Sometimes, I like to think of my patience and anger like a Libra scale. On one side is your patience, and on the other side is your anger and the things that make you upset. For me, patience is usually heavier. The amount of anger I can take is dependent on the amount of patience I have. When my scale tips, anger gets heavier than patience. Something changes inside me, and anger takes control. That is a scary time. There’s no way of knowing what I may say or do.
I used to feel like being stubborn was a good thing. I used to think that I was strong because I couldn’t be changed. But now I realize that change helps the world function. What would happen if caterpillars didn’t become butterflies, and seeds never became trees? It was scary to let down my walls and open up to change, but it was all worth it in the end.
Victor, the school bully, was an average guy for that school, which saddens me still. He was rich and acted extremely entitled. At first, it was just horsing around with his friends in a way that was annoying to the rest of us; then it turned into rolling houses and beating other students in between classes. He did things like stuffing people into their lockers and dumping them into trashcans, like a typical bully. But he was smart, too, and went to great lengths to make sure he got away with it. He made great use of the small and hidden areas of the school, like the basement or the extra broom closet, the places where no one ever went. These dark and unmonitored areas were where his most notorious crimes went down, to be sure that he wasn’t caught, and no one was sure what happened unless they had been there. But he hadn’t done anything in those spots in a long time. He was so disrespectful and abusive to the teachers that they began to let him get away with everything, too afraid to stop him. All the kids were sure that what used to happen in those secret spots was now happening right in front of our eyes, in the middle of the classroom.
But what set Victor apart from other bullies was that he wasn’t afraid to hurt anyone; girls, boys, high school kids, middle school kids, he bullied them all. He put my best friend, a small girl, into random lockers all the time. My little brother, a tiny second grader, had his lunch snatched daily. And I truly believe that he thought it was funny, like no one cared.
It wasn’t funny. It was serious, and he really didn’t understand.
I was no exception to his wrath. When I was younger, I was a small, poorly protected girl just like my best friend, and he liked to grab me and put me into trashcans. It wasn’t so much anymore, but when I was younger, it was all the time. But I didn’t get it nearly as bad as others, whom he nearly killed solely on the basis of race or gender. I had, for the most part, forgotten all about that in high school and tried to have a normal school experience, learning as much as possible, until I started noticing Victor watching me. He would make sure to catch my eyes before he shoved or abused someone, as though he thought that I liked it, like he was doing it for me. After a few weeks of his unwanted attention, he approached me. It was extremely surprising. We hadn’t spoken in years, and then he suddenly showed up while I was taking things out of my locker, preparing for my next class.
“Hey, remember me?” he said slowly and deeply, an evil smile spread across his face. Unfortunately, I did remember him. It was impossible to forget him.
“We knew each other in middle school,” he grinned. “Whatever happened to our friendship…” We had never been friends, but I decided not to contradict him.
“You’re so much prettier now,” he whispered flirtatiously, running his hand through my hair, and I scowled. What did my looks have to do with anything? My heart pounded as I started to realize what he was hinting at.
“I think you should know that I’ve changed,” he said. “I’m a nice guy now.”
That was the biggest lie yet. Just because we hadn’t spoken didn’t mean that I didn’t see him taunting and torturing our classmates. It was a very small school. There would be no way for me to go to school every day and not see him. I remembered all the bad things I had seen him do just that morning and my head started to spin. He hadn’t changed, no matter what he wanted me to believe.
“I think we should get together,” he said finally, taking my hand in his.
“I-I don’t think so,” I stammered, ripping my hand away. “You haven’t changed at all, have you? You’re still trying to take things that aren’t yours!”
He laughed awkwardly. “Yeah, I know we’ve had our differences in the past,” he admitted. “I wasn’t the nicest to you back then, but I’ve really been regretting that lately. You turned out to be so much cuter now than you were then.
I was repulsed. Did he really only care about the way I looked, rather than my personality? That seemed to be the only thing that had changed. I wasn’t some dork anymore for him to hassle whenever he wanted.
“Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” he asked, a desperate look in his eye.
I thought for a moment. Was he really groveling to me, asking me what I wanted him to do?
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe there’s nothing,” I mumbled.
As the words were coming out of my mouth, I wanted to kick myself. When would I ever have this opportunity again, to get this person that I hate to do something for me?
But would I really be willing to sell myself to this awful person for whatever little desire popped into my mind first? Could anything be worth that? Maybe this was a sign of his maturity, though. If he hadn’t changed yet, maybe I could change him.
One thing was for sure; I wasn’t just going to give this to him. Whatever I made him do, I was going to make him work for me.
“I guess, there is one thing you could do,” I suggested, and his face lit up hopefully.
“What is it? I’ll do it.”
“You could apologize to everyone you have been mean to,” I said tentatively, and his expression changed.
“I mean, not everyone,” I said quickly, scrambling to keep him on board. “Just my friends, and a few of our teachers, maybe.”
He sighed. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want? Nothing else I can do?”
I shook my head. “That’s what I want.”
He drew in a deep breath.
“And you can’t be mean to them again,” I added, “or anyone else. I like nice guys.”
Victor sighed deeply. “Well, anything you want.”
“Well, if you can manage this, then we can see where things take us when you finish.”
I didn’t regret saying this, even as I walked away. As scared as I may have been of him and his lack of fear or conscience, I felt like I was walking on air. I may have been sacrificing myself, but it was for the greater good, and I felt proud of myself. I didn’t even think about what I would do once he finished. If he was able to change his ways, could I really be his friend? I wasn’t like him. I couldn’t put him through all this just to pull the rug out from under him. I’d be undoing all that work. Even worse, I’d be sinking to his level. I assumed I would really try to help him change his ways. I believed that when he finished, he would be a good person, and hopefully a bearable friend.
I checked back in with him later that day to see how far he’d gotten; he had done nothing, and was even harassing a fourth grader in the lunch line when I found him. He decided to start, with my encouragement, after lunch, so I took him by the hand and carefully brought him around school to people he owed an apology to, carefully holding his arm so he knew I was there for him, but I was secretly afraid that he may try to run.
I brought him to his homeroom teacher and forced him to tell her that he was sorry for his behavior, and he hated it. His delivery made it impossible to believe that he really meant any of it. It all felt like a joke when he said it, and most people seemed even more offended afterward. He seemed to be doing more harm than good. He kept a brave face for some of it. Then he started saying bad things about them in the halls. Then he started making faces and hideous gestures, so we had to stop. It had been an awful first day. He had failed so miserably that I started to lose faith that he would ever learn. But I reminded myself that he had never learned any of this. I could somehow teach him how to be a good person.
When he started to get discouraged, that’s exactly what I told him. But that only seemed to make him more frustrated. It was a difficult ride for both of us.
He hadn’t even come close to fulfilling his promise. I told him once he got the hang of it, these apologies would go by faster, and he’d eventually get them all done tomorrow. He seemed like he believed me, but I barely believed myself.
Apologizing and acting like a decent person didn’t seem so hard to me. Having to apologize to a few people in our school seemed so small and insignificant compared to all the bigger problems in the world and surely he had faced bigger problems than this before. I really didn’t understand why he got so worked up doing the least possible thing for those he had hurt. What was he afraid of that he wasn’t telling me? Maybe he’s seen or been through things that I couldn’t imagine, and was afraid of something that I could never understand. Maybe it was what I’d thought, that he didn’t know how to say he was sorry. Maybe it was just that he was overly dramatic.
At home that night, I put Victor and his problem out of my mind until I got a call on my cell phone from an unknown number. I answered it and Victor’s voice came through the other end.
He told me that he couldn’t do it. He was giving up on his task entirely. He said that he still liked me, and was willing to be my friend if I somehow lowered my demands. He waited patiently for my reply, and in a tremulous voice, I told him everything that had been in my heart from the moment I met him.
I told him how much I hated him. For the years I had known him, I hated him. He was cruel, heartless, and cold. I never wanted anything to do with him again.
When I first began, my voice was shaky, but as I poured out my thoughts, my conviction grew, and I spoke in a confident, self-assured voice. He started out quiet and ashamed too, but as time passed, he got louder and angrier, starting to defend himself. I couldn’t stand to hear him blame everyone else for his awful behavior. We argued for a fierce few minutes before I finally hung up on him.
I couldn’t understand how he could do terrible things to so many people and not feel bad about himself. He’d walked a mile in their shoes today and still found reasons to judge them. After all these things he had done, he felt no remorse. It was astounding to me.
It soon occurred to me that he wouldn’t be afraid to come after me again. He could easily be targeting me tomorrow. But we were much older now than we had been the first time he picked on me. I might have set myself up for disaster.
Then I realized that I had no reason to be afraid. I had been nervous for years to tell him all the things I said to him tonight. But I had done it, and that was all I wanted. I was ready to accept any consequence he might give because I had done the only thing I wanted to do.
The greater scale had tipped. My patience no longer outweighed my anger. I had lost my carefully restrained control tonight with Victor. I could no longer say that people never change their ways, because someone did change today, and it was in me, not Victor. I was no longer going to be a bystander. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer. It wasn’t just the scale; it was me who had tipped. I’d finally been broken. And I was filled with my newfound conviction that I needed to protect the people around me from falling prey to people like Victor. I felt it was up to me, and I gratefully welcomed this new task.
Despite all the awful things he does, I think that Victor is satisfied with himself. I think he feels the same way I did, that you have to be happy with who you are because you can’t change. To a certain degree, that is true; you don’t get to choose the unique set of challenges that you will face throughout your life, but what Victor didn’t understand is that it doesn’t matter the hand you were dealt. You are responsible for the way you react in the face of these challenges. That is one thing that you can change about yourself, and that makes all the difference in success or failure.