Friends at School

“In the End My Bully Respected Me – ADHD and All.”

When one boy’s bully wouldn’t back down, he took matters into his own hands – and got him to apologize. Read more from Blake Taylor’s book ADHD & Me.

A bully sits outside the principals office.

I am 11 years old, and in the middle of sixth grade. My family recently moved to California. It’s Monday, my first day at my new school. As you would imagine, I dread being the new kid, especially when I’m not making new friends yet.

But, in particular, I’m feeling anxiety because I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I’m afraid it’s going to show up in front of a large roomful of classmates.

After my mother and I go to the school office to fill out the paperwork, I am led to English, my first class. The teacher, Mr. Mackenzie, looks up from his desk and smiles at me. “OK, everyone, be quiet for a second. This is our new student, Blake Taylor.” He manages to draw all the attention to me, creating an embarrassing situation. All eyes scrutinize me, and then a general “hello” echoes throughout the classroom.

The desks are clustered together in groups of four to allow students to interact. I sit with two girls and a boy named Brian. “Hi,” I greet my table partners, as I accidentally knock my notebook and loose-leaf binder off the desk. The anxiety and nervousness of being new is at its height.

Although my classmates watch me with confounded eyes, they don’t yet know me well enough to either ask or ridicule me about the reason for my awkwardness. I have that advantage for now. Eventually, I will tell some classmates that I’m a kid with ADHD, as a means of explaining my behaviors.

Over the next month, Brian becomes my first friend. I learn about how he builds remote-controlled cars from scratch, flies gas-powered model airplanes, and repairs lawn sprinklers. His zeal for constructing things, however, has won him the reputation of being a nerd.

The Bully Rears His Ugly Head

In February, Mr. Mackenzie rearranges the table assignments, as he does every two months, and Brian and I are moved to a table next to a boy named Phillip.

“Today, we will begin our poetry unit,” says Mr. Mackenzie.

“What should I write about?” I ask Brian happily. I’ve started to feel comfortable in my class.

“I don’t know. A car?” he suggests.

“Oh, how about a snake? Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” I start scribbling down words in my large handwriting, which resembles scratches on a page. I push out my elbows to balance myself on the desktop, and books and colored pencils spill onto the floor.

“I’d be surprised if you can write a poem about anything while dropping everything and making a scene,” Phillip interjects slyly. Brian and I exchange looks, trying to understand the reason for this verbal attack. “Is something wrong?” I ask Phillip. He doesn’t bother answering, but, instead, looks over at Brian and then back at me.

“You know, your friend here,” he says, pointing at Brian, “is the weirdest nerd I’ve ever seen.” Apparently, Brian and Phillip have known each other since elementary school. “Just shut up, Phillip,” Brian replies.

Before Phillip can think of another mean comment, Mr. Mackenzie announces that poetry time has ended. We won’t have to suffer any more of Phillip’s insults for now. However, we have eight more weeks of this seating arrangement and, therefore, eight more weeks of having to endure Phillip.

With time, Phillip’s comments become increasingly frequent and spiteful. Phillip turns toward Brian. “So, have you made any new friends lately?” he taunts. Brian doesn’t respond and, instead, looks down at the desk in dismay. “Oh, that’s right,” says Phillip, sarcastically answering his own question. “You can’t make any friends. You’d rather fix cars and sprinklers.” Brian seems helpless.

“And I’m sure you would make friends, with the way you talk,” I reply.

“Like you would know, shake-boy.” Phillip begins to taunt me by jerking his head around in imitation of my tic. “Hey, look, I’m Blake. I can’t stop shaking my head.” He is the only one in class laughing at his joke.

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.

“This English class is so stupid,” Phillip begins again. “I have more important things to do than sit here with the two of you-one a nerd, the other an ADHD case.” He is baiting us, but we don’t respond, and, luckily, he keeps on talking.

“I have a lot of friends, and I have a lot of fun with my friends. We do cool stuff, like burning things. We burn lots of things, and we don’t get caught. You know, I have a life.” Phillip prattles on.

I almost open my mouth in shock, hearing that Phillip is not only a bully but also an amateur arsonist. But I restrain myself, hoping he’ll keep going.

“Well, I don’t enjoy destroying property,” I answer.

“Well, that’s your problem,” says Phillip, happily using my response as a springboard for an insult. “You don’t do anything that’s fun. And you shake your head. You’re always dropping things and bumping into people. That’s why no one likes you.”

I shut off the recorder and put my pencil case away. I don’t want to risk having Phillip find the tape recorder. After English class, Brian and I play back the tape, and, to our relief, Phillip’s voice is loud and clear.

When I return home at the end of the day, I play the tape for my mother, and we agree that the next step is to go to the school principal, Mrs. Chun. We ask Brian and his mother to join us.

I think to myself, “I can defeat the bully and still preserve my reputation at school.” I am not, after all, being a tattletale. I am just the messenger. Phillip has provided all the words. My classmates will view me as intelligent and courageous for bringing this bully to light.

Spilling the Beans

“So, what’s been going on?” Mrs. Chun asks when she meets with us.

“Well,” my mother begins, “one of the students, named Phillip, has been harassing Blake and Brian on a daily basis for the past five weeks.”

“Yes, I’ve heard the same from Brian,” says Brian’s mom.

“What does he say to you?” Mrs. Chun asks me.

“Well,” I say, as I reach into my backpack to pull out the tape recorder, “he says a lot of things. And some of his comments are recorded here.” Mrs. Chun looks with amazement at the tape recorder.

“Very cunning,” says Brian’s mother.

I place the tape recorder on Mrs. Chun’s desk and rewind the tape to the beginning. Phillip’s words spill out: “You’re so stupid, you can’t even answer a question…. Yeah, that’s all you do…and that’s why you have no friends…. You don’t dress the right way…. I have a lot of friends…. We burn lots of things, and we don’t get caught.”

After she’s heard the recording, Mrs. Chun responds, “Well, your case is very strong.” It’s more serious than she had initially thought. “I’ll talk with Phillip and his parents about this,” she says.

The next day, Phillip is gone from school. In fact, he is gone for three days. It is pleasant in English class for the first time in weeks.

When he returns, he looks sullen. His eyes are downcast, and he avoids looking at Brian and me. He is no longer on the offensive. He is humiliated, knowing that he was outsmarted in a very public way. Outside of English class, Phillip approaches me.

“Blake, I’m sorry I was such a jerk. I picked on you because of your problem. I was also jealous of you. Jealous of your grades and that you could do better than me in school.”

I am taken aback by Phillip’s plain honesty. I am silent.

“It’s OK,” I finally respond. There is nothing more to say. Phillip had insulted me because of my ADHD, but in the end, he’s been forced to respect me – ADHD and all.

This piece was excerpted from his book, ADHD & Me. Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications.

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