“Hey, stop it! Why did you trip me?” Timmy said to Bryan as they walked down the hallway.
Bryan laughed and said, “Because I can.”
Timmy hung his head and his glasses fell to the floor. Bryan walked over to Timmy's glasses, stepped on them, and kicked them down the hall. The other adolescents in the hallway laughed. They joined in, stepping on his glasses and kicking them around.
A young man named Major walked over. “Why you mean to him, man?”
Bryan looked him up and down. “Why you work for pennies all the time?”
Major shook his head in disgust and walked away.
Angry and trying not to cry, Timmy stated, “That was my second pair of prescription glasses ruined this year. We can’t afford to replace them again.”
Bryan smirked. “My bad, my foot slipped.”
He looked at his peers and jeered, “Yo, look! He about to cry.”
A heavy-set adolescent bumped into Timmy, knocking him to the ground. A crowd of students started to laugh and mock him.
A girl shouted, “Why y’all be picking on him every day? He hasn't done anything to y’all, and y’all mean to him for no reason.”
Bryan looked at the her and said, “Shut up, bitch. This is school, say something more intelligent.”
Everyone around them laughed again, and the young lady said, “You an asshole. Don’t be surprised if Timmy come back and shoot y’all.”
Bryan yawned and said, “And you look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, so, shut up, bitch!”
The young lady snapped, “Fuck you!”
The young, light-skinned woman grasped Timmy’s arm and asked, “Are you okay?”
Head drooping and a tear falling from his eye, Timmy replied in a mousy voice, “Yeah ... I’m fine. Thank you for trying to help.”
She smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” After a pause, she added, “You have to learn to defend yourself.”
Timmy looked at the blurry ground, sniffled, and stated, “My grandmother told me not to fight, but to tell the teachers. But if I do that, I’ll really get picked on.”
He paused, raised his myopic eyes to meet her compassionate gaze, then said, “Look at me! I’m bone thin, a buck-twenty, a nerd. Those guys are way bigger, more popular, and much stronger than me. They’re in seventh and eighth grades and I’m in the sixth grade.”
The young woman sighed, not knowing what to say about his situation. However, she said, “Well, do the best you can to take care of yourself, because I know you don’t wanna get treated like that every day.”
Timmy looked down again and muttered, “Yeah, thank you.”
Timmy resumed walking towards class. He shared that same class with Bryan. Timmy looked around and didn’t see Bryan. Timmy squinted his eyes and suddenly found himself face-down on the ground.
Bryan laughed, and their teacher, Mrs. Covington, shouted, “Bryan!”
Bryan, being sarcastic, responded, “Yes, sir ... I mean yes, ma'am!”
The class started to laugh.
Mrs. Covington asked, “Why do you keep picking on him and the other students?”
Bryan got smart: “Why you worried about it?”
Mrs. Covington walked over to Timmy and helped him stand. Too ashamed to face his classmates, he focused his gaze on the ground. A tear rolled down his cheek. The teacher sat him in the front row of the classroom, then stormed to her desk. She grabbed her cell phone and walked into the hallway.
While Mrs. Covington had her head turned as she talked on her phone, Bryan rushed forward and hit the back of Timmy’s head. The students started to laugh and call him names.
Timmy jumped to his feet and screamed, “FUCK YOU! I HATE YOU!”
Crying uncontrollably, he ran out of the room down the hallway. Still on the phone, Mrs. Covington called after him, “Timmy, wait!”
He ignored her.
Mrs. Covington sighed and muttered, “I can’t leave the room for thirty seconds.”
Bryan got smart again and said, “Well, stop calling all them dudes.”
The class cheered him on, “Woohoo!”
Mrs. Covington snapped, “The ‘dude’ who I called was your father.”
She smiled at him, sugary sweet and utterly insincere. The class responded, “Whoa.”
One student commented, “Deez nuts ... got ’em.”
The students began to snicker. Bryan froze and his face went blank. Mrs. Covington began that day’s lesson as though nothing had happened. About 15 minutes into the lesson, Mrs. Covington smiled changed as a tall, muscular, black man with a voice like James Earl Jones walked into the classroom and barked, “Bryan!”
Bryan jumped. It was his father, Bryan, Sr., a 49-year-old Army veteran and a formidable man.
Bryan's father kneeled beside him and locked eyes with him. “You must’ve thought I was playing?”
Bryan was speechless. His father gave him a cold stare and asked, “Why you cutting up? You think because you lift a little weight with me and play sports, you can act a fool?”
Bryan stayed silent. His father raised his voice and demanded, “Speak up when I'm talking to you!”
Bryan answered, “No, sir.”
Bryan’s father yelled, “Speak up, son!”
Bryan yelled, “No, sir!”
The classroom was silent, awed and intimidated by the big man. A male teacher walked Timmy back to the classroom and left. Timmy entered, head down and sniffling. Bryan, Sr. stood tall, approached Timmy, and asked, “Young man, has my son been messing with you?”
Timmy sniffed, wiped his eyes, and nodded. Bryan, Sr. directed his gaze at Bryan and asked, “Is this true?”
Bryan looked down at the floor. His father raised his voice and asked, “I asked if this is true.”
Bryan answered, “Yes, sir.”
The bully’s father looked at Timmy and asked politely, “What did he do to you, young man?”
Timmy wiped his nose on his sleeve and answered, blinking myopic eyes, “He makes fun of me every day. He tripped me coming into class and smacked me in the back of my head. And he broke my glasses. I can’t see without them.”
Bryan senior looked at Timmy, he lowered his voice calmly, “My son will replace your glasses. I’ll make sure he works hard all summer to pay those off. Let your guardians know that I’ll give them the money, or I’ll call the optometrist and pay for them.”
Timmy nodded in silence, still looking at the floor. Bryan, Sr. stared at his son, eyes narrowed while he ripped off a piece of paper from Bryan’s notepad. He grabbed a black pen and wrote:
“I apologize for my son’s behavior. Please give me a call at 614-555 -5088 or 614-555-8351, or call me at my office at 614-555 -3929, so we can make arrangements to get Timmy some new glasses. I will make sure that sure that they are paid for in full. My son will also work to pay off the debt. If you have any more problems from my son, please get a hold of me right away.” He then wrote in all capital letters, “I’LL MAKE SURE HE’S TAKEN CARE OF!”
He held the letter close to Bryan’s face for several seconds. “You see this? You see what I wrote at the end? Keep thinking I’m candy.”
Bryan smacked his lips, rolled his eyes, and mumbled underneath his breath, “I ain’t paying for nothing.”
Bryan, Sr. glared at his son and ordered, “Be quiet. Come here!”
Bryan didn’t move.
His father shouted, “Come here now!”
Bryan walked over, mumbling under his breath. His father snapped, “Keep ya mouth closed. If you got something to say, spit it out! Now apologize to this young man.”
Bryan looked at the floor again and mumbled, “I’m sorry.”
The big man’s palm met the back of the boy’s head with a loud smack. Bryan, Sr. shouted, “Look him in the eyes and apologize like you mean it!”
“That’s child abuse! I’ll tell the school counselor,” Bryan threatened.
“Well, tell them then. I don’t give a damn about Children’s Services or what anybody in this class thinks. Have fun sitting in a home where they don’t care about you. How do you think that young man feels when you put your hands on him every day for no reason except being a nuisance to society,” His father raged. He was so loud some students and teachers outside peered through the classroom window.
The class stayed quiet. Even Mrs. Covington said nothing.
Bryan looked Timmy in the eyes and said, “I apologize for being mean to you.”
Bryan, Sr. said, “That’s better.” He looked at the students and asked, “Has my son mistreated anyone else in this class? Please raise your hand and do not be scared. He will be dealt with appropriately.”
A young lady raised her hand and volunteered, “He calls me and my friends the B-word and other names.”
Bryan, Sr. said, “Thank you, young lady. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. Anybody else?”
One young man had the courage to raise his hand and said, “He's mean to everyone who's smart, not into sports, or who he thinks is ugly.”
Bryan, Sr. shouted, “Thank you, young man!”
He looked at Bryan and said, “Apologize to your classmates for being disruptive and being mean to them.”
Bryan started to say, “I apologize for—”
Bryan, Sr. smacked him on the back of the head and said, “Let’s go. Now you see how it feels to get smacked in the back of the head and get picked on.” Bryan, Sr. mumbled under his breath, “Since you wanna be a smartass.”
Smarting from the public humiliation, Bryan tried to put on a tough act. His expression twisted with anger. His father noticed and said, “Fix ya face, too late to be angry now. You should have thought about that before coming to school and acting like a fool.”
He grabbed his son’s books and held them out. Bryan opened his hands to receive them, but his father dropped them. They hit the floor with a loud clatter followed by his father’s order, “Now pick them up.”
Bryan picked them up, saying nothing. His father then commanded, “Now go to the car. You learning from home today. Actually … you know what? You gonna walk home, and you better be there by 9:30 AM.”
Bryan glanced at the clock and protested, “But it's 9:15 now and it takes ten minutes to walk home.”
Bryan, Sr. looked at his son without pity and replied in a low, menacing voice, “Well, you better start running!”
Books in hand, Bryan ran to his locker and grabbed his coat and book bag. His father looked at the students and Mrs. Covington, smiled, and said, “Students, I apologize for anything my son has done to you. Mrs. Covington, please excuse the interruption. I’ll make sure this doesn't happen again.”
Mrs. Covington smiled, nodded, and said under her breath, “Thank you.”
The big man nodded and went on his way.
Bryan ran home as fast as he could. He made it to the front door, took his key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and walked in, glancing at the clock on the wall. He said to himself, “Two minutes late, close enough, and I don’t see his car.”
Bryan took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off his face. After setting his book bag down, he fixed himself a bowl of cereal. He grabbed a spoon and sat down at the kitchen table where he pulled out his cell phone and typed “Best NBA dunks” into the Youtube search engine.
Munching on his cereal and absorbed in watching the videos, he felt an unexpected slap to the back of his head which sent him face-first into the half-empty bowl. He jerked back, blinking at cold milk and soggy cereal clinging to his face.
His father snapped, “You late!”
Bryan wiped the cereal and milk off his face with his sleeve and yelled, “Dad!”
Bryan, Sr. replied, “Don't ‘dad’ me. Love your neighbor as yourself. Now you see how it feels.”
Bryan forcefully exhaled in anger.
“Fix ya face. It's too late to be angry now,” his father said and slapped down a piece of paper with a list of names on it. “I want you to write me three to six sentences on each of these names. Write a brief description of their situation and tell me what you learned about them.” The list read:
17 years old - Tyler Long
13 years old - Rosalie Avila
8 years old - Gabriel Taye
12 years old - Mitchell Wilson
8 years old - Tori Blair
10 years old - Jasmine
11 years old - Jaheem Herrera
13 years old - Erin Gallagher
11 years old - Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover
9 years old - Jamel Myles
10 years old - Seven Bridges
12 years old - Ronin Shimizu
9 years old - McKenzie Adams
10 years old - Ashawnty Davis
16 years old - Amanda Michelle Todd
11 years old – Ty Field-Smalley
13 years old - Megan Taylor Meiner
14 years old - Lamar Hawkins III
13 years old - Aaron Fuller
6 years old - Samantha Kuberski
9 years old - Madison Whittsett
18 years old - Conrad Roy
Bryan looked the list and protested, “Dad, this will take all day, and I have homework.”
Bryan met his gaze and held it for a long moment. Then he walked away, saying, “Clean that mess up. And you keep writing until I come back, or no food, no nothing!”
With a soapy dish towel, Bryan wiped the table, the floor, and his face. Then he dried himself off. He picked up his phone and mumbled, “Fuck.”
In the other room, his father overheard him and warned, “Watch your mouth.”
Bryan used his phone to search each person's name. He took a piece of paper and a pen from his book bag, sat down, and started with 13-year-old Rosalie Avila. Five hours passed. Bryan’s father entered the kitchen and said, “Let me see your paper.”
He looked through the paper, reading some of the sentences aloud. He then said, “Good. You made it down to Lamar Hawkins. And what did you learn from this, son?”
Bryan got silent and his bottom lip started to tremble. He mumbled, “Don't bully.”
Bryan, Sr. said, “Speak up, son, and speak clearly. You're not a child, you're a young man.”
“Don't bully anyone,” Bryan spoke loudly.
His father continued to hold his gaze and, standing over him, asked, “And why not?”
A stream of tears trickled down the boy’s face and he could not choke back his sobs. He bawled, “Because they can end up taking their lives like these kids did.”
“That's right, son, and do you want that on your conscience?”
Bryan sniffled and replied in a subdued voice, “No, sir.”
Bryan obeyed, walking to his father who embraced him. The big man’s voice was calm as he continued to deliver his message, “You know you can go to prison if your name is caught in that, right?”
Bryan shook his head and stated, “Sorry, Dad.”
“I'm not the one you should be saying sorry to,” his father said. “You know what to do when you see that young man and those young women.”
Bryan, Sr. rubbed his son on the head, smiled, and said, “Go clean your face, get your homework done, and get ready for dinner. Your mother will be home soon.”
Bryan paused and asked, “Dad?”
“What's that, son?” his father answered.
He let out a deep breath and said, “Could I invite Tim over for dinner?”
The big man smiled gently and said, “Son, that would make me proud.”
Bryan, Sr. stared at the floor and rubbed his prickled chin, wondering if he were overdoing it and wanting to educate his son while he was in the moment. He looked at his son. “Follow me, son, we gonna watch this video before your mother gets here.”
They went into to the family room.
“Have a seat, son. I wanna show you something, and I want you to pay close attention.” He scrolled through the Direct TV menu and typed in, “Beyond Scared Straight.”
They watched two episodes together. Bryan was speechless and ashamed.
Bryan, Sr. looked at him. “You wanna go there, son?”
Bryan didn’t know how to respond and shook his head. Bryan, Sr. corrected him, “Remember, it’s ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir.’ Speak up, son.”
“No, sir,” Bryan answered.
Bryan, Sr.’s expression turned intense and serious as he stared at his son. “You wanna live there for the rest of your life? You hear what them prisoners were saying? Excuse my French, but do you wanna be somebody’s bitch in prison? You heard what they were saying, son?”
Bryan swallowed a big gulp of spit, and, terrified, replied, “Yes, sir.”
The boy’s father asked him more questions. “You see what they said to that fourteen-year-old girl and that fifteen-year-old boy? They said, ‘I will rape you and make you my bitch.’ Just because they’re behind those bars and they’re helping out in a program don’t mean they don’t mean that. Those men in there would be like a pack of hyenas on meat on that young lady and that young man …” He clear his throat and continued, “The other man said he’s doing life and he took a life while he was in there, so you’re talking about a man with nothing to lose, no conscience, nothing. Did you see the other man whose face was swollen all over? He looked like he got stung by a bunch of bees. You couldn’t even see his eyes. You get what I’m telling you son?”
Bryan sniffled, looked at the floor, “Yes, sir.”
Bryan corrected him again, “Look up, son. Real men talk face to face. Now listen, what if you bully that kid so much or someone else that you end up in prison? Because that can happen. Them guys in there come from broken homes, a long line of all types of drug addictions and alcoholism. You see most of them where raised without their fathers.” He paused, then corrected himself, “Not saying mothers can’t do it by themselves, because you have some strong mothers now! But them guys have no sense of direction, no guidance, no nothing, and they are facing thirty years to life.” His tone deepened and he enunciated every syllable to prevent any misunderstanding. “I’m going to say it again, son, thirty years to life. That means … that means three hots and a cot, hoping yo manhood isn’t taken at nighttime, with men who lived in real bad circumstances and been in real fights, really killed people. You ready to deal with men like them? You see that one boy in there who was sixteen years old, and he said he doing thirty years for a one-minute crime and how his mother tried to tell him and now he regretting it? Do you wanna to live there, son?”
Bryan nodded and said, “No, sir.”
Bryan, Sr. nodded and said, “One more story, and I’ma let you go. Keep this between you and me: I’m not proud of this either. There was this man who picked on everybody, made fun of people’s mothers, fathers, children, told on people to the commanding officer to try to get brownie points. Nobody liked him, we just pretended to like him. So, one day we were on a mission. There were two men in front, he was the third man, and I was the fourth. We were walking across this log and there were a bunch of crocodiles below us. I was behind him. It was a shorter but riskier route than going all the way around. So …” Bryan, Sr. took a deep breath, “I set him up like David did Uriah, well kind of.” He waved his hands out, then continued, “As he was walking and nobody was paying attention, I tripped him and caused him to fall off that log.”
“Dang,” Bryan blurted in shock. “They ever find out what happened?”
Bryan, Sr. met his son’s wide eyes, his own filled with pain and shame. “What do you mean, what happened? The crocodiles tore him up. I still see it as clear as day, him screaming, all them crocodiles twisting, his body and blood and bones crackin’ everywhere.”
“Dang, what did the two guys in front say?” the boy asked in disbelief.
Bryan, Sr.’s stare grew distant as he fought old memories. In a low voice, he answered, “They said, ‘Oh shit, what happened? What happened, man?’ I lied. I told them he tripped and that I tried to catch him, but he fell.”
“They say anything else?” Bryan asked.
Bryan, Sr.’s thousand-yard stare remained. “The guy in front said, ‘Well, good riddance, he was an asshole to everyone away,’ although we did need him for the mission. He was an asshole, but the best shot in our unit .”
“Dang,” Bryan repeated in disbelief.
The boy’s voice recalled his father back to the present. He met his son’s gaze, mouth twisting in a bitter smile, “I’m saying this, son …” he let out a deep sigh of regret “… I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that, even though he was a jerk. I was wrong. He had a wife and kids. I used that situation to my advantage and let my anger get the best of me, but I made his wife a widow and left his kids without a father. I murdered a man and it’s haunted me ever since. I killed and seen a lot of killing in the military, but that’s the one death that got me discharged with a bad case of PTSD. They ought to have court martialed me for murder.”
“Dang, that why you scream ‘Eric’ in the middle of the night?” Bryan asked his father.
He sighed and looked at the floor. “Yup, that was that man’s name. I have to live with that for the rest of my life.” He looked back at his son, stared at him for a second, and blinked. “I said all that to say, son, you don’t bully people. What if Timmy or some other kid you bully comes back and shoots the school up, like them Columbine kids? You don’t know what’s going on inside someone else’s house. Again, I was wrong, but at the same time, let that be a lesson to you.”
Bryan, Sr. raised his eyebrows.
Bryan asked, “Dad, were you ever this hard on Brooke and Brianna?”
Bryan, Sr. looked at him and tilted his head. “Do your sisters have babies out of wedlock? Both your sisters graduated from college with honors, right? They didn’t drink their lives away in college, did they? They both got good paying jobs and no college debt, right? They both married good men, right?”
Bryan cut in, “Well, Brianna married an Asian man and Brooke married an Indian man.”
“So, and? They both been married for about ten years. They appear happy, their husbands have good jobs and enough money to support their families. As a matter of fact, your sisters don’t even have to work, but they choose to work. Now look at my sister and her kids. Look at her daughter who lives on the Westside bottoms with eight kids by eight different baby daddies and living off welfare. She can barely make rent living off the system; and, you see she ain’t have no father to get in her backside. See the difference? Your sisters are a lot older than you, but I was tough on them. You just didn’t see it. We clear now?”
Bryan nodded. “We clear.”
“All right, give me some dab.” His father extended his hand. Bryan’s hand met it with a loud smack. They embraced, father rubbing son on the head. Bryan, Sr. rose and walked away.
Bryan stared at the carpet, mulling over the day’s revelations. A moment later, he heard from a distance, “You still paying for that boy’s glasses. Invite him over, but don’t be surprised if he don’t come. You can’t treat someone like dirt and not expect for him to feel like mud on the inside.”
“Yes, sir, and I’ll ask him,” he responded.
The next morning as Bryan walked through the school hallway looking for Timmy, he saw the other boy from a distance and yelled, “Yo, Timmy!”
Timmy looked over, then bowed his head and started rushing to get his school supplies together. Bryan ran over to him and said, “Hey, man, can we talk?”
Refusing to meet the bully’s gaze, he said timidly, “Sure.”
Bryan let out a deep breath and asked, “Hey, can you look at me for a second?”
Timmy slowly raised his head up and looked Bryan in the eyes through an old pair of spectacles. The image was blurry, but not as indistinct as it would have been without the outdated pair of corrective lenses. Bryan let out another deep breath, puffing his cheeks and forcing himself to meet Timmy’s gaze. He saw fear and dislike in the other boy’s eyes.
Bryan took another deep breath, mustered his courage, and said, “Hey, man, I'm sorry for the way I treated you. I promise that I will never treat you like that again. I was wrong.”
Timmy looked down, up, then back down again and responded with a mixture of hope and doubt, “You mean it?”
Bryan said, “Yeah, I do, and I'd like to have you over for dinner sometime this week. And if you don't feel comfortable coming by yourself, feel free to bring your parents.”
Timmy timidly said, “Okay, thanks. I actually don't have parents. My mother died giving birth to me and I don't know where my father is, so my grandmother takes care of me.”
Feeling even more ashamed of himself, Bryan replied, “I'm sorry to hear that. Bring your grandma if you like. My dad said he would love to have you.”
Almost before Bryan finished speaking, a student walked past and shoved Timmy in the back, bumping him into the locker. Several other students started laughing.
Bryan stuck his foot out and tripped the boy who did it. The boy fell to the floor then demanded, “What's the deal, Bryan?”
Bryan met his gaze and said, “From now on, leave him alone.”
The boy scoffed, “Whatever ... fuck you, dude!”
“Fuck you, too!” Bryan shouted back. He looked at Timmy, whose eyes again focused on his toes, and who said, “Thanks.”
Bryan said, “No problem, I mean it.”
The bell rang. Timmy said timidly, “I have to get to class.”
“Hold up!” Bryan called after him as the other boy headed toward the classroom. Timmy paused, shoulders hunched in expectation of a blow. Bryan pulled a pen out of his pocket and wrote down his phone number and his father's phone number on Timmy's notebook.
Relief and gratitude shone behind the scratched lenses of his old glasses as Timmy again said, “Thanks.”
Bryan gave Timmy a one-armed hug and three fist bumps. He looked at him and said, “I mean it, give us a call.”
Timmy replied, “Thanks. Well, I have to go. I don't wanna be late.”
They both walked in different directions, each with a gentle smile on his face.
Anderson, E. (September 17, 2000). Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. W. W. Norton, 2000.
Hirsch, Lee; Long, David Long; Johnson, Kelby; Lowen, Cynthia. The Bully Project, Where We Live Films, USA. 2012. Retrieved from https://tubitv.com/movies/507465/bully_2011?utm_source=google-feed&tracking=google-feed
NIV Study Bible, Hardcover, Red Letter Edition. (October 29, 2011). Zondervan.
“Six-Year-Old Girl Commits Suicide in US.” Published by the Deccan Herald, Washington, April 9, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.deccanherald.com/content/62968/six-year-old-girl-commits.html.