The ordeal of Ronin Shimizu, the 12-year-old boy who killed himself after years of bullying, brought up some unpleasant memories for me and, I am sure, a lot of other Sacramento Bee readers.
My life at Johanna Junior High School in the St. Paul, Minn., suburbs was rather unpleasant for a year or two in the early 1970s. I was pretty short: 4-11 or so. All my friends were shooting up, and my growing taller seemed stalled. All of sudden I wasn’t getting picked for baseball and football teams, two sports I dearly loved. I was also a kid who had interests that didn’t really line up with my peer group. Reading the Warren Commission Report and following Watergate obsessively probably weren’t the worst things I could have been doing, but it wasn’t endearing to any girls (or boys).
In summary, I was a short dork.
A teenage growth spurt and 40 years have healed a lot of wounds, but I have vivid memories of that time. I became a hobby, shall we say, for a couple of guys who, if I saw them on the street today, would not merit my nod.
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One kid was particularly adept at different ways to inform you that he was unsure of your sexual orientation, combining it with a nice swipe of his hand across the back of my head. Last time I heard about him, he was engaged in a massive real estate fraud scheme.
Another guy was a bathroom wall poet, and I was the subject of some of his sonnets.
Now, I did have friends, and we have done pretty well in life, considering we were short dorks. But we had many long, bitter talks about how we could avoid certain people in the halls.
Bullying is bad, but being ignored is another strategy that the junior high hoi polloi engage in. We didn’t have social media back then, just the bathroom wall. I drifted through a lot of my day not being spoken to, and I spent a lot of time drawing things in my notebooks and plotting my 2008 presidential campaign.
The coin of the realm in junior high school is athletic ability, looks and, well, brains wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. They’re rather a liability to a 12-year-old. You’re a nerd, a dweeb, a fruit. The ability to speak confidently about engines and hockey were subjects where I fell short.
One time I walked into the school library, and I happened upon a table full of my fellow baseball team members offering an imitation of how I threw the ball as a catcher. Unbeknownst to them, I saw the performance. It was devastating. But life goes on.
When I went to my high school reunion 25 years later, I noted that many of these guys had lost quite a bit of hair and put on weight. And, in a moment that demonstrated my smallness about it all, I saw a guy at the bar who was on the swim team with me.
I slapped him on his gut, which was impressive.
“Hey, (a butterfly swimmer with nice washboard abs in 1974, name redacted), I see you’re not doing the backstroke anymore.”
It was small of me. But after a couple of years bullying by him and others, it felt kind of like justice had been served. A little.
So, if there are any middle school or high school bullies out there, I would say this: Sometimes people grow up and become cartoonists and may draw you.
And to those kids who are bullied now, there is life after bullying. I promise. I wish I could have told Ronin Shimizu that.