At a young age my father taught me to defend myself as well as defend others who could not defend themselves. I carried on with this practice of defending others, the ones not accepted, through the years. If I saw someone being bullied, I would confront the bully. I knew from what my father had told me most bullies will back down when confronted, but be prepared as some will not. I never had anyone want to start a fight or anything when I confronted them. Some of this may have been because I was popular. I think most of it was as my father said, bullies back down when confronted. I must add in today’s world with social media, etc. bullying has changed, the bullies are faceless people who use names that are not their own. Through social media these new bullies get away with more. If what I talk about below had taken place in today’s time it probably would have been much different, yet I would still have come to the defense of this girl who was not accepted.
As a freshman in high school, one day while walking home from school with my best friend I head someone being taunted. I turned around and saw bullies throwing rocks at a girl. I confronted the bullies, they apologized to the girl and ran away. The girl then asked if she could walk behind me as she was a senior and had endured this every day. I told her that would be fine. She then asked if she could walk behind on both on my way to school and from school to her home every day. I responded it was fine with me, as she should not be bullied. Going to school she would be waiting and walk behind. That was the easy one for her as not many walked behind her on her way to school. Leaving school was different as bullies would wait for her to leave and follow, going out of their way to taunt her. So after that first time, every day after school, she would be waiting by the front door for myself and my best friend and she would walk behind us until she arrived home.
One day my best friend was not in school and this girl walked beside me. As we approached her home her mother came out. I could see the girl shrink some. Her mother called me over and thanked me for becoming friends with her daughter. Telling me I was her only friend. I did not tell her mother I was not friends with her daughter. She invited me in but I had somewhere I had to be, so I apologized and told her that her daughter was a nice girl. The next day the girl thanked me profusely for not telling her mother we were not friends and that she had been embarrassed because she knew her mother would come over and invite me in. I told the girl not to worry, that in some way we were friends, that I accepted her for who she was, not what the bullies called her.
I made a point of telling this girl if I was going to leave school early, as I found out she was still picked on if she were not walking behind me. One particular day I had a dentist appointment. I told the girl this in the morning. I left early for the dentist. Later I heard she left school the moment the bell rang and ran across a busy highway as the bullies were behind her taunting her that her protector was not there and they were going to beat her up. She was killed crossing the highway by oncoming traffic.
The next day the majority of the school, including teachers came over to me and told me how I must feel good about myself, as I had accepted and protected the girl, never bullied her. I did not feel good. I felt guilt. Guilt because I let her walk behind me instead of beside me. It never really occurred to me to tell her to walk with me. I never thought to get to know her. I really knew very little about her other than she was bullied, had no friends and was Jewish. I had no idea if she liked music, art, what classes she took, anything. I was in my own little world as I walked home, my only thought of her was something my father had instilled in me, not to let her be bullied. Many years have passed and I still feel the guilt of not getting to know another human being. I knew she was not accepted by others, mainly because she was Jewish. I was brought up that we are all the same, not to show prejudice so it did not matter to me that she was Jewish. I did not care if others did not like her, I was only concerned with making sure she was not bullied. Had I bothered to become friends with her I might have found out who she was, maybe instilling in her a little confidence to stand up to the bullies. Maybe if I had not been so self-absorbed, she might still be alive. I will add one more thing, though I feel guilt, I do not feel responsible for the girls death, that is guilt I hope the bullies who taunted her feel. The guilt has lessened through the years, not forgotten as it taught me a lesson. Do not just try to protect someone, but get to know them. It does not bring this girl back to life, but maybe in being kind and compassionate and getting to know those I might not normally get to know, I may help someone else.