Back in grades seven and eight, I was bullied in a pretty big way. Death threats (however rhetorical) were a more or less daily occurrence. Elbows in the hall happened regularly, and actual assaults on school property (inside the school itself, more than once) were, if not frequent, were not exactly rare.
And deciding which route to take home was a matter of balancing my desire to get home quickly vs the odds of being attacked by the thugs who had decided I was the one they would pick on.
Probably my biggest moment of shame and pride happened in (I think) grade eight, when the halls were full with students streaming from one class to another.
I was attacked by three or four guys, who took me to the floor and got in a few shots, then, laughing in triumph, took their leave. At which point I got to my feet and leapt upon the leader — Terry Scovron was his name, I'm pretty sure — and got in a few licks of my own.
Naturally, his thugs came to his aid and I was once again put down, but I felt a certain amount of satisfaction in having gotten in a few of my own.
What rankled, though, was hearing later, that word had gotten 'round that Scovron had beaten me up, no mention of his three or four henchmen.
Anyway, I digress.
I was actually friendly with one member of that gang. He was a nice enough kid, I guess. He hung with the bullies to protect himself, I think. They'd abuse him — mock him and hit him, but not too hard, and in exchange he had their protection and, presumably, some measure of prestige.
Anyway, one day after a test, when we had some free time in the same class-room, I asked him, "Why? Why don't they just leave me alone?"
"They're scared of you," he said. And when, baffled, I asked him how they could possibly be scared of me, he told me that it was because I didn't play their game. I just wanted to be left alone. He said (and I paraphrase; it's been a few years, and he didn't use the kind of vocabulary I'm gifting him with now) if I would just accept their dominance, they'd let me be. But because I kept fighting back, they had to keep putting me down. And because I didn't seem to care about their barnyard strutting, they had to keep putting me down. So that I would care about the grade seven, then eight, pecking order.
(This shit went on for two fucking years; and yes, the constant worry that I might be attacked for no good reason did do some long-term damage. Although, on the other hand, I think it's given me a little more empathy for how women feel when walking a dark street, or navigating a mostly-male workplace, than a lot of men have.)
Anyway, flash-forward to the present. The boss' mother (and titular owner) aside, my workplace is entirely male. Many of them immigrants, almost of us working class. Some, like me, with book-larnin, most without much of it.
I don't have a regular shift there, but get a new schedule every two weeks. And further, if I am going to be driving a crew out of town, I get an email with the specifics of time and (sometimes) of which vehicle I'll be driving.
A few days before Christmas I got one of those emails, with a note about the weather: you'd better come in at least 15 minutes early, so you can scrape the ice off the windows.
I texted back, "Thanks for the heads' up. And if [R] is fretting, tell him I'm already on the bus."
Fretting. I guess I should have known better.
R has made a point of using the word, fretting, every god damned time I've been in the office at the same time as him ever since.
Unlike grade school, it's okay. Instead of punches, my co-workers throw jokes. They tease, "the way men do".
One of the nice things about being a grown up, is that other people (usually) grow up too, at least to some extent. Where once my eccentricities elicited violence, now they are an identifying trait, not a threat. I'm weird, but I'm okay, I'm liked.
Which is a really nice change, even after all these years, let me tell you!
But even so, I think I'm going to get pretty damned sick of the word fretting before too long.