by J. L Sloss

Reading Mike Todd’s article “Boy’s Too Sweet …” about his five year old little boy getting bullied in the June 4 issue of the Local brought back some very old and painful memories for me. I was reminded about all of the bullies I’ve met in my life, and I also remembered how I was raised to deal with those people and situations. I learned that bullies can come in all sizes, shapes, ages and genders. I learned that bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological or all three.

I encountered my very first bully when I was 5. I went to Frog Hollow kindergarten, a private school near Blue Bell that’s not there anymore but where Arthur Godfrey’s and Arlene Francis’ kids went (if anybody’s old enough to remember who they were). We each put up our own cot, grabbed a blanket if needed and took a nap every afternoon. The first few days I was at school this girl would come over to me as I was lying there and beat on my chest with both of her fists (or on my back if I was lying on my stomach).

I told my parents who looked at the bruises on my chest and back and told me two things: one, tell the teacher, and two, if it doesn’t stop, fight back! The first thing worked. The second thing was something my parents always advised. Never start a fight, but if someone starts one with you, fight back.

When I was 14, I was enrolled in a dance class. We had a special event where we could bring a friend. I had a huge crush on this guy named John, so I invited him. Now I really didn’t know him all that well, but he seemed like a gentleman, and he had been flirting with me, so I took that to mean that he was interested in me. We danced for a while, all the typical stuff like the fox trot and waltz.

Then some of us took a break, but John was paired up with another partner. I was sitting on the sidelines as those dancing went around in a circle. At the point that John danced by me, he intentionally stomped — hard — right on my foot! Then he looked at me with a menacing smirk as though saying, “Ha! I got you! What are you gonna do about it?!”

Wow! Definitely physical and psychological bullying! I told the adults at the dance class, and they reprimanded him. I told my parents when they picked us up, and they reprimanded him. I told HIS parents when they picked him up from my house, and THEY reprimanded him. AND I told everybody I ran into at school that next Monday. His reputation was shot. Oh yes, and so was any relationship we might have had.

But the worst bullying situation I’ve ever run into by far was from my second husband, John (not his real name). How I let myself get into that situation is still a mystery to me. He was controlling. He was obsessive. We had a daughter together who spent most of her time with my parents because of all the upheaval at John’s house.

One night John threw me to the ground and started to choke me; then, in his very dramatic way (he was a would-be actor) he suddenly stopped, put his hand to his forehead and said “Oh, I can’t do this!” Another night, he tried to throw me down the stairs, but I grabbed onto his shirt and broke my fall. Then I walked a mile and a half to the Plymouth Township police department in bare feet and my nightgown and was taken to Suburban General Hospital (now Mercy Suburban), where I was treated for scratches and bruises.

My parents picked me up and took me to their house, where shortly thereafter John came and apologized over and over. He said he didn’t know what had gotten into him, yadda, yadda, yadda. I still didn’t get it; I guess. I picked up our two-year-old girl and went home with him, and I did not press charges against him.

Then, the next month, he tried to hurt our daughter. I left him, filed for divorce with full disclosure about what he’d done, and I sued him for all the money I’d spent paying his bills while he refused to work during our marriage — thousands of dollars. I ran into him several years later. He came toward me in an obvious threatening way and said, “I just want you to know I’m suing for custody of our daughter.” I looked him in the eye and said, “What judge is going to grant you custody after all the things you’ve done to me and her. Don’t even think about it!” He walked away that night and never contacted me or our daughter again. Guess he realized I wasn’t a victim anymore. (He died in October, 2007, of natural causes at age 80. He was 20 years older than I.)

The point of my stories is this: If someone stands up to bullies, they’ll stop. Bullies are inherently people with low self-esteem — and, they’re cowards. Believe me, if they meet with resistance, they’ll quickly find a more brittle target. Parents need not only to teach their children to be respectful of others and, most of all, they need to teach children to stand up to bullying of any kind and to fight back!

J. L. Sloss is a writer of articles and short stories. Recently retired, she had a 40-year career with a major insurance company as a corporate trainer, marketing manager, proposal unit manager and proposal content writer. She is also a songwriter and performer with a four-piece band called Timber Line that plays local venues, including Drake’s Catering’s Garden in Chestnut Hill. She is a resident of Wyndmoor.