He's asked you not to write about him on Facebook and you know that he means "on the internet" and you want to honour that, you really do, but then a thing happens and you want to tell everyone so that the collective EVERYONE can say, "Oh, that is soooooo wrong" and that same faceless, unknown everyone can reassure you that you are not the bad guy, but of course, you are telling the story, so you will tell it your way, so that you will be right and the man in the line ahead of you at the bank will be the wrongest person in history, Captain Wrong on the S.S. Wrong, a ship that will sink under our mutual distaste for that which he said in front of you, in line, at the bank.
Let me paint the picture:
Say there is a little boy who has to have testing for something that he doesn't want to be tested for. And say this testing is pretty exhausting and extends over multiple hours.
Say that after this testing, you pass a bakery.
Say that you stop and say, "You know what? You were so great today for that testing that we will stop here and you can pick a special dessert for you and your sister for after dinner tonight."
Say you are on a diet and can't have a treat yourself, though you are NEVER on a diet and ALWAYS have a treat, but not today.
Say that he carefully chooses two very tiny cakes cut into the shape of Easter eggs, about one inch by two inches, decorated with the tiniest of sugar flowers.
Say the lady at the bakery carefully puts these treasures into two separate brown paper bags, which your little boy carries like he's carrying the Hope diamond, vigilant for thieves or accident potential.
Say after that you have to go to the bank and the lineup is long.
Say he says, "Can I go sit at that golden table?"
Say there is, in the corner, randomly, is a table covered with a golden cloth with a purple chair beside it. The King's Table.
Say that you say, "Sure, of course."
Say that he goes and he can't resist taking one easter egg out of the bag and breaking off a tiny flower and eating it.
Say that's the scene.
"Disgusting," the man in front of you says to his wife.
"What?" she says.
You are only half listening because it's impossible not to and because the line isn't moving and you are annoyed and two of the tellers close at the same time and start an unecessarily loud conversation about how long each other should take for their break. There is a collective sigh as everyone in the line immediately ages five years. You look at the clock to see if you have time for this, after all, kicking yourself for forgetting your bank card, in the pocket of the coat you wore yesterday when you took the kids for a five mile hike, at the end of which you treated them to lemonade. And paid with your bank card. Which went into your pocket instead of your purse, which was under the seat of your car a few miles away.
You continue half-listening because you are curious. What is so disgusting?
"Portly," the man is saying. "Round. Shocking. Where are his parents? I hate to even see it."
Then you realize that he is talking about your son, who, at his royal table, is eyeing his easter egg as though he has won the lottery. He is proud of his egg. He sees people in the line seeing him and he assumes that they are envying his egg. Wishing they were him, so that they too could have an egg.
"Two bags of candy," the man says. "What a shame. What a shame. That boy. He's disgusting."
Immediately, your hands and legs start shaking, which is what happens to you when you know you are about to enter a confontation. You just hope you don't cry.
"Is my son bothering you?" you say.
"Oh," he says, half-laughing, half-snorting. "Is THAT your son?"
"Yes," you say. "He's not even eating it, by the way. It's his dessert for tonight. Which he earned. And it isn't candy. And one of the bags is for his sister. And he deserves it, after the four hour appointment he just had." Then you correct yourself, as though this man is the judge and you are the defendant and it's important to be correct. "Three hours," you say. Like that matters.
"Oh," he says, and turns his back.
You feel like you failed at that. You are so angry.
Your son, who worries so much about bullies that often he is unable to enjoy normal activities with normal friends -- your son, who finds bullies everywhere, cannot be right. There cannot be a bully behind every smiling face.
There just can't.
What your son doesn't know yet is that the bullies aren't just at the playground.
They are at the bank.
In the lineup.
If I was going to do it again, I'd do it all differently.
I don't know what that would have looked like though. I like to think that I would have used intelligent words to correct the man's misconception of my son and his sweet tooth. My son, who is not fat, not by any measurement. My son, who shrivels with self-consciousness if anyone sees his slightly rounded belly, in case they judge him as fat. My son, who already has the body-related self-loathing of an adolescent girl, hating hating hating hating what he looks like. "I don't deserve to be alive," he'll say. "I'm fat. I'm disgusting. I hate myself."
"No," you'll say. "You're beautiful. You're strong. And you're actually a perfectly normal weight."
That man and his indiscriminate cruelty, that man is the bully.
The Bully is a 70-something man in a line up at a bank.
That man is everyone.
My son is beautiful. My son earned that cake. My son owes no one an explanation.
And neither do I.
So why are my hands still shaking?
I still do not know what I should have said.
I let my son eat the cake in the car. I hoped only that we would pass the man, our windows down, my son laughing from the pleasure of the cake, the wind carrying our happiness to the ears of that man, so he would know what love sounds like.
So he would understand what it feels like to be so wrong.