I’ve been trying to figure out whom the new president reminds me of. It’s been on the tip of my tongue since the campaign. It took me a while, but when I was sipping a cup of tea, it came to me.
When I was in grammar school, I encountered a bully so cruel that it was hard to fathom he was only 11 years old.
Short and thick, with broad shoulders and flared nostrils, he looked more like a bulldog than a little boy. Aptly, his nickname was Bulldog.
Bulldog terrorized the smaller kids, which was really most of us. One frail, sweet boy who was undoubtedly gay was his preferred victim. The very sight of Anjel would send Bulldog’s fists flying.
I never met anyone who liked Bulldog, but a horde of kids followed him around, obediently laughing at his jokes and cheering him on, afraid to get on his bad side.
I’ve often wished I could go back in time and tell those kids that by standing by Bulldog, they contributed to his power. They fed the monster.
My parents moved us to an uber rich town in New Jersey. I suppose they were trying to better our education. Mainly it made me feel like a pauper. The other kids’ parents spent more money on what they wore in one week than my parents did on our wardrobe for the year.
It didn’t take long for Bulldog to set his sights on me.
“Mooooh!” he would yell when I walked past. I was a chubby girl, and it wasn’t hard for him to pick the thing I might be the most sensitive about.
One day in the hallway, Bulldog threw a handful of pennies at me. He threw them so hard, they stung where they hit my arms and stomach and then scattered all over the floor.
“Pick them up, dirty Jew!” he yelled.
I am 52 years old, and I still want nothing to do with pennies.
For years, I thought about all the things I wished I’d said to him. Top of my list was, “Self-hating gay people gay bash!”
Because of that kid, I made a pledge to never again let myself or anyone around me be bullied. It’s not easy but far better than the alternative.
At my 10-year high school reunion, I sat at a table with my gal pals. We’d all grown into women. One was a model, one a teacher, one a mother, one a Realtor, one an artist and one a writer/chef.
We saw Bulldog at the bar. He didn’t look much different. He’d added about 50 pounds, but that face with the flared nostrils throwing back a beer was un-mistakable.
We started to swap stories of our tortures at his hands. The model suggested we confront him.
We formed a circle around him and started hurling his atrocities in his face.
“You hit me in the head with a lunch box!”
“You spit in my face!”
“You kicked me down the stairs!”
“You beat up my friend for being gay!”
Then the strangest thing happened. He began to cry.
“I’m sorry!” he sobbed. “I was getting beaten by my father every day! I went to school looking to take it out on someone!”
We were all stunned.
“I’m a born-again Christian now. I’m a better person! I have a baby boy!”
All the women in the group stepped back.
I stepped forward.
“What does it mean to be a born-again Christian?”
“I pray every night, go to church every Sunday.”
I nodded my head, and he smiled. I suppose he thought he’d won me over; the Christian checklist was complete.
“It’s not enough.”
“No,” I stepped closer to him. “For starters … don’t turn your son into what you were. What maybe you still are.”
He nodded his head.
“You have to replace what you took from this world. You took innocence. How will you replace that?”
He looked at me, dumbfounded.
“It’s called love,” I said watching him back away from me. “Turn your hate into love.
“You can start by apologizing to at-risk gay kids, to Anjel and all the Anjels.”
He seemed very uncomfortable shifting back and forth and walked away with his head hung low. He slipped out without saying goodbye.
I don’t know what became of Bulldog. I didn’t see him at any of the reunions after that.
A part of me expects to see him in the White House, the way it’s been going. I’m sure there’s a Cabinet position available for born-again, gay-bashing bullies. Seems like most of them.
I no longer find Bulldog interesting, except as a cautionary tale. What is interesting is what happened to the women in our group that day. One by one they took up causes of activism. One stood at Standing Rock, one fought against bullying in the school system, all championed gay rights, all marched in the January 21st Women’s March around the country and the world.
As for me, well, I’ve got my pledge to keep, doesn’t matter if they’re a lawyer, truck driver or a president.
If they won’t turn hate into love, then we have to.
Forty years ago, I didn’t defend myself, and I was too scared to protect Anjel. Sweet little boy. He died as a young man.
For all the Anjels, for the Anjel in all of us, we must turn the tide of hate into an avalanche of love.