situation. I lifted him up by the shirt color, thumped him against a locker, and told him this was not how we were going to be spending this year or the rest of high school. He complied, left me alone, and by the time he graduated, we had even had a few friendly interactions. However, there was no scuffle or physical combat of any sort, aside from the 6 inches I elevated him from the floor followed by the sudden “bang!” of his shoulder blades lightly impacting the dilapidated locker.
I have never been in a fight, not really. But there is a fight I wish I started. Let me set the stage.
It was early March of senior year in high school. In New Hampshire, there was still fresh snow on the ground and several friends I’d known since I was 8 decided to stage a snow ball fight in the hall way. It was fairly premeditated (as most of their shenanigans were). They brought coolers from home to move the the previous night’s precipitation and filled their lockers with fresh, heavy snow. I may have even volunteered my locker too. In my high school, we had a space called “Senior Square.” There was nothing glamorous about this space. It was nothing more than a large open area where the hallways met. Three walls of this square were occupied by the senior lockers. Very clever name indeed. 7th period wrapped up and students began milling about, off to their lockers to prepare for practice, the bus, rehearsal and the like.
And then my friends opened their lockers. And the snow balls flew. Even those of us who hadn’t conspired grabbed fistfuls of the cold stuff and vaulted them at each other. Many others joined in until some teachers and administrators broke it up. It was all rather harmless, albeit disruptive.
The snowball throwing was over. And then this kid (I’ll call him Lewis) walked by the Square. Lewis was a freshman, and he grew up with my younger sister. I never had any interaction with Lewis, but I knew who he was. Lewis was very large young man who always wore sweat pants and had a scent that gave away the fact that he did not maintain the best hygiene. I only remember seeing one friend with him; otherwise he was often alone, immersed in his Game Boy.
The crowd had quieted down and had begun dispersing. I looked to see a friend of mine forming a snowball from what was the last of the snow in his locker. By this time, the snow was wet and even heavier, and he had formed it into a mass the size of a soft ball. I watched his arm extended and the packed ball of snow, now glazed in ice arced over our heads. I can remember it all moving in slow motion…
The ball smashed against the back of Lewis’ head as he was heading up the stairs. The snowball only broke into 5 pieces, stuck in his long, greasy hair. Lewis merely kept on walking until he was out of sight. Maybe he kept walking because the hallways of high schools have a current all their own which keep students moving along. Or maybe Lewis experienced enough abuse that a snow ball to the head was nothing abnormal for a school day.
I only know the snowball hit him hard, and I can recall watching his whole head bob forward at the moment of impact. And my gut knotted up. I wanted to nothing more but to drive my fist into my friend’s face for what he had done to Lewis. Lewis was not a a member of our social circle. He was not taking part in our shenanigans. Lewis was only trying to get to his locker and go home. Maybe he was longing to get away from the adolescent cesspool that, for many young people, is high school.
Lewis was nailed with a snowball because he was there, he was different, and my friend was an asshole.
I could have punched my friend, and looking back a part of me wishes I had. I wish I had decked my friend, and grappled with him right there in Senior Square, pouring out retribution for potentially ruining a veritable stranger’s day.
Yet, it would not have been retribution. It would have been revenge, and specifically revenge on my behalf, not Lewis’. How would splitting my friend’s lip or bloodying my friend’s nose have brought Lewis any comfort? At the very least, Lewis was already upstairs packing his backpack and shaking snow from his hair. In those seconds, standing in Senior Square, I burned with the smoldering anger of hot coals. And those hot coals, left dormant for ten years, were ignited into flames as by a sudden draft at watching that snowball hit poor, unassuming Lewis. Every cry of “fat-boy” and every chorus of cruel laughter from grade school, echoed throughout my subconscious. I burned with anger, but at the time did not know why. Oh, to know what secrets we keep, especially from ourselves…
As I reflect on this moment, I am struck by how much more humiliating this could have been for Lewis if iPhones had been as common a teen accessory a decade ago as they are now. Would the moment been captured on video and posted to YouTube or Snapchat? Would it have gone viral? Would thousands of teens, instead of less than a dozen, laughed at a snowball striking the unsuspecting Lewis?
I cannot fathom the degree to which social media and smartphones have made bullying more pervasive and toxic. And I have no idea where to start.
But today I prayed for forgiveness. Forgiveness both for my complicity in the snowball throwing, and for my my lack of objection. Forgiveness for my burning anger. And forgiveness for my lust for violence that would have served no good purpose. A lust for violence that would have healed no wounds, whether they be my wounds or Lewis’.
And then I prayed for Lewis. I prayed that a decade later, he is surrounded by people who love him. I pray that he has embraced gifts and talents that maybe only he was aware of, and maybe those he is just awakening. I pray that life after high school brought far fewer bullies, and far more friends.