By: J. Ross Archer
Tommy Stone, a fourth grader with a deformed leg, watches his colleagues playing softball. The resident bully, Clyde Bedingfield, walks by Tommy, bumping him with a knee and sending him sprawling. Tommye is slow getting up, and each time he stands, Clyde pushes him down. The pushing continues until Clyde sees the principal walking in his direction, then he makes a show of helping Tommy to his feet. Bullying has been the pattern of Clyde’s treatment of Tommy all year, resulting in mutual hatred between the boys.
The school’s administration overlooks Clyde’s offenses because the faculty and administration are intimidated by the boy. Clyde is a bear: six feet tall, weighing 205 pounds—mostly muscle. Tommy is only four feet two inches tall and weighs one hundred pounds—with his clothes and boots.
Tommy makes his way home that afternoon and sees Clyde following him. Clyde yells at Tommy, “Hey, Crip, wait up; I want to see you limping up close.”
Tommy pretends not to find out and walks.
“I’ve come for you, Crip, and oh, yes, you can’t run, can you?”
Tommy decides to step up his trot, but Clyde overtakes him. When Tommy and Clyde are later aligned to a large drainage ditch, Clyde pushes Tommy, and he lands in the ditch of stagnant water and slime.
“That will show you to look at me as I speak to you, you miserable runt.”
Tommy climbs out of the ditch, soaking wet and covered with slime. Sitting on the roadside, he watches Clyde as he walks away, laughing.
Tommy could see his dreams and aspirations fly away. How will his father and mother see in him now? Is he incapable and not able to maintain himself? He has little brawn and defensive skills to protect himself. Now, I will never see a music college, and I’m ashamed, he thought.
“Enough of Clyde Bedingfield’s bullying, but how can I go on being bullied by him? He’s much bigger and fuller than me, so how can I stop him? Said Tommy strongly aloud. Parental responsibility is not right because I want to get Clyde. I can take care of myself despite my disability,” said Tommy talking to himself. Then he remembers that his older brother, John, left a pellet gun in the attic when he returned to Annapolis. And unknown to my father, John showed me how to use it. Tommy perks up now that he sees a way out of Clyde’s grip.
Tommy’s parents are working, and his mother is not due home for another thirty minutes. Tommy climbs the stairs to the attic, retrieves the pellet rifle, loads it, and sticks it under his mattress. Tommy could not remember the last time he had this good feeling about himself and his future. He didn’t realize that the pellet gun has the penetrating power of a .22 caliber cartridge at close range.
The next day at school, Clyde intensified his harassment of Tommy, but Tommy did not react this time; he kept his cool and let Clyde have his fun, including pushing Tommy’s face into the drinking fountain.
The next day at school, Tommy saw a slip of paper or a card that fell from Clyde’s Algebra book. A form letter from the US Marines id Clyde was not medically eligible to join the Marines. That information partially explains Clyde’s behavior—his lifelong dream was not available to him, and Tommy felt some guilt at this development.
The Marine Corps had rejected Clyde’s demand for enlistment. That explains Clyde’s deteriorating performance, but it did nothing to offer a solution for my immediate problem with Clyde, thought Tommy.
On the road home from school that afternoon, Tommy saw Clyde following him at a distance. Clyde went on to relate the distance between them. But unfortunately, when Clyde got alongside Tommy, he again forced Tommy into the same drainage ditch full of sluggish water and filth.” What are you going to do about that, you pathetic cripple?”
Not to create excuses for Clyde, but no one knew Clyde had a heart murmur. Tommy surmises that Clyde has not seen a physician because it leads him to fits of rage. However, since childhood, Clyde has had a heart murmur, which would disqualify him from ever becoming a Marine. That news crushes Clyde and will cause him to pursue a more aggressive attitude toward me—and everyone else thought Tommy. The Marine Corps was Clyde’s only hope of fulfilling his dream of fitting into a group he determined to know.
My inclination toward Clyde might have been unusual had I picked up on his problem earlier; I think for him, but not enough, thought Tommy. Sill, Tommy was grim. Neither Tommy’s allies nor the school faculty tries to help him combat Clyde’s bullishness because they are too frightened of him to intrude on Tommy’s behalf. That’s another matter I am bitter about; no one has ever offered to help me,” said Tommy feeling sorry for himself.
The three-fifteen bell rang, announcing the school day was over. Tommy began his walk home, looking back to see if Clyde followed him. His apprehension eased when there was no sign of Clyde. Relieved and surprised, he slowed his pace. One long step from home, he was rounding the block when Clyde jumped out at Tommy from an alley scaring Tommy.
“Clyde, what made you do that? You scared me to death.”
“That does it! Clyde, you go home with me because my mother wishes to talk with you about your bullying attitude towards other pupils and me unless you are afraid to face her.” Unfortunately, Tommy had not informed his mom of these plans. I’ll have my fingers crossed, Tommy thought.
“Yeah, let’s make it to your house and talk to your old lady. I’ll show you who ought to be afraid.”
Tommy’s mother suspects Tommy is up to something, so she goes along and allows the situation to develop. But, of course, Tommy has the same thought, and they both hope they are right. “Come in for milk and cookies, boys.”
“What is this about, son? I’ve never met this friend.”
“He is not my friend! This low life has been bullying me for a year, and I’ve had enough.” After that, it was easy for Tommy to be brave in his mother’s presence.
He told his mother the story of Clyde’s abuse sparing no detail. He thinks she is shocked and angry—a bad combination for his mother.
“Mr. Bedingfield, do you refute anything Tommy has told me?”
“No, I do not, said Clyde in a high-powerful voice. Why should I? It’s true.”
“I’m not sure of your intentions, Mr. Bedingfield, and I don’t care to find out what they are, but I know you get out of my house and off my property right this minute. If you continue in your threatening way, I will call the police!”
“You don’t scare me, mother, because you can’t do a damn thing to me, so forget your magnanimous speeches; I’ll leave when I’m ready, and I’m ready. I can’t stomach anyone who feels they’re better than me.” When Mrs. Stone is talking, Clyde wears a mask of hatefulness and disrespect.
Clyde gets up and huffs out the back gate. Mrs. Stone cries.
Tommy slipped out of the room and retrieved the pellet gun during his mother’s confrontation with Clyde. He ran after Clyde as far as the tree-lined driveway where he stood at a huge pine tree, braced himself against it, takes careful aim just like John taught him, and shoots Clyde behind his neck. Clyde lets out a loud yelp, turns to face them, and shrieks: “I’ll sue you for attempted homicide.”
“You go do that, Mr. Bedingfield, my husband, is the District Attorney for this county, and I’m certain he would prefer to fight you in person in a courtroom.”
Clyde hurried down the street, holding the back of his aching neck.
Tommy and his mom went back into the house. She made tea.
“Sit down, son, and let’s have a decompression conversation. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes, mother. And I’ll start by saying thank you, Mom.”
“No, praise you, child, you’ve handled your problem maturely, if not in an orthodox manner. I’m proud of you, son—except for the use of a potentially deadly air gun. Using something to cause another bodily hurt is not smart or right, Tommy. I’m certain your father will have more to say about that.”
“That boy is such an asshole.”
“That choice of words, young man, means you apologize, or I’ll tell your father the whole story.”
“Please don’t tell Papa; I was working to deal with my problem without yours’s and dad’s interference.
“I have a question for you. How did you learn to shoot that pellet gun so well?”
“John showed me when he was home on furlough from the academy.”
“Oh, I know.”
Mrs. Stone made a mental note to talk with her son John when he’s free. Life is good, she thought.
John R. Archer is a retired colonel from the US Army where he served for 26 years. He holds a master’s degree in psychology and he is an active Rotarian and Gideon. Archer has been a college vice president; and the founder/owner of a strategic planning firm. His hobbies included skydiving, motorcycling, and scuba diving. He lives with his wife in Thomasville, Georgia.
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