The contribution

As we pulled out, I waved to my family. My aunt commented that my mom was really crying, and she seemed surprised that it was that hard for her to see me go for two weeks. I hadn’t been away from home for more than a night before that.

I was going to stay with relatives for two weeks and come back to our family reunion with them. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades. We didn’t have middle school then, so the coming year was the first of junior high. I had kind of been manic in the latter half of the school year, though it would be years before I knew that’s what it was. It was kind of good in that it broke me out of my shell. I was always very shy and quiet. Unfortunately, that returned by fall and lasted for a few more years.

So, we were off, amidst the tears. I realized years later that my mom was crying because she felt so bad about my brother not getting to go too. My aunt had called my mom and made the suggestion.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough room in their car for everyone on the way back with luggage and all, so only I was going.

It begs the question, why extend the invitation at all if it was only going to be for one? Then I thought maybe my mom should have declined the invitation. I guess she didn’t want us both to miss out. My brother and I were just 14 months apart in age, he the older one, and we did everything together.

My brother was gracious about letting me go. While he was close to our cuz too, he knew that I always had a special bond with him. I’m sure he still felt left out, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of things, or go places, because we didn’t have the money and my parents didn’t get much vacation. I don’t know if they had any paid vacation. My mom was working at a blouse mill and my dad worked at a hardware store.

Once at my cousin’s house, I had a really nice time. It was early in the summer, and the weather was great.  As I said, my cousin and I had a special bond. We only saw each other once a year, but we always picked right up where we left off. They lived in a city, and we went to museums and other fun things.

We also ate out two or three times. Near the end of the trip, my aunt asked me for money for those times we ate out and they had paid for everyone, including me. I was surprised that she was asking for it, but being only 11, I didn’t protest. The problem was, that I had only $13 at the start of the trip, some of which I had spent on a puddle jumper at the Children’s Museum.

My aunt’s response to that information was, “You mean your mother sent you out here with only thirteen dollars?”  Instead of feeling angry at her, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt inadequate. I was aware that my family was poorer than most everyone else I knew, but this was kind of a painful reminder. And, she still took the my money. I had wanted to get my brother a souvenir of some kind. My aunt said I could pick something out of a box of items she picked up here and there for our annual Christmas gift exchange via mail.

I selected a fancy plastic ruler with “wood” grain through the middle. I’ll never forget the disappointed look on my brother’s face when I presented it to him.

Well, that was more than three decades ago. (Is that possible?) I must admit I still feel resentment when I think of that incident, but I have forgiven it. I remind myself of her good qualities, which I’ll share with you now. She was fun to be around and had an infectious laugh.

My uncle worked for the post office and he used to joke that she gave him job security, because she sent cards to everyone for birthdays and anniversaries and such. She was very good about that. She kept track of everything. She worked hard selling Tupperware to help support the family. She actually won a sales contest not long before my visit. The prize was the station wagon we rode in.

She also had diabetes for as long as I could remember. She was on dialysis for the last ten years of her life, until heart complications took her too soon. I think she was 72, so she made it pretty long, considering. We all still miss her.

How I met my bully

I had a paper route when I was a kid. I think it was from about 6th to 8th grades. It was a small town rag, the Bangor Daily News, eight pages or so. Pretty light work. Good thing since it was a whole dollar for the two week collection period. Guess I’m dating myself.

I remember delivering it through all kinds of weather. A record summer where it was in the 90’s about every day all summer. An ice storm which found me teetering on the edge of the curb as if I stood at the top of a hundred foot precipice, desperately trying to save face and not tumble over the edge in an embarrassing array of flailing limbs.  The jock who delivered the bigger regional newspaper in the same part of town, looked on with a sort of bemused suspense from across the street. I managed to recover my balance, long enough to take a step and then fall anyway.  No harm was done.

Then there was the thunderstorm that blew my umbrella inside out, and the time I went to put up my umbrella, but when I pushed the button, it flew right off the handle on to the sidewalk. And then opened. Good times.

I look back now and laugh, and value the character building experience. Some of that character building came in a different way, which I value even more, though it’s not so funny.

I had several encounters with an older kid and his sidekick/friend. To this day, I’m not sure if he wanted to fight me and was pushing me to that end, or if he just wanted to see how much I would tolerate.

What I do know is that I was totally passive in those meetings. I talked back to him, kind of defensively, but I didn’t raise a fist, or shove him or block him or anything physical. I tried to just keep walking. They would walk along with me, but block my way at some point. It wasn’t that I was refusing to be violent, or making a conscious decision to be forgiving or turn the other cheek. I simply didn’t want to deal with it.

I didn’t want the other boys to be there, to bother me, or even to talk to me. I just wanted to deliver my papers and make the long walk back home to resume reading the latest fantasy epic I’d picked up at Waldenbooks at the mall. (Now I’m really dating myself.)

I couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to another person. It was so alien to me. Unfathomable. And I suppose that led to the feeling that I was doing something to deserve it, that I must have annoyed him somehow.

The bully started with verbal antagonizing the first time I saw him and the sidekick. I can’t say for sure how many times I ran into them, but two times were more distinctive.

One was shortly after a snowstorm and in his efforts to pick a fight had me head first in a snowbank. I was trying to get up and he was pushing me down. A car going by honked loudly, and slowed down. That was enough to scare them off for the day.

The other time, the bully was taunting me with a cigarette saying I wouldn’t even know how to smoke it. I said I didn’t and I wouldn’t want one. He flashed his lighter in my face several times, until finally he accidentally caught a bit of my hair with the flame. I remember that he looked genuinely concerned, and he patted the singed hairs out.

Both boys laughed heartily of course, but some part of him felt bad. I thought about the look on his face sometime later, and I knew that he didn’t come from a good family, just by knowing the part of town he was from. I assumed that he was abused, and that’s why he was acting out. Yet, despite all that, he felt bad when he went too far. I could forgive him then.

But again, I can’t say there was any lofty nobility at the time this was going on, except for God’s presence in me. But I think my low energy, depression and anxiety, and low self esteem left me all but paralyzed in the face of a bully I just wanted to avoid.

Perhaps this is why I get so incensed by injustices now. But some kind of reaction is good for me, and anger can be useful when channeled into something constructive. I hope I’ve found a good balance.