For many years the afternoon talk shows tried to outdo one another with topics that were not often discussed. At times the dialogue got so intense that the guests were caught off guard as the accusations and finger pointing occurred, usually ending up in complete mayhem.
I remember one Jerry Springer show that was about bullying. Those who were bullied were invited to confront those who bullied them. One of the guests went on and on about how this person bullied her when she was in junior high. She remembered without fail every single thing that was said to her or that she was being mocked about. The situation absolutely defined her childhood, she wore the badge of being a victim with a sad sense of what she thought was necessary. In typical Jerry Springer style, the “buildup” was done in what was akin to listening to the “Jaws” music as the shark was about to attack. Dunda Dunda Dunda Dah! And then without warning the show would cut to commercial break.
When the show resumed, the guest was finally going to be able to confront “her bully.” She sat waiting and watching as the person entered the stage and sat down. Jerry went on his two-minute diatribe about why the guest was here and why the “bully” was here. The bully looked around almost thinking, “Is this some kind of joke?”
And then probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched happened. The guest asked for an apology from said bully and said bully replied with a bewildered and confused look, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you, do I even know you?”
Complete shock took over the audience and the guest said, “Yes you do, we went to school together… You did this… You did that…” But it didn’t bring the slightest response from said bully. And all I could imagine was how much time was wasted for something that was in one person’s mind and not even present in the other person’s experience. The badge had been worn, but what did it really symbolize, other than giving power to something that should have been diminished many years ago? I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness for the guest. I could relate in a way as I had encountered a schoolyard bully in second grade.
I was walking home with my friend Susan, and this boy ran up to us. He was in our class. I didn’t really know much about him. His name was Gary. He was a little tall for a second grader, and larger than both me and Susan. He asked me something, and I said, “Eh, I can’t hear you.” I was pretending to be hard of hearing. Susan and I giggled, and he thought we were laughing at him. And with that response he punched me in the stomach, and I fell, and when I got up, I saw Susan had taken off running.
He grabbed my arm and said, “You’re walking home with me.”
I was terrified. I looked around hoping a grown-up was near and would save me. As we continued walking, he kept telling me he was never going to let me go, that I was his. All the while I had my escape scenario planned in my head. He was holding my upper arm so tightly, I couldn’t get away if I wanted to. Picture this, Jennifer, age 7, buck teeth (years of sucking my ring finger to go to sleep had created this look) and wearing red Danskin pants with an elastic waist and a matching red shirt and a high ponytail. My shoes were Oxfords, they were black and white, and one size too big. Mom’s argument for that, I’d get two seasons out of wearing them. We kept walking, all the while I was awaiting my chance for my getaway.
Then, only something that occurs in movies happened. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rusted pocketknife on the ground. I tried to divert his attention so he wouldn’t see it. It was too late. The future criminal in the making had seen it. As he picked it up, he seemed awkwardly giddy. But that giddiness turned into disappointment, as he said, “Aw this knife is too small, it probably wouldn’t cut anything. It wouldn’t hurt no one.” I, being proud of my command of the English language, even at the tender age of 7, thought it’s “anyone,” you moron, not “no one,” how dumb are you? Ever so thankful my brain was on point.
Which then made me realize that was how I was going to get out of this. I was smarter than he was, which put me in a better position. So, I started agreeing with him and joking about the knife. He then said, “Well I bet it could cut your ponytail off.” And I thought no, not my ponytail. My hair had been growing for years, my golden wheat-colored beautiful hair, washed each evening with Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, and then sprayed with Tame to get the tangles out. What kind of psycho heathen was I dealing with and why, why, why hadn’t his heathen parents figured out what the heck they created? Oh yes, I was reminded, apples and trees, Jen, apples and trees.
I said, “Please let me go, my mom is expecting me, and she’ll be looking for me.” Somehow that worked. I guess he figured he could take the knife home and torture little creatures instead.
And he said, “Only if you run!” So, I did just that in the one-size-too-big Oxford shoes.
I started to run and began to cry and continued running and crying. A neighbor came out and said, “Jennifer, are you OK?” and I wailed, “No, Gary beat me up and my parents are going to call the police on him!”
Then my neighbor, Mrs. Green, started to jog up to me and she said, “Let me walk with you. I’ll get you there safely.” We got to my house. My mom came out and I was hysterical, but at least my ponytail was intact, and she called my dad, who rushed home. I don’t know what happened next, nor what action was taken, but he never bothered me again.
When third grade began, guess who was in my class, none other than Gary. He walked by and didn’t even acknowledge me, thank goodness! I’m sure he was too busy targeting his next victim. I lost a sense of myself that day and learned something I never wanted to believe: That not all bad people would be punished and held accountable for their actions. But from the greater sense of good, throughout my remaining years of school if there ever was a moment where people were made fun of, I never participated. In fact, I would try to take the attention away from the one being bullied. I knew deep down inside it was wrong to hurt someone else, whether by words or actions.
And seeing the Jerry Springer show only proved my point, the bully could give a HOOT about who they bully. That darn badge never needs to be worn again. You are worthy! And P.S., don’t go on talk shows to solve your childhood issues. They’re only in it for the ratings.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.