Dirk*. That was the name of a bully in my 4th grade class. Blonde mushroom cut hair, bright red or black sweatpants, and a t-shirt, usually white or light grey. He made sure his voice was heard and that no one would get in his way. I remember a particular day at school where we were told to do an activity with the people sitting at our table and Dirk was sitting at mine. I had no problem with it, despite not enjoying his company, as I was focused solely on doing the activity and getting through it, hopefully with learning something in the process. When the teacher announced the specifics of what we had to do first in our groups, I looked at the people I was sitting with to figure out who was going to do what and when I glanced over at Dirk his eyes met mine and the steam started coming out of his ears; in other words his anger started coming out. He screamed “What are you looking at?!” to me. “Nothing, my eyes are just wondering” I spoke softly to him. I then moved my eyes back onto the teacher, who continued to give more directions to the class. Quietly I sat until it was time to interact with my group. As I turned myself to face the people who were sitting across from me, my eyes went on Dirk again, the group member who was going to help with the next step. As soon as he saw my eyes touch his, he aggressively got out of his chair, causing it to fall backward, and stood towering over me at the table, as he continued to yell “Stop looking at me!” He shouted over and over to me to stop looking at him and the angrier he got the more I felt my eyes water and my mouth quiver, wanting to frown. I sat there in my chair trying to speak, trying to tell him I wasn’t staring and that I was just acknowledging that he was a part of the group and that this was a group project. The more I spoke, the more he didn’t want me to and just continued shouting. I sat in my seat, helpless, sad, trying not to burst into tears. Finally the teacher came over to ask Dirk what the problem was. I was so upset that I didn’t say a single word, I just let him get his anger out until eventually he calmed down and sat back in his chair.
No one consoled me after that incident. No one asked if I was alright after being screamed at. The students near me saw how teary-eyed I was getting and how close I was to breaking down, and yet they didn’t check-in with me afterwards or after school to see if I was ok. I never received an apology from Dirk, and after that incident he put me through I made sure not to look at him ever; I was scared…I was scared this bully would never stop making me feel bad.
For a while I was so upset, I was sensitive to the pain I felt, and I was mad. Every time I walked into the classroom I was afraid to see Dirk. Then suddenly my parents received a phone call one evening and said they needed to talk to me. They sat me down on the living room couch and proceeded to explain to me that my 4th grade teacher had passed away. It was a shock to everyone and all I could think in the moment was why did it have to happen to someone like her? If something bad had to happen why couldn’t it have been to someone mean like Dirk? Over and over in my head I wondered why it had to have happened to a sweet woman. I kept hoping it would have been to Dirk. At the public memorial service that students were able to attend, I still kept thinking “Why not Dirk?” Looking back on that time filled with so many emotions, I feel bad that my thoughts were wanting something bad to happen to Dirk instead of my teacher. Yes he was an angry person who made me upset and hurt, but he’s still a person and I never want to wish ill on another.
So what did I learn from this experience with Dirk? Sometimes people are angry and it doesn’t mean you have done something wrong; it doesn’t mean you are responsible for how they act. I wish I would have said more to him, telling him that he’s making me feel bad and I’m crying from his temper. At the same time, being a shy and vulnerable child, I was happy that my few words were in a kinder, gentler, tone than his. My natural way of speaking is not out of anger or with intimidation but rather with warmth and I don’t need to change my own ways just to get him to listen. Sometimes people aren’t going to hear what you have to say; sometimes they don’t want to hear your words but having kept my natural tone of voice, if anything, helped to keep myself from being mean back to him, something that I’m sure a lot of kids would have done as their main instinct. It’s important to be true to yourself, to be who you are, and to not let anyone change that. A wise woman, Maya Angelou, once said “You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” Keep those words close to your heart as you wonder through this beautiful life of yours. You are enough.
*Pseudonym to protect the guilty.