Pushed by Bullies
I believe in being motivated by bullies. I met my first one when I was an eight-year old weakling who knew no English and was new to this country. I was just the kind of prey that this neighborhood menace thrived on.
The first time I saw him was in a school playground—during my first-ever American recess. No doubt sensing my foreigner’s blood in the air, he came up to me and started making strange noises, presumably to make fun of the way I spoke.
As I tried to get out of his way, I stumbled over my words as clumsily as I stumbled over my own snow boots. He poked me in the chest and giggled as if he were being tickled. I looked around for a teacher, for other students, for anyone to help me, but kids knew better than to glance in his direction, and he knew better than to do anything like this in front of adults.
He continued to follow my trail all the way through middle school and high school. As I learned to speak English, he used more jagged words to poke fun of me. He’d call me a “stoopid ideeot,” anytime I walked past him on the way to homeroom. As I lost my Spanish accent, he’d say things like, “Look at ya, man. You talk like a geek.” I couldn’t win—except in one way.
Throughout my life, I have thought of him anytime I’ve needed that little extra push to get over the edge. In real life he beat me up more than once, but in scenes played out in my mind, I’ve wrestled him to the ground and made him apologize for all of his misdeeds.
In high school, when I ran track, I imagined him next to me as I improved my race times. When I lifted weights, I’d remember his fingers poking my chest.
And when I was a starving graduate school student working on my Ph.D. in English, struggling with the nuances of Shakespeare, and so tempted to abandon my studies for a full-time job, I pictured him lying down at the end of each play.
I don’t know where he is now, but I’m sure he wouldn’t be impressed by any of my accomplishments. Somehow, he’d probably find a way to demean them. But to me, that’s okay, because his meanness has driven me for so long that without it, my life wouldn’t feel like revenge.
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