Friendship or Control?

Elsewhere on this blog, I have told the story of bullying a classmate who had the last laugh in the end. But like many people, I’ve been on both ends of bullying. In early grade school, I had a “best friend” at school who I’ll call Andy. Lest I ever forgot that fact, Andy instructed me to repeat my allegiance to him every day on the playground. Out-loud and for his sake, I would say “We’re best friends forever.” And we were best friends (so long as I did everything he told me to do).

Like when he generously “taught me how to fight.” This translated into trying his best moves on me, hitting and pushing and kicking me. I was not allowed to retaliate because I “wasn’t ready yet.” He was only demonstrating, of course, but this did not seem to stop him from exerting enough force to knock me to the ground. We did this for days at recess until one of the teacher’s aids saw us, thought we really were fighting, and “sent us to the wall” where we stared at bricks until the bell rang.

On one rainy Saturday, I went over to Andy’s home. He lived “out in the country” in a considerably more spacious home than the one in which I lived. When we were up in his bedroom, I took out a Michael Jordan basketball card and showed it to him. He liked the card so much that he wanted it for himself. He asked me what I would trade for it, and I said nothing; I wanted to keep it. This didn’t satisfy Andy, so he grabbed the card, opened the window, and chucked it out. The card stayed in the bushes until it was time for me to go home. I told my mother I needed to look for something before I was ready to go. Both Andy and I were trying to hide what had really happened, but my mom and Andy’s dad quickly figured it out. I left knowing Andy was in all kinds of trouble.

In the fourth grade, he and I were outside playing football playing football at recess with several other friends. Andy was playing quarterback, but I wanted to. He kept telling me, “Next play, next play.” But the next play would come, he would still be the quarterback. I was pretty angry by the time recess was over, and two of my other friends capitalized on my frustration.

“Tell Andy he’s not your best friend anymore,” one of them told me.

Apparently Andy and my “best friends” mantra was well-known around the grade. So from complying with Andy to complying to my other friends, I went ahead and told Andy he wasn’t my best friend anymore.

I’ll never forget what he said in response, in part because it was so comical: “In the words of porky pig, f-f-f-f-f-fuck you, Chris!”

My other friends were close enough to hear the exchange, so they told our teacher, and Andy got in trouble again. The next thing I knew, Andy had been pulled from our school and transferred to a Catholic school ten minutes away. We hardly interacted over the next five years, and that space was probably necessary. We would eventually heal our friendship as much as we could through a series of events that included playing on the same high-school soccer team, the sudden death of Andy’s mother, and my brother’s death.

All these years later, it seems like a real waste of emotional energy to focus very much on someone else’s elementary-school behavior. What’s way more interesting to me is how I acted in these situations. How and why had I internalized and practiced such doormat behavior? Why was it so unnatural for me to stand up and protect myself? Why was it always someone else telling the teacher or parents finding out through the grapevine?  I probably would have gotten in some “trouble” if I had simply punched Andy in the face, but maybe it would have been better for my self-esteem.

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