Bully Thwarted by Suburban District 129 Employee
By Joshua C. Cohen
I knew, as my stop approached, I was dead. Duwayne Runder guaranteed me a “beat down” four days earlier and that afternoon he sprung his trap. All week I managed to avoid him, relying on the superior speed and nimbleness that Mother Nature often graces upon her runts. Duwayne stood six inches taller, 80 pounds heavier and two years older than me and my three friends from the neighborhood. Compared to the lumbering, oafish Duwayne, we were all runts.
The best thing about “Duwayne-the-Destroyer” was his slow, bumbling stride that allowed potential prey (i.e. me) to easily flee his ogre-fueled rages. In fact, my friends and I grew comfortable with our superior speed, sometimes even taunting Duwayne, knowing his furious fists were useless if he never actually caught us. Until every once in awhile he caught us. Did I mention that my buddies and I weren’t all that smart?
The afternoon of my promised beat down, Duwayne stood waiting for me at the school bus stop, taking advantage of the fact that his high school finished a half-hour earlier than our junior high. From the bus window I watched him rub his hands together in eager anticipation of my torture. A wave of ooooohs travelled up the bus rows as the other kids, spotting Duwayne out the windows and hearing the rumors, understood I was that guy, the guy you know is about to get the crap pounded out of him in a fight and you think to yourself with a shudder, Man I am sooooo glad that isn’t me.
Two of my buddies turned from the window while Duwayne ground one fist into the palm of the other as if debating what atrocity to commit first: shish-kebab my spleen; dice my liver; or melon ball my brains and use my skull as a finger bowl. My friends offered sympathetic shrugs but were otherwise powerless to help as they led the way up the aisle of the bus. We all knew it could just as easily be them the next time, that my promised beating humiliated all of us as Duwayne’s fists announced he ran the block.
“This is gonna be fun,” Duwayne chuckled, placing himself immediately in front of the bus staircase, leaving me no room to maneuver, no room to escape. As I exited the bus his hands clamped down on my wrist and elbow, then wrenched my arm up behind my back.
“Let him go,” my friend, Brent, mumbled, voice faint as I felt.
“Yeah,” my friend, Sam, bleated softly, already accepting my doom as a foregone conclusion—a “law-of-the-jungle” tribute we twerps must all one day make.
“This is gonna be real fun,” Duwayne repeated even louder for their benefit, his voice cheery with the promise to really enjoy my suffering. Forcing my arm in a direction it didn’t want to go was a mere warm-up for Duwayne, sort of like bully calisthenics.
On school days from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the adults still at their jobs, our neighborhood was a universe populated by kids and run by teens. We all carried house keys. We all made our own snacks after school. We all watched the same cartoons.
When Duwayne nabbed me at 3:01 p.m., it gave him two hours and fifty nine minutes to pummel the holy hell out of me without worrying about any grown-ups coming to my rescue.
Caught in his Orc-like clutches, my elfish speed useless, knowing there was no way I could fight him, I proceeded with my last option: groveling.
“Come on,” I whined about a dozen times. [Friendly Survival Tip #1: This argument doesn’t work. Ever!] Then I moved on to the harder stuff. I invoked The Promise. A mostly futile gesture, The Promise appears mirage-like before a desperate victim grasping at the false hope that he may actually escape a beating if he offers to engage in various acts of self-humiliation such as:
1) Choking down a dried dog turd;
2) Licking the bully’s spit off the sidewalk; or
3) The always popular “offering to beat yourself up” to save the bully the trouble.
[Friendly Survival Tip #2: While The Promise offers lots of laughs and giggles for the bully, it only delays the inevitable. You’re still getting clobbered.]
Duwayne led me across the street and onto my front lawn. He yanked my elbow even farther up my back as his other hand shoved me down onto the ground while all the neighborhood kids watched in horror and fascination. I think I managed to hold back tears at least until after Duwayne put me on my back and sat on my chest with his knees pinning my upper arms, grinding painfully into my skinny biceps. This was his favorite maneuver. Duwayne put Jack Sanders in this same position only a few weeks earlier and things ended poorly for Jack. Looking up into Duwayne’s scary-happy face while blades of grass scratched at my neck and cheeks and my arms burned from his fat knee caps digging under my flesh, I sniffed quietly, powerless to change or influence the outcome, knowing he was about to pop me in the face and enjoy it. Plus, the crotch of his jeans was way—way!— too close to my face. He smelled like Orc piss.
About then Duwayne drizzled a long string of spit onto my forehead and I scrunched up my eyes, waiting for the hit. Here it comes …
And that’s when Duwayne flew off me. More precisely, someone tore him from my chest.
“Get off!” the bus driver shouted like a drill sergeant.
Wait! Hold up! The bus driver?!
Yeah, the bus driver!
The bus driver! The heavy guy I’d never spoken to all school year as he chauffeured us to and from school, the guy with a scruffy beard that chewed gum and scowled at all of us like we were germ-ridden mutants responsible for denying him a way cooler life of professional video gaming and rock starring. The bus driver! This …this … man-dude I assumed didn’t even know I existed, stood there saving me. I looked across the street and realized the bus hadn’t moved, just sat in the road idling, its “stop” arm still extended.
“Get out of here!” The bus driver shouted at Duwayne. Seeing him for the first time out of his seat, reaching his full height, I understood just how massive the bus driver was. His girth, mostly in his belly, promised to squash Duwayne in one sumo-style splat.
Duwayne shuffled off down the street, glancing back over his shoulder, his eyes silently vowing to me that this wasn’t over. He’d still menace our neighborhood, stalking us until puberty re-balanced the scales and we no longer needed to run when we saw him approach, but on that day my skin got seriously saved by a transportation employee of Suburban School District 129.
The bus driver turned to me while I wiped back the tears on my face—not to mention the spit gob on my forehead.
“You’re alright,” the bus driver told me. This was a statement and not a question.
I nodded in agreement that, yeah, I was fine. No biggie. Beat downs by Duwayne happened all the time. Everything was cool.
Not knowing how to actually thank someone for saving my life, I didn’t. The bus driver watched me for a second, satisfied I really was alright. He turned around, crossed the lawn, then crossed the road to get back on the bus before driving off. A row of faces poking out the rectangular bus windows watched me watch them back until the big, yellow machine disappeared around the corner onto Stinson Avenue.
Most adults care what happens to other people’s kids. In a good way. They may not seem like they’re paying attention but most of them are keeping tabs and they’ll offer refuge if asked. Sometimes the surliest grown-ups are the most vigilant. I know because I fit that category now, having waded in a few times to stop one-sided “fights,” remembering how it felt to be small and helpless on the grass, staring up at the face of an Orc and thinking nobody will understand, nobody can help.
Joshua C. Cohen began writing the novel “Leverage” after reading a news account of a horrific attack by a group of high school seniors on their fellow underclassmen. When the victims reluctantly came forward, instead of receiving offers of help, they were ostracized by the surrounding community for sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season. Joshua’s fascination with that part of human nature–the need to keep quiet when awful things occur and how that leads to victims getting wronged twice–is what started the whole story that eventually led to “Leverage.”
Joshua C. Cohen grew up in Minnesota and was an avid athlete in many sports but he fell in love with gymnastics and devoted most of his time to training in that sport. Despite his intense effort, he discovered very quickly, when he walked on to the men’s gymnastics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that there was no way he was going to compete at the collegiate level. Joshua promptly walked himself right back off the team and chose, instead, to live vicariously as an elite level gymnast by rooming with and befriending members of the squad.
“Leverage” allowed Joshua a perfect opportunity to combine his love of both gymnastics and football into one story.
If you want to read more, please visit his website at leveragethebook.com