During the waning days of summer camp, we were given an opportunity to swim in the camp’s large, shallow pool. The half- Olympic pool was nowhere more than three feet deep, but it was a welcomed respite from the hot southern California sun. I climbed into the pool and sank to the floor, letting the water embrace me in it’s cool arms until my need for oxygen forced me back to the surface. Then I rested on my back, with an arm crossed over my eyes to block the light, I floated out toward the middle of the pool and away from the uproarious play going on nearer the edge. The water in my ears drowned out the noise, and for the first time since I had been at camp, I felt alone and at peace. I could feel the stress of the past two weeks slowly seeping from my muscles, and for a moment I was content. There were two lifeguards, and a random collection of counselors and children, so I felt confident that the boys who had so relentlessly tormented me wouldn’t dare attack me in this place. Almost as the thought had drifted through my mind though, a hand grabbed hold of my ankle and yanked me back to the present reality. Immediately, two more pairs of hands grabbed onto my arms and shoulders. Just as I took a deep breath so as to call for help, the boys pushed my head under the water. For a brief moment, the calm blue of the pool lulled me into a false sense of serenity. Certainly, the trio of bullies would only hold me under for a moment before letting me up so that I could hear their taunting laughter. I methodically tested their collective hold on me, but with four hands on my shoulders, and one each on my left arm and head, it was impossible for me to do much but thrash my right arm around. Any hope of striking the thugs was rendered impotent by the pressure of the water. I reached up to wave for help, but my fingers barely traced the surface above. Seconds went by, until it felt as if I had been underwater for a noticeably long time. Surely someone would be coming to my rescue soon… and more seconds drifted by, until my body involuntarily started trying to gasp for breath. Clenching my jaw tight, I knew that if I swallowed any water there would be no hope of recovery. Those boys were mean, but they were not liars. They were going to kill me. Once I understood that, my mind went immediately into a mode of thought I can scarcely describe. I was no longer struggling to escape, or to breathe, or even to live. I was going to destroy them as utterly as possible. Eyes opening wide, I remember how lazily the shorts of the boy in front of me drifted in the shifting water. A dark blue against a sea of lighter shades. With my right hand, which they had still failed to restrain, I reached up the leg of his shorts and grabbed hold of his testicles. With all of my strength, I yanked down on the sensitive gonads. With not enough oxygen left for a primal scream, I continued pulling down until I felt his hands release. Shortly the other hands let go of me as well. As I surfaced, I still had hold of the boy’s balls. The first sound I heard was his screaming in agony. Unable to muster the strength to swim, I waded my way to the edge of the pool, under the shadow of the lifeguard tower. Gasping for air and gagging as I lay on the concrete, my vision dimming, voices seemed so far away. The boys were angrily shouting threats, their voices steadily closing in on my new position. Shakily, I climbed to my knees, which wobbled unsteadily in my attempt to stand. Above me, the lifeguard shouted down “That’s it! Get out of the pool!” Certain that he had seen me being attacked, I turned and pointed to the bullies “They were trying to drown me.” I gasped. In a voice like ice, the adult said “I saw what happened. No one touched you. Now leave the pool area before I have to call your counselor.” For a split second, I stared up at him, my mouth hanging open in shock. “Go!” the lifeguard snapped at me, his finger pointing to the gate. I glanced back over at the boys who, now emboldened were closing in on me. The uninjured two hopped out of the pool, but I turned on my heels and ran as fast as I could down to the nurse’s office. Sitting alone on a plastic chair, I sobbed uncontrollably. No one ever asked me what had happened, but for the last few days of camp, I never for a moment left the immediate vicinity of the adults, the more of them I could see, the better. Laying in bed that night, I could still smell the chlorine water in my nostrils.
School had ended, and almost everyone had left. No one had come to pick me up, and I remember the shadows growing long. I began to think that maybe my parents had a miscommunication about which of them was going to pick me up that day. I sat on a swing, I sat at the picnic table, I wandered around the iceplant patches, I walked in circles, and as often as my anxiety gave rise, I walked to the end of the parking lot and peered down the street. I was starting to suspect that I was the only person left at the school when I rounded a corner and a boy was standing in front of me, arms crossed. I don’t remember his name, but he was the bully even the other bullies were careful around. He glared at me “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked sternly. I started to answer, but he cut me off “Shut up, pussy.” he spat out. Then he shoved me. I dropped my backpack to the ground and took a step away from him. He raised his fists “No one is here, so I’m gonna kick your ass hard.” Then he hit me. For a moment I was confused by how little it hurt, so I just stared at him. He swung at me again, but I grabbed his arm and shoved him to the ground. As he tried to stand back up, I shoved him back down with a foot, climbed over him, and knelt with my knees digging into his biceps. Then I curled up my fists and punched him in the face, over and over until he started crying, streams of tears running down his face. I kept punching him until blood gushed from his nose, and from the corner of his mouth, mixing with his tears. I hit that boy until my hands ached and he no longer cried. He just laid there, wide eyed in shock as I hit him again and again. Finally, I stood up and looked down at his face, which was filled with terror. I said “Don’t ever talk to me again.” And he did not. I never made any real friends at that school, but at least the bullying had finally stopped.
When summer came, we discovered that R2 and I were not the only ones waiting for the seasonal brook to dry up. We had decided our secret spot should be dry enough within the week, when the bulldozers came in a transformed our lush green playground into a barren yard full of rocks. To add insult to the injury, it seemed they had no intention of building anything on the land. They had just come in, destroyed something we loved, and then left. Indeed, it was several years before a home was placed onto the desecrated lot. I went to survey the damage with my two closest friends, R1 and R2. What had mere weeks before been a field verdant with grasses and sumac was now little more than dust strewn rocks. Our disappointment was absolute. As I looked about for any sign of fun that might be salvaged from the ruins of our meadow, R2 and R1 started to argue about something unknown to myself. Suddenly, the disagreement took a turn for the worse as R2 spat into R1’s face. Disgusted, she tried to wipe the saliva from her mouth and nostrils with the back of her hand. Reacting without a single thought, I balled up my fist, and struck R2 right in his eye. He stumbled back and cried out as I struck him again in the face. As I raised my fist to swing at R2 again, he crossed his arms in front of his face, and took a step away from me, catching his foot on one of the many rocks which had replaced the grasses of the season before. I swung and struck him in the top of his head as he stumbled backward and onto his seat. “Stop!” he yelled, but I hit him again. And again. R2 laid back onto the ground and covered his face as I knelt over him, hitting him over and over. I finally stopped for just a moment, and R2 moved his arms and opened his eyes in hopes that it was finally over. He was crying as he once again pleaded “Please, stop!” I glared down at him with a rage that rang in my ears “You shouldn’t have spit on her.” I picked up a weighty rock and lifted it over my head. Beneath me, R2’s eyes were filled with pure horror, as my intent was obvious. I would have smashed that rock into his face, had I not seen that same horror written on R1’s face. She looked at me, hand covering her mouth, her eyes wide with fear. I dropped the rock back onto the ground, got up and without a word, walked myself back home.