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Finding Your Bully
Published on September 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Salon has started a new series that I find rather interesting. The online publication is inviting readers to get in touch with "someone who made your life miserable as a kid," interview them, and write about it for Open Salon. In the first post, writer Steve Almond talks to former classmate Sean Lynden, who made his life miserable in the eighth grade.

Here's an excerpt:

"I hadn't seen Sean since our high school graduation, nearly 30 years ago. I'd gone on to become a writer and teacher in the Boston area. All I knew about him was that he still lived in California and worked for a venture capital firm. I was certain that he'd decline my request. But I'd underestimated him. He wrote back:

Hey Steve -- happy to talk. Your story is interesting as I honestly don't remember that. Then again, given human nature I find it easy to believe that I may have forgotten or purged a memory where I was the villain.

A few days later, we talked by phone. What follows is an abridged version of our conversation. (I've changed a few names, at Sean's request.)

So, like I said, I wanted to talk about this brief, intense period of time when -- and I realize this is a memory, so it's totally subjective -- but it felt like you really hated me.

Really?

Yeah. It was mostly in this metal shop class we took together.

I definitely remember taking that metal shop class in eighth grade. And I was thinking about it, since you sent that original email, and I do remember being in a relationship with someone where I was the bully or the dominant, because I remember feeling that. But I never would have put two and two together and thought it was you.

I had this sense of being totally frozen out. And it was clear, or it seemed clear to me, that you were calling the shots. You were the alpha of that group.

It's funny you would say that, because this was around the time that Billy Dempsey entered the picture --

Yeah, I remember Billy coming up to me at the lockers, I think you were there for this, and threatening to kick my ass.

I don't remember that, but it wouldn't surprise me. The thing is, we had this very tortured relationship where I spent the entire time trying to prove myself to him. Billy was athletically more gifted than me and he was fearless and willing to get into fights with anybody, whereas I always saw myself as an egghead nerd. So it's quite possible, I could easily see, if there was an opportunity for me to prove to Billy that I was his equal in terms of being the macho guy I would have grabbed at it."

The interview goes on for a while, and it's pretty compelling. I've always wondered what bullies are thinking. Like, what motivates them to get up in the morning and be mean to other kids for no apparent reason? In any case, Almond's interview provides some clues.

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