A year or so after a kindergarten boy held me up against the play yard wall with his big tummy, I was still enduring his taunts and bullying. One afternoon after school another little girl and I were waiting on the steps outside for our mothers to pick us up. It strikes me that today it would be unusual for two tiny six-or-seven-year-old girls to be alone and unwatched outside a school, even at midday.
Steven happened to come out the door as we sat waiting. He began his taunts, “You’re Hop-Along Cassidy!” Oh, no, I groaned internally. More name-calling for the polio girl, and no teacher nearby to inhibit him. (I also participated, though rarely, in name-calling in grammar school years.) I told him crossly to leave me alone. I was never afraid to talk back, but that’s just the type of behavior that eggs a bully on. With no warning, he punched me full force in the solar plexus. It knocked the wind out of me and I could not get a breath in or out, let alone speak. The three of us were stunned, shocked, mouths agape; I am certain that Steven never thought he could cause such a dramatic response.
My girlfriend ran into the school for help, and a teacher came out in less than a minute, finding me gasping for breath, Steven standing there with eyes wide, paralyzed by the effect of his violence. Too young to know to flee the scene of the crime. Mrs. Malloy grabbed him by the arm and asked me if I was all right. I was still in shock but nodded that I was OK. I muttered in my disbelief, “He punched me in the stomach!” Steven was hauled off to Principal Nason’s office, who happened to live just around the corner from us. He knew our family and my condition. In those days, corporeal punishment was still legal in grammar school, and we all knew that Steven got the licking of his life. Mr. Nason never said a word to me about it, but Steven gave me a wide berth for the rest of grammar school. My mother’s words on hearing the story were to stay clear of him… as if I had not already tried. My belief is that many things happen to children that they are not able to fully articulate, and that there are a lot of times when adults make up the gaps in the story with potentially discounting (or even prejudiced) versions.
I realize now that poor Steven was probably bullied at home. It may have been a case of kicking the dog, finding someone who was below you on the totem pole who could not fight back or run from the “fat kid.” I would guess that kids called Steven “Fatty.” But in my early school days, I could not know or understand any of that, and was just glad my hero the principal had wailed on my nemesis and I was relatively safe at school. Although “Hop-Along Cassidy” had caught on with a few other kids, at least they didn’t get so physical.