I tried to look away in disgust, yet I could not. I was so shocked by their immature behavior that I was paralyzed. Then, the tattered end of the noose was flung in the air...
In elementary school, I remember the anti-bullying talks we were given the 30-minute lectures about how being a bystander of bullying is no better than being the bully oneself. Back then, every time we were told to sit in a circle and listen to these talks, I would always silently groan. I rejected the thought that the videos we were shown would have any relevance to reality in the future. I lived in this little bubble all throughout elementary school and the first year of middle school, and it shielded me from the cliques that were forming, the rumors developing, and the growing number of insults occurring.
Halfway through seventh grade, I was a sponge next to a bowl of liquid middle school cliches. I just touched the surface of the substance, and, the next thing I knew, I was infused with the idea that exclusive groups are bound to form, that teasing each other mercilessly is just another part of the middle school journey, and that the opinions of others are all that matter. There was nothing anybody could do to change this mindset. These unannounced rules were seemingly set in stone. Nobody could stop the teasing and cliques once they started.
Halfway through my eighth grade year, two boys from one of the popular groups started teasing a boy on the lower half of middle school’s social hierarchy. The boys would shout, “Hey! What are you doing with your hand?” or “Put your pants back on!” and so on. As time progressed, these insults became more repulsive, and they would shout even louder so that most of the bus could hear. The victim would regularly tell them to stop teasing him, but they wouldn’t. They ignored him and teased him even more. It was as if he had fueled their fire, and they just wanted more. Naturally, the rest of the bus just ignored them for both the sake of the boy’s dignity and our own self-protection.
And then, only days before the school year ended, one of the bullies took out a rope from his backpack. He tied a loop with it and fastened three rings of rope above the main ring, forming what was obviously a noose. The boys started to fool around with their new “toy”. They put it around each other’s necks and tug on the tail end for a split second. Each time they did so, I would clench up in worry. Once I saw what they were doing, immediate disgust engulfed me. They were putting their lives in danger because they thought they were invincible. They were putting their lives in danger for one sick joke. I just kept staring in disbelief, jaw agape. The boys’ snickering at this newfound exhilaration–holding each other’s lives in their hands–shocked me. One of them glanced back at me and raised his eyebrow. He then focused his gaze on the boy in front of me, the victim of all their jokes for the past five months. My friend kept nudging me, urging me to just look away from the horrific scene.
I took a deep breath and looked back at her, but just at that moment, I saw movement in the seat in front of me. I positioned myself so I could see over the seat, and so did my friend. We froze. The malicious boys had put their noose around his neck. He was stiff while they tugged on the end of the rope and laughed. I wasn’t able to see his face, but I still remember how his body language showed defeat.
“Guys! Just?please stop it!” I knew that my words would have no effect on the situation, but I couldn’t watch any longer. I couldn’t sit there like everybody else on the bus, but just as I had expected, they scoffed at me.
“C’mon, Jenny,” one said through his taunting grin. At that exact moment, the rope was flung into the air. How? I still do not know. The perpetrator might have thrown it to me, egging me to join their games. He might have been throwing the rope to the other boy, or it accidentally slipped from his hand while he was lifting his arm. All that mattered to me was what was going to happen to it. I caught the rope. My friend and I hurriedly slipped the noose off of the boy’s neck and sat on it until it was time to get off the bus. Just as we did so, I heard one of the boys say quietly, as if hesitant to speak his thoughts out loud, “Asians don’t know how to have fun.”
Allow me to digress. I play the viola, the most overlooked instrument, which is a shame because it’s the most beautiful. I play tennis and am soon going to hopefully be a part of my school district’s decorated tennis team. Once the school year starts, I want to be a part of the Speech and Debate Team to meet new people and hopefully form lifelong friendships. I have been told repeatedly that I have a smile permanently stuck onto my face and that I laugh at everything.
Clearly, that bully on the bus had no idea what he was talking about, because I am an unmistakably energetic person, somebody who can find laughter and fun in almost anything. Though the comment has echoed throughout my head ever since it was uttered, I haven’t let it affect me because I know that I am above his extremely stereotypical opinion. But I have not emerged unaffected by the bullying situation itself. I look back on the experience and wonder why I didn’t do anything more earlier. I should have tried to stop the bullying even before the noose was brought out. The events made me realize how extreme bullying can become when no one else intervenes.
No form of bullying is “fun”. Even if stopping it can be difficult, it is what we must do. Though my intervention was belated, I am all the more determined to stop the next bullying situation from getting as extreme. And if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation, I want you to do more than wait to catch the noose. I want to you to unravel the rope thread by thread and weave in into a shield for future victims, a shield for protection, a shield to empower all of us to fight back and never relent.