Mr. Armstrong had a paddle on the shelf and everyone at O'Leary Junior High knew that he used it occasionally.
With us girls sitting in facing chairs, he asked, "Why are you here?"
The other girl was a known bully, a person everyone tried to avoid or appease--everyone except me. I had been bullied enough in my life, and this time I was going to stand up.
With a tiny bit of fear but trying to sound braver than I felt, I answered his question. "We walked across the street yesterday after school was out. She brought her friend, and I was alone. We exchanged words for a few minutes, and then I waited for her to hit me. When she did, I fought back. I'm not proud of it, but I did defend myself. I shouldn't have left school grounds, and I should have gone home instead, but I didn't. I'm sorry for fighting."
But I wasn't sorry for standing up to her. To this day, I'm proud of that moment in my life. In that brief encounter filled with hair pulling, kicking, and a few well placed punches (from both sides), I stood up for myself and the dozen other kids she'd terrorized.
After hearing my side of the story, Mr. Armstrong gave me a not painful swat with his paddle and dismissed me. Later, he confided in me that the punishment for fighting was a swat, no matter the situation, but he knew that I had defended myself. And he actually told me he was proud of me for standing up to her.
I recently uncovered a similar situation with a bully, but this time it's an adult. I agonized over what I should do with the information I received.
Should I lay low and hope someone else would stand up? No one else had all the information I did. Others who knew of the situation were in positions where their jobs would be jeopardized if they disclosed what they knew.
What would happen if I did nothing? The situation would undoubtedly deteriorate, with long lasting effects rippling through our neighborhood.
What would happen if I did something? I could be portrayed unkindly and villainized in my community as a troublemaker. And the decision to stand up for what was right could affect not only me, but my younger kids as well.
I took a few weeks to plan a course of action. I knew I was facing a situation where, while there may be a desired outcome, consequences would reach far and deep and last long. Was it worth it?
In the end, I chose to stand.
I stood alone, the face of the resistance to authority, armed with the testimonials of others to support me. I knew what I stood for was right. It was the truth.
Since making the fight against this bully public, many have gathered to my standard. Some have mobilized against us. Others, whose fear is strong, are choosing to wait out the battle. I'm not passing judgment on anyone. I respect everyone's right to speak their truth and follow their own hearts to the actions best for them.
But for me--right now in this place--I'm choosing to cross the street and meet the bully face to face, just like I did at thirteen years old.
I will fight today to preserve tomorrow.
And I'm not afraid.