If you've been reading my work on The Inside Mag I hope you've enjoyed it. I hope you've built up a kind, yet quirky man in your head that represents me, someone who would never bully or make fun of someone. If, on the other hand, this is the first article you're reading of mine, stop now. Click on the "Contributors" tab up top and pick out one of my older pieces to read first (Leave the Mickey Hands, Take the Canoli seems to be a popular one, go with that). I don't want this story to be your first impression of me.
I don't remember what year Jennifer St. John started going to Our Lady of Fatima but I know when she stopped. I think she was in my class since kindergarten and as far back as I can remember she was designated the punching bag. The one kid in the class, all the way up to third grade, that everyone picked on. I don't know who made the ruling, but we saw her awkwardness and slight weight problem and pounced. Never physically of course, but we would call her things like "barf" on account of her interesting choices for lunch (i.e. mayo and peanut butter sandwiches, etc.) which she always ate alone.
Until one day of course.
In the lunchroom we usually had volunteer parents walk amongst the tables making sure everything was in line, no shady milk-for-cookie trading going on or anything. The day of "the incident" the vice-principal, Sister Marie-Owen was on duty and she saw Jennifer sitting alone for the terrible thing it was and decided to put a stop to it.
"Jennifer's not eating alone, not today," she said as she helped carry Jennifer's lunch to the empty spot at the table I was sitting at.
Once the jolly nun (between the one-two punch of nuns in the principal positions, Marie-Owen was definitely the "good cop") had left we immediately laid into Jennifer. It doesn't matter what we picked on her for, what I said was by far the worst. This is one of the first examples of me tacking on what, in the comedy world, is considered a "zinger". A skill that I use to this day to be a jackass on the radio. Over the years I've perfected tagging on one last joke to end a segment or in this case, shatter a little girl's already fragile worldview.
I can't even remember what I was adding on to, all I remember is me saying, "...yeah, you're probably adopted.." and then everything good in the world at the time being sucked out of the gym for a moment.
Once the moment passed, tears had welled up in Jennifer's eyes as she looked down at whatever her mother (biological, mind you) made her for lunch. If anything, I did her a favor because once I pushed poor Jennifer to the point of tears everyone else came to her rescue.
"God Scott, say you're sorry."
"That's messed up, Scott. How would you like it if I told you that?"
Then to make matters worse, Sister Marie-Owen swung back around.
"Why are you crying, Jennifer? Why are you crying on St. Valentine's Day?"
Oh yeah, it was Valentine's Day, did I forget to mention that? Yeah..
I apologized all I could but the damage had been done. The day moved on as usual except for the break in the afternoon to exchange Valentine's. Luckily, this was an across the board activity, everyone had to give everyone else a Valentine no matter what. No one was left out. But if I remember correctly, that was the year I had Batman valentines and I had specifically chosen one with the Joker on it for Jennifer that read, "I Like You A Lot, Just Kidding". Just to put another log on the "Scott's a giant asshole" fire for you.
When I got home I realized that the shit had not even begun to hit the fan yet. I seemed to have forgotten about parents getting involved, the last line of defense in the wars waged in childhood. I remember coming out of my room to find my mother at the phone taking it all in, seeing me and then yelling for me to sit on the couch and to wait for her there. I had actually forgotten about the whole thing during lunch and sat on the couch wondering what I had done (I understand if you stop reading here).
My mom got off the phone and walked into the den where I was waiting for judgement, or a swift belt to the buttocks. She told me about Jennifer coming home from school that day in tears, telling her mother what I had said, and then Jennifer's mother having to bring out old family albums to prove to the hysterical girl that she had been theirs all along. I had stepped in it this time, I was in deep.
Mom and I talked for a long time and I told her everything, how it was the class' unwritten mission to make this girl's life a living hell, how she had no friends, how she ate alone (although as an aside, even my mom kind of groaned at the idea of mayo and peanut butter together). Mom made up an apology I was to say to Jennifer the next day. It was about five lines and I memorized it before I went to bed and recited it before I left for school the next day. When I was able to deliver the apology I hadn't gotten out the first line before Jennifer shot back, "It's fine, forget it." The true shame of it all was that she was used to being treated like this and just wanted to move on to the next time.
Years later, I was watching a Maury Povich episode (not proud of that either) where bullies would be confronted by the women they tormented, usually having had extensive plastic surgery and stripping somewhere. The men would be unapologetic and get the audience riled up as the bullied woman strutted around the stage saying "You wish you had this!" It was my fear for a long time I would receive a call from California inviting me to accept a free TV or something and be lured on Maury to find Jennifer spinning on a stripper pole having sucked out all of her baby fat and injected it into her chest (full disclosure: I don't know how breast implants work).
Luckily that never happened. In fact, after third grade was over I never saw Jennifer again. She transferred to a different school and that was it. Of course karma wasn't done with me. Throughout middle and high school I would be picked on and made to feel worthless, had bouts of depression, anti-depressants, counseling, the whole nine.
I've had to come to terms with what I'd done over the years. I'm not a bad person (seriously, I'm not) but it took me a long time to realize that I did have a problem with not thinking for myself. I was adding on making fun of Jennifer because that's what everyone was doing. And yes, if at the time everyone else was jumping off a bridge, I would so jump off said bridge. I had to regrow my inner-Jiminy Cricket and acknowledge when something wasn't right.
Unfortunately that wasn't the only incident where I couldn't keep my mouth shut and had to apologize for being an ass. Like the time I learned the word "condom" and the next day in school calling a kid that....I really should stop typing now.
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