If Josh was King of the Bullies, then B and D were definitely his henchmen. When Josh decided he wanted to taunt me, he would send them to corner me and keep me in a certain spot – safe from the prying eyes of any teachers.
There I’d be – hanging out with the rest of the girls in my 6th or 7th grade class, somewhere on the playground or in the gym – and I’d see them coming towards me. Their faces set in steely expressions, their feet synchronized, arms pumping and fingers pointing. They’d advance upon me and command me to “Stay.” Like I was a stray dog.
They would laugh and flirt with the other girls and then give me a slanted look. The rest of the girls would get the hint and scatter - often looking back at me over their shoulders.
Then, the henchmen would do a little reconnaissance.
They’d spot the teacher. If the teacher looked over at us, all she’d see were three kinds hanging out. Not one teacher ever noticed I was only standing there because I was frozen to the ground in fear. Sometimes, the spot would be perfect. There would be no teacher. Other times, the henchmen would make me move to another spot where we would all wait for Josh.
They’d stand on either side of me, like guard dogs, until Josh arrived. Then they’d step back, and watch Josh go to work on me. Often, they’d join in on the taunting. After my humiliation was over, they’d leave with Josh. And I was alone.
There were things I never understood about the henchmen.
For one thing, they were both more than a “little” pudgy. Yet, they laughed the hardest when Josh made me repeat “I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. No one likes me.”
Over and over again, I was forced to say it. And it never ceased to amuse them.
D was a pudgy, but tall, kid who had been adopted by one of my school’s teachers. B was big (even bigger than I was) and menacing when he was with Josh. But when they weren’t with Josh, they mostly left me alone.
I figured out pretty early that they had agreed to be Josh’s henchmen, only to protect themselves from becoming his targets. They weren’t even necessarily Josh’s friends – just a tool he could use. And they were okay with it, since it kept them out of the line of fire. And, since I understood, I was more lenient in my views towards them.
Not that I can ever forget their mocking faces, taunting voices, or the time they tried to “out swear” one another on creatively mean nicknames for me. That was their own little game they like to play while we waited for Josh to amble on over to us.
After Josh was expelled at the end of 7th grade, B and D left me alone. In fact, I’m not even sure we ever talked about those moments – even though D and I were in the same 8 person graduating class.
When I was in college, I came home one weekend for my cousin Brad’s high school graduation from my alma mater. I had lost over 100 pounds since high school and looked pretty good (if I do say so myself) in a little deep purple suede number.
I saw D across the room. Later, he came up to me. He had recognized me. He actually tried to flirt with me. We were both single at the time, and he wanted to take me out to dinner. A million thoughts went through my head. I saw the charming face in front of me morph back into the twisted yelling face that had called me names. Had kept calling them, even when I begged him to stop.
I smiled at him. “D,” I said. “I’m still the same person inside. And I’m sure you are, too. You didn’t want me then. And I don’t want you now.” As I walked away, the 7th grade girl inside me stood up and cheered.
The other day, I was eating lunch with Carleen at T.G.I. Fridays. As we were eating, I looked around the restaurant. That’s when I saw him. B. Sitting there with some guys eating dinner. He lifted his head, and our eyes met across the room. I saw the light of recognition in his eyes and a sliver of embarrassment and shame passed through them. It wasn’t much, but after all these years, you know, it was enough for me.
I don’t know what B’s doing nowadays, but I do know D’s been married, divorced, and gone though drug and alcohol rehab programs. And I guess that’s why it’s a lot easier for me to let go of what they put me through. They were under Josh’s spell, and his thumb, just as much as I was.
But it seems life has paid them back, and I don’t need to add any more to their sorrow.
Enough people have been hurt.