What if someone threatened you?

By Author's name withheld
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Illustration by Elizabeth Jaramillo, 16, University HS

The first day at my new school was nerve-wracking, especially since I was a senior and didn’t know anyone. My mom had lied about the school. It didn’t have a football field or a nearby lake, like my old school in New York. Instead, bird droppings were on almost every building and loud kids lingered in the hallways. I knew right away that I wouldn’t like it. I remember that morning because some kid shoved past me in the hall after the bell rang. I didn’t think too much of it at the time since he did the same to others. I didn’t know I would run into him again.

When I got to my first class the teacher just told me to sit down. I was never properly introduced to anyone. I didn’t want to sit in the front since I already sensed all eyes on me, so I walked down my imaginary catwalk and took the last desk near the wall. I had alienated myself from my classmates without realizing it. Still, I didn’t think it would be hard making friends since kids back home were nice and friendly. But these kids weren’t friendly. They stared impolitely and talked among themselves.

In class I later recognized the kid who had shoved past me. His name was Joseph* and he kept staring at me, making me feel uneasy. A couple days later he "accidentally" knocked my papers off my desk. He also snarled and muttered when he passed me in the hall. I couldn’t understand what he said, but I knew his remarks were insulting. I thought, "What the heck is this guy’s problem? He doesn’t even know me." I thought that maybe if he knew I was a nice guy he would leave me alone.

I’m not a fighter

I didn’t stand up to him on any of those occasions because I’ve never been fond of fighting. I’ve never even been in a real fistfight. The only fight I’ve ever been in was with my little brother over whose turn it was to take out the trash.

I could have talked to someone at school about the bullying problem I was having. I could have spoken to my teacher, the dean, the school police, the principal or, if need be, my mom. I’m certain the problem would have gone away, but I’m also certain others would have arisen. A school administrator would have questioned the other students. They would have wasted no time in spreading the word about me telling someone, and surely Joseph would have manipulated the story to make himself look good. The students would have started calling me names, though no one would have dared say them to my face. I would have gone from being the new kid to being the scared new kid. I was determined not to start off badly, but I did.

On the last day of the first week at my new school, I arrived at 10:30 a.m. as usual, since I didn’t have a first or second period anymore. I wandered through the halls to waste a little time and then finally made my way into class. I took my usual seat at the back of the room, away from the other students, and grabbed my English workbook. I kept myself busy by wondering what I would be doing back home or doodling on the side of my paper. I had known that the first week of school was going to be awkward and I was thankful the weekend had arrived.

Ten minutes later I saw Joseph approaching me. He was a frightening kid. He had a cold menacing smile painted across his face, an arched back and broad shoulders. He towered over the rest of the students.

"Are you done with page 60?" he asked. I responded "no" without looking at him. We both knew I was nearing the end of the workbook and already on page 110.

He put his hand on the corner of my desk and asked in a louder voice, "Are you done with the workbook?"

Our teacher paid no attention and continued with his vocabulary lesson. The students were staring, not because someone had stood up to the man-child but because the new kid had spoken aloud in class for the first time. I decided to stand my ground. Joseph had probably picked on other kids before me, so maybe my saying "no" would be a turning point and empower them. Either way, I was determined not to let him pick on me anymore. I wanted the first impression the other students got of me to be a bold and unforgettable one. And I thought that if I stood up to him, he would back down.

I closed the workbook and jammed it into my backpack. I turned back around and smiled at him, infuriating him even more with my cockiness.

I sat still as I saw his hands clenching, teeth gnashing and heart pounding. His brow tightened and his smirk faded. I knew I had ignited his short fuse and he would go off on me soon, so I braced myself for the blows I had unwillingly earned.

I was defenseless

THUMP! I was surprised. I thought surely that he was going to pound my face in first. Instead, one of his faded shoes hit me right below the kneecap. I wanted to rub it and ease the pain, but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it hurt. Instead I sprang up out of my seat and confronted him face to chin. I already knew I wasn’t going to fight him because I don’t believe brute force solves anything. And I’ve always been taught that fighting is morally wrong.

His fist headed toward my chest. THUMP! I fell back in my seat and hit the wall. I had gone down as quickly as I had gotten up. "How embarrassing," I thought. Meanwhile students were scrambling through the room to get a better look.


I didn’t understand what he shouted at me. I didn’t know when one word began and another ended. It was like he was speaking in a dialect.

So again I stood, this time thrusting myself toward him. THUMP! He rammed his fist into my chin. I felt like Rocky in his first fight against Apollo Creed. As I began to fall back I could almost hear Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, yell "Stay down, stay down." But I couldn’t. I wrapped my arm around his neck, trying to restrain him, and somehow I managed to pull him down with me. Two students then pulled Joseph off me and the fight was over. I was surprised because what felt like an eternity had lasted only a minute.

I was deeply frustrated throughout the incident because I could have hit Joseph but I chose not to. Joseph was the dumbest person I knew. In 12th grade and picking fights, I guess he didn’t quite understand that we would soon be entering the real world, where you can’t touch someone without facing assault charges.

After we were separated, the teacher’s aide escorted us to the dean’s office. As I waited in the office with Joseph and the dean, I felt all alone again. I had the same feeling rumbling inside of me that I had when those majestic twin towers came crumbling down, of seeing my home in Syracuse for the last time, and of looking out the airplane window and first seeing the bright lights of Los Angeles. Nothing seemed right. I wished I had never left home to come to this miserable city.

Joseph’s parents walked in quietly with their heads hung. I caught a glimpse of their long faces and saw the shame in their eyes. I knew they felt bad, so I felt accomplished. Their little angel had let them down and I was content knowing that I had damaged Joseph’s relationship with his parents.

My mother, late as usual, walked in and stood next to me. My mind went wandering as soon as the dean began to speak. I wondered why bad parents gave their kids biblical names. Do they think that’s enough to save them? Is wearing an expensive gold cross going to get you into the kingdom of heaven? I then thought I had the upper hand since my Christian cross was made out of wood and string. I considered myself modest and thought that surely I would get into heaven, not realizing how absurd my reasoning was.

The punishment wasn’t too bad. The dean gave Joseph a week’s suspension. I was only suspended for a couple days, but I took a week off. I didn’t think his ruling was fair since I never really fought Joseph, but only tried to control him.

I saw my mom walking out of the room and I followed her to the car. I didn’t know if I was able to leave with her, but I didn’t really care.

I didn’t do much in the time I had off except start writing this story and watch the soap opera Passions. I couldn’t wait to lie on my bed and explore thoughts in my head. I was trying to figure out why anyone resorts to bullying. Are they driven to it by once being bullied themselves or are they predestined to be hostile? Either way bullying is stupid. Other than that, I couldn’t stop thinking about this one thing. I had wanted to punch a koala bear since before I could remember. I had always dreamt about a fluffy, gray little bear hugging a tree. I would approach it and begin beating it until I felt its chest cave in, or I got tired. Maybe the dream was telling me that subconsciously I wanted to pick on something defenseless, like Joseph did with me.

I didn’t speak to Joseph the rest of the semester. He didn’t approach my desk anymore, or look at me in class. I think he was trying to avoid me because he felt bad about the fight. I never fought back like he had hoped and I’m sure other people knew that.

This semester, he’s not in my class. I still haven’t spoken with Joseph or tried to patch things up with him. Maybe I’ll look back on this one day and try to fix things, we’ll become the best of friends and joke about the whole thing. No, I’m kidding.

I know I did the right thing by not fighting. But looking back, I wish I had talked to someone instead of trying to resolve the problem myself, although I never expected to get into a fight. If I had talked to an administrator I would have gotten a bad reputation, but it would have been better than what happened.

I know there were better ways of handling my situation and I know that if I were in the same predicament again, I would just walk away and tell someone.