by Wes Funk
As an adolescent, my morning bus rides to school were uneventful—the students sat in a semi-awake state on the chilly bus, still shrugging off sleep and focusing on the day ahead as the bus rolled down the bumpy gravel roads. Afternoon rides were a different story. My seat was in the second-last row and the school bully sat in the last row, directly behind me. There was rarely a bus ride home to our farm that didn’t involve him antagonizing me in some fashion. Our driver was a very passive man who didn’t like conflict and couldn’t bring himself to get involved with the conflicts of others either.
The actions were usual—The Bully would name-call, tap my shoulder repeatedly and even pull the hair on the back of my head—he would do anything he could to irritate me. The odd time when I’d had enough, I would turn around and ask him to stop. He and the other teens on the bus would smile as if they found that amusing—the poor little fat kid asking for mercy. The day he poured his can of sticky orange pop into my hair was the day I went home and informed my parents what was going on. My mother was outraged and looked toward my dad and instructed him to do something about it. The next afternoon, my father went over to the neighbouring farm and spoke to The Bully’s father.
For the most part, the bullying stopped until one afternoon in the local hockey rink, when I was simply hanging out with my friends in the lobby. The Bully walked by and spotted us laughing and visiting on the benches. He had a mean-spirited twinkle in his eye and I knew something was up. He reached into his hockey bag and grabbed his smelly ice skate and waved the blade in my face, telling me I better be careful or I would get what I deserved. The contempt radiated off him as he spoke—venomous-like saliva dripped out the side of his mouth.
I composed myself and exclaimed, “I’m not afraid of you!” Even as I spoke the words, I wondered if I meant them. I sat there, watching the blade dangling a few inches from my face, not entirely convinced the thing wasn’t about to slice my skin to shreds. My friends sat with mouths agape. Clearly, they were at a loss. As usual, there were no adults around when we needed them.
The Bully looked me hard in the eye and sneered. “Yes, you are, Funk! You are afraid of me!” The expression on his face was so incredibly hateful—he seemed to despise me with every fibre of his being. It was in his squinted eyes, his snotty nose, his sneering mouth.
I suppose he was correct, I was afraid of him—he was three years older and I was a gay, overweight, teacher’s kid—I might as well have had ‘Pick on me’ scribed across my forehead.
A decade after I graduated from high school, it would come out in the local media that The Bully was actually being horrifically bullied all through his childhood. It came to light that his father was a brutally abusive man who ended up serving in prison for his crimes. I was well into my twenties by then, but as I read the newspaper article, the flashbacks of my own abuse came back full-force. Now, I had a new quandary—was I to forgive The Bully or not? Was I to sit back and laugh hysterically at the thought of The Bully watching his old man getting locked up in the big house? Or, was I supposed to feel for him and perhaps even reach out and tell him how profoundly sorry I was to hear his father was a child abuser and a very sick man. My God, The Bully’s own sister committed suicide because she couldn’t deal with the lingering affects of the abuse—clearly, some ugly stuff went down on that farm less than a half-mile away from ours.
As an arts-loving, pop-culture-obsessed, gay boy growing up in a rural pocket of Canada, I’m sure you can imagine how isolated I felt in those days. I often fantasized about someone or something simply whisking me away from that rural school and the endless miles of dusty fields that surrounded it. A huge comic book fan, I had an image of a superhero soaring down onto the school playground, scooping me up and saying, “We’re outta here,” as he carried me off into the sky, his long cape flapping in the wind behind us.
Suffice it to say, that never happened.
These days, young people don’t have superheroes either. At least, not in the real world. But they do have help-lines, literature, websites and other resources to refer to. Society has evolved a lot in the last couple decades.
But there is still more work to be done.
Wes Funk’s novel Dead Rock Stars was incorporated in university curriculum and his Cherry Blossoms won a National CBC Bookie Award. Besides participating in author readings everywhere, he has conducted numerous creative writing, publishing, and marketing workshops across the country. A love of Saskatchewan, a strong belief in diversity, and a passion for pop culture are all strong themes in his books. He is also the host of the Shaw TV weekly program, “Lit Happens.” His long-awaited memoir, Wes Side Story, was released this year. For more information visit www.wesfunk.ca.