How We Beat the Bully, Part 2
I adjust my glasses, readying myself for battle. “Seems like everyone’s laughing,” I answer. We are fighting a war of sarcasm. “Just leave us alone, Phillip,” Brian says.
“You’re so stupid,” Phillip says to Brian. I find this comment ironic, considering Brian’s engineering abilities. Before the argument can escalate any further, English class is over.
The faculty at my middle school pride themselves on helping to resolve differences between students. For a public school, the behavior rules are unusually strict. The slightest hint of harassment—physical or verbal—is not tolerated, provided that the teachers see or hear the infractions. Fights seldom break out in school. The strict detention system, which penalizes you for chewing a piece of gum, threatens harsh consequences for those who even think about starting a fight.
As a result, undercover verbal harassment is the weapon of choice among the middle-school’s students. And this harassment is common, because, unlike a fight, where there is ample evidence, like cuts and bruises, spoken words simply vanish into the air without a trace. Phillip is keenly aware of how to circumvent the school’s disciplinary policy, knowing that no one can obtain proof of his mean-spirited language—or so he thinks.
After more than three weeks of verbal attacks, I ask Brian, “So what do you want to do about Phillip?” I take a bite of my turkey sandwich.
“I don’t know. He’s a real jerk,” says Brian.
“If we tell Mr. Mackenzie, I guess, we would be tattletales, and that would be humiliating,” I say. “Your reputation would be ruined,” Brian says. “And Phillip would make fun of us about that, too.”
“We can’t fight him,” I add, “because then we’ll be blamed, even though he’s the one who started it with his trash talk.”
Setting Up the Sting
I tell myself that there has to be a way to outsmart Phillip. I get an idea and decide to run it by my mother after school. I have been talking to her about the Phillip ordeal ever since it began, and we’ve been brainstorming ways to defuse his comments.
We have discussed using a combination of humor, answering back, and ignoring him. I can tell that my mother is troubled, worried about my fitting in. I make her promise that she will let me handle the situation, because I do not want her contacting Phillip’s parents and ruining my reputation at school.
“I want to record Phillip on a tape recorder,” I say.
My mother takes a thoughtful breath. “OK….” We go upstairs to her office, and, after searching through the desk drawers for a few minutes, we find her miniature tape recorder.
Now, I need to find a place to hide the tape recorder, a spot where Phillip will not see it, but where it will still be close enough to record his insults. I decide that my nylon pencil case, attached to the inside of my binder, is the ideal place to house it.
Collecting the Evidence
“Today, we’re finally going to get Phillip,” I say to Brian the next morning. I describe how I’m going to use the tape recorder.
“Oh, that’s cool; let’s do it!” says Brian, smiling widely, feeling relieved, liberated, and excited all at the same time. Brian and I go to our table, followed by Phillip. I put my binder on top of the table and stick my hand inside the black pencil case, where the tape recorder is hidden. I press down the record button.
“So, have you been shaking your head lately?” Phillip says with a sneer. The first piece of evidence is gathered. Brian almost starts laughing.
“You’re so stupid, you can’t even answer a question,” Phillip says to me. Then to Brian, he chides, “What are you laughing about, nerd?”
Brian attempts to draw Phillip out further. “Hey, Blake, I built this cool remote-control car.”
“Yeah, that’s all you do, fiddle with cars. That’s why you have no friends,” Phillip responds. “You, too, Blake. You don’t have friends either. You’re not popular. And you don’t dress the right way.”
The tape recorder is getting all of this. I am amazed that my plan is working so well. Phillip is incriminating himself.