life in bedlam
These questions have been rolling around my head for a while. It started with some verbal bullying incidents my older son experienced earlier in the school year. “Why would anyone go to the trouble of taunting someone?” I thought. “What’s in it for them?”
I advocated for my son. I learned that the ringleader was herself a troubled girl. Of course. She had problems of her own. Her mom is really trying.
I’m sympathetic. How can I not be as the mom of a kid on the spectrum, after all?
Then another girl started calling my younger son names. He came home saying that he didn’t want to take the bus. It was such an about-face, he loved the bus. I pressed him for information and he told me about the girl. “She said I’m stupid,” he told me, “She says I’m retarded.”
The R word. Whoa. I went to the dean of students. We had a chat. Before the girl’s name had fully exited my mouth I could see from his face that he wasn’t surprised. A serial taunter. A habitual haranguer. He’s been working with her. She’s got issues of her own.
I’m less sympathetic now. Sure, one of my kids has issues, but it would never occur to him to use his considerable verbal skills to be intentionally mean and hurt someone’s feelings. It’s not in him. It’s not in his nature.
Recently, yet another girl starts popping up in conversations with my younger son at the end of the school day. This time, she’s a classmate, and he can’t avoid her. “She keeps saying ‘Cut your hair!’ every day, it’s ‘Cut your hair!'” he cries. I tell him that she has no right to comment on his appearance and it’s none of her business.
But he asks me to take him for a haircut. On top of her critiques, he’d been mistaken for a girl one too many times.
The next day he tells me this self-appointed school fashion cop said, “THANK YOU for cutting your hair!” I’m fuming on his behalf.
“What did you say?” I asked him. “Nothing out loud,” he replied, “But to myself I said something very inappropriate!”
John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
But Mitt didn’t wait for Mr. Lauber to cut his hair himself:
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
I texted my husband about Romney. “I hate him,” I said. “I wasn’t going to vote for him, but now I hate him.”
“Prep school prick,” he replied.
Troubled. Issues. Prep school prick. What motivates cruelty? How can someone lack enough empathy for a fellow human being, standing right in front of him or her? What convinces a person, in that moment, that speaking or behaving in a vicious and hurtful manner is a good idea?
I’m still waiting for an answer.