My freshman year in college, I lived in a large dormitory. It was a tough year, because I was bullied relentlessly by two other freshmen, one of whom was my roommate. While his assaults were verbal, the other guy, who lived down the hall, was far more threatening to me, with the hint of violence always looming behind his taunts. This guy – I’ll call him Jake – was a street-hardened bully from a rough part of northern Indiana, and I knew I didn’t stand a chance against him in a fight.
So I took the abuse. For months on end.
I found solace in my studies, attending what was then the largest music school in the world, so I could disappear into my musical world for most of the day. But eventually, I’d always have to go home.
One night I returned to my dorm to find Jake standing in front of my door, barring my entrance. He greeted me with the obscene nickname he and his buddy had come up with for me, which they found every possible occasion to use, often humiliating me in front of my friends and classmates. As I approached, he bobbed and lunged at me, daring me to try to get past him and open the door.
For some reason, on that particular day, I’d had enough.
Without thinking, I grabbed Jake’s head in both hands, and slammed his head against the door. Then we stood, staring at each other. Jake was speechless, his wide-eyed expression making me think he was probably feeling more surprise than pain. Whatever the combination, it did the trick. After a long moment, Jake walked away without a word.
But a weird thing happened once I got inside my room. In what should a been a triumphant Hollywood moment, I instead found myself feeling nauseated. While I’d been in the inevitable scrape or two as a teen, this was by far the most violent move I’d ever made against somebody. And now the thought of it was making me feel physically ill. And what was even weirder: I felt incredibly guilty. Even though that punk completely deserved what he got.
I’d never been a very aggressive or violent guy. By nature, I’m conflict-averse. (This is perhaps not a great trait for a fiction writer, since conflict is our stock-in-trade. But I digress…) Now I had learned in a visceral way that violence really just wasn’t in my nature. This was a surprising revelation to me, given how much I liked violent, action-packed movies and books. It was quite confounding: here was this bully who had tormented me for months, and now I found myself debating whether to go find the guy and apologize? Seriously, what the hell was going on? [Read more…]