In ninth grade I was the reason Mike Haynes was suspended. I turned the junior high bully in after he robbed me of my lunch money twice.
He waited in a stairwell. When I approached, he’d push me to the side of the landing as the rest of my classmates instantly disappeared. Mike was thin, wiry. He was my height. We both wore similar uniforms, a white tee-shirt, Levi’s, though mine were always clean, save the occasional grass-stained knee. While I wore Converse high-tops, sometimes black, other times white, he wore tan, grease-stained workboots.
In the deserted stairwell, glaring at me, Mike flicked open a shiny knife, and said, matter-of-factly, “Jon, show me your bunny ears.”
For those not well-versed in the 1970’s suburban junior high school bully jargon, “bunny ears” is a euphemism for your jeans’ pockets, inverted, sticking out. The unspoken implication being anything in said pockets was changing ownership.
Writing this, I’m struck by the incongruity of evoking a bunny at that moment. I wonder if in the inner-city someone was saying, “Show me your rat ears.”
Still having faith in authority, I went to the Vice Principal, Mr. Burkholder. I ratted on Mike Haynes. I didn’t talk to my parents about it. I just did it. Burkholder called in the principal, Mr. Cialli and I retold my story. The next thing I knew, Cialli and Burkholder set up a tape recorder, instructing me to tell my story for a third time. They told me not to use my name.
By accident, I used my name. Providing as many details as I could, I said, “And then, Mike said, ‘Jon, show me your rabbit ears.'”
Later the recording was played for Mike’s father. If I recall correctly, there was no mother in the picture. Haynes was suspended for a month. My classmates talked about it, with a mixture of relief and curiosity. I said nothing. I don’t even remember telling my parents about it.
I do remember Haynes standing across the street from the school, just beyond school grounds, yelling to me while I waited for the afternoon bus. He yelled he knew I was the one who turned him in. He yelled his father told him someone named ‘Jon’ was the rat.
I don’t remember if he ever returned. I think he must have, though we had no further confrontations. A few months late my family moved across the country and Mike Haynes existed only in my memory.
At the time I was ashamed that I “told on” Mike, that I had broken a stupid schoolyard taboo. Over time I found fury that the administration compromised my identity. Were they that scared of legal recourse they recorded my testimony?
I don’t think I’ve ever told this story. Ever. I’ve carried it my entire life with shame at how scared I was. I also realize the moment cemented my lack of respect for authority.
I have no regrets. I did the right thing. I stood up to a bully. I also appreciate how this moment contributed to my sense of justice, to my situational-awareness when I perceive someone being preyed upon. I think the scars of this moment have helped make me who I am. I’m okay with that.
Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. There are tons of movie clips of bullying. I picked this one solely based on the stories that the character of Biff is based on the guy in the White House.