Do Nothing for the One You Love

The cheap shots kept on coming. Every sucker punch from the neighborhood bully left me on my hands and knees. And no one was doing anything to help me.

It started out innocent enough. We were just playing football in my front yard. Looking back, my front yard wasn’t all that great. But when I was a kid I thought it was Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The intensity of our games only helped to fuel the atmosphere.

This particular game was two on two. Robbie and George were the two oldest so they were the quarterbacks for each team. That left me and the neighborhood bully against each other. I got hit during every play. Not the tackle kind of hit. That was to be expected. These were more like the Ric Flair punch below the belt when the referee wasn’t looking kind of hits. The only difference was that people were looking. My friend Robbie saw everything. My sister, the only fan in attendance, saw it all too. And like I said, they did nothing.

This wasn’t like them. My sister was always there to fight my battles for me. And having Robbie across the street was like having my own Secret Service Agent. He was the one that I could always run to when the bullies were coming after me. And he was the one who would always make sure that the bullying came to a stop. He had a perfect record when it came to making the bullies leave me alone.

But not this time.

This time I was laying on the grass alone, wondering if I would ever be able to have children.

Finally, I heard a voice. It belonged to my sister. She was sitting on our front porch and she looked furious. Her words hit me harder than any cheap shot I felt that afternoon.

“The next time that boy hits you, hit him back or I’m going to hit you.”

That wasn’t exactly the kind of support and affirmation I was looking for. Maybe I was better off laying in the grass alone, gasping for air and wondering about my future children.

When the game resumed so did the cheap shots. My sister’s words played on a loop in my head.

“The next time that boy hits you, hit him back or I’m going to hit you.”

When I came back to reality I was standing face to face with the neighborhood bully. His hair was almost completely white and his skin was pale. He was breathing heavy and his eyes were fixed on me. I’m sure that I was breathing even heavier than he was.

I clinched my eyes shut.

And then I clinched my right hand into a fist.

I put everything I had into that punch. I made sure not to stop until my knuckles felt the bully’s pale skin. At the point of contact I heard screaming.

Screaming from my sister. It was the first time that she cheered during the entire game.

But there was also screaming from the bully. His were not happy screams. He was crying. When I opened my eyes his face was covered with tears. He slapped me and then ran back to his house.

That was it for our football game.

And that was pretty much it for the neighborhood bully. No more cheap shots.

I’m glad that my older sister and my older, tougher friend did nothing that day. In doing nothing, they were doing me a favor. Leading up to that moment, I was very good at asking for help. And that’s a good thing. Everyone needs to ask for help. But I wasn’t so good at taking care of things myself. You can’t take care of everything yourself but there are some things that are meant to be handled alone. For me, the neighborhood bully was one of them.

Neighborhood bullies eventually move to different neighborhoods. But bullies never go away. Sometimes they show up with a policeman’s badge or a politician’s grin.

It’s been three decades since that fight and I still have to deal with the occasional bully. So I’m really glad that my sister and my friend did nothing for me that day in my front yard. In doing nothing for me, they did everything for me. They taught me the importance of making a stand. It was a lesson that I never would have learned had they finished the fight for me.

Now I have a kid the same age as I was when I got into that fight. There’s a part of me that wants to fight every battle for him and be there for him at all times. But then I remember the lesson I learned when I was his age.

It was a lesson I had to learn on my own.

It was a lesson I learned because people cared enough to do nothing.