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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chased by the Hulking Mandel Brothers--a Bullying Question

adapted from an email; From: "Bob Komives" To: "Karen Streeter" 
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 5:20:57 PM 

Indeed, there was a family of many bullies at St. Columba School. As best I can reconstruct it. I was in 5th or possibly 6th grade when three of them were in the classes ahead of me. The biggest and baddest was the middle one, Mike. I'm not sure how it got started, but we played various tackle games in the winter when we had snow and ice over the asphalt playground. One game was simply a version of tag, where one kid was “it” and as soon as he was tackled there were two who were  now “it” and trying to tackle more of us. So it went until one was left un-tackled. I suspect I had managed to be the un-tackled one a couple of times in row. I'm slow, but then I was a little faster and shiftier than the typical boy at St. Columba.

In any case, the Mandel brothers decided they were going to show me who ruled the playground. For what seemed like months (likely weeks) on into the spring, they pursued me all over the playground. Almost every day when I made it out for recess they would spot me and give chase.

I was scared out of my wits, but I had more wits and more agility than they. Using groups of girls and groups of boys scattered across the playground (well we weren't technically supposed to venture into the girls' part) I would feint, and sprint, and duck, and swerve, leaving them gasping for air. I was never sure I would actually succeed, nor were they convinced they would fail, but every day the bell rang and I was free--a growing hero among my peers who watched but never helped.

Lucky for me, there was no way the intimidation could happen at other times during the day. After school and at lunch we left school in "divisions" (walking double-file toward home with police boys until we became police boys ourselves. The Mandels lived a few blocks east of school. I lived a few blocks west.

I'd swear this recess contest picked up for a while the next year, when they were only two brothers—Mike and his less intimidating little brother (still bigger than I). I'm not sure. But this I know: at some point, someway, one day, they tried to save face by declaring I wasn't worth the trouble. I had won. I didn't think in these terms then, but I had beaten the school bullies.

Was I bullied? Given my fear level and the duration, I'd say yes. Given my ultimate triumph, I'd say no. I was never bullied into doing or not doing something (other than running), nor was I bullied into submission. I do have a clear sense of what it feels like to dread going out onto the playground. I can feel it in my gut as I write.

Interesting to me in retrospect is how silent it was. Other than a "let's get'm" there was never a word spoken between us; I didn't talk to my friends much about it, and I, of course, never told a teacher nor my parents. Even the nun monitoring the playground did not catch on to what was happening as we circled around her and the playground. I guess the silence made it look to her like we were just having fun. I'm sure I did smile a lot when I barely escaped a Mandel grasp or caused them to trip over each other or slip onto their butts on the snow and ice. Can outwitting and out-manouvering bullies be bullying?

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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