I’ve long had a troll on my Facebook wall (which I purposely keep public) who I’ve recently discovered is actually a high school classmate of mine, something that didn’t click in part because he comments with a shadow account (no profile photo) and with his name misspelled.
But with a rise in his trolling with the Impeachment Trials threatening loss as was as the impending arrival of Trump (for a rally in our hometown) emboldening pushback, more than a handful of friends reached out, in an intervention of sorts, including friends from both ends of the political spectrum, saying “Who is this guy! And block him!!” so I looked into him and came across some public photos.
But instead of blocking him, I called him out, in an attempt to call him in (See Eve Ensler’s, The Alchemy of an Apology.)
What ensued, unsurprisingly, but entertainingly, was a full-blown, man-sized tantrum that garnered much attention (300+ comments & counting) as most public tantrums do. Think tired toddlers in grocery stores or Trump whenever he’s denied what he wants.
What I didn’t think through when I posted his public photo was that my notifications would blow up for days with his face, not only in the first 24 hours, but over the course of a second day and night in which he apparently did not sleep.
His railing against me, was numbered, and included, and I’m not kidding, this:
When you or a posse member takes the first insult or mocking of me.
…. Like you women are superior to me. NOT
I’m pretty sure social scientists would have a field day with his response. This guy owns a successful business and apparently holds a college degree. He comes to my wall of his own accord. We are not Facebook friends but he apparently “follows” my posts for sport.
As a result of all of this attention, even more of my Facebook friends were insulted by this guy albeit in wildly, simplistic fashion (think Trump again), including male friends who dared to step into the conversation and stand accused among other things of being small or bald or the insult of all insults… less than manly:
My concern for friends thus expanded to include the men, and so I called him out again, asking if he has always been a bully back in high school.
In response, another man answered, sending me this piece he’d written years ago of another bully, shared here with his permission and with my hope to expand the conversation of toxic masculinity–among boys and men.
My pupils dilate, I can actually feel the black expanding, while my blue iris contracts. Blood leaves my extremities and thunders toward my heart. I hear the valves open, and close, automatically like a tollbooth gate. My peripheral vision gets blurry and the only thing I see directly in front of me is his nose, which looks like flesh-colored Play-doh.
I say, “Now you’re in my personal space.”
He backs up, rolls some deodorant to his underarm and calls me another name. I forget now which.
I say, “That’s number seven.” It’s been a long time since I was in junior high school. Yet here I am being bullied in a locker room.
Have you ever traveled in time? Been twelve and fifty in the same instant? I have. I did.
This was just this past week or maybe it was forty years ago. My throat’s dry and words escape like convicts stumbling over a fence. He’s ten years younger than me, five, maybe six inches taller. I’m sipping air through a straw and standing on cracking ice. He calls me another name.
I say, “That’s the eighth name you’ve called me.” I don’t know what else to do, except broadcast it, hoping someone somewhere might be recording this.
He’s poking, prodding, looking for the right combination of words that’ll make me lose my shit. I speculated later that drugs might be involved (or the lack of them), like maybe he’d gone off whatever meds made him palatable or he was coming down from a coke binge, or maybe this was ‘Roid rage.
If this was me in junior high I would’ve already talked myself out of this mess, or pretended I don’t hear well. I certainly wouldn’t confront him.
If I was on top of my junior high game I might’ve tried to make him laugh. If that didn’t work I’d do my Road Runner imitation. Maybe, (just to get a thrill) I’d call him a name, from a safe distance.
But because I’m a middleaged man, one who likes to think he may have one last fistfight left in him, I stand my ground. I see his wheels spin and hope he’s one of those bullies that blows away when confronted. He finds another name to call me–quite the potty mouth.
I nod at him, “You’re all talk aren’t you?”
“You wanna take this outside?” he asks with some relish.
“Sure, we can go outside.”
We leave to the parking lot. I’m walking slightly ahead of him, quite unsure of what I or we will do, but somehow confident that if he touches me, throws the first punch, I will rip his head off.
I am surprised at the depth of my rage.
I am literally in fight or flight and know it.
He says, “OK, let’s drop our bags and go, right here.”
I say, “Sure,” but keep walking to my car.
I smile as if possessing a secret.
He says, “I’m serious.”
I say, “So am I.”
I’m still walking.
He calls me a few more names.
I get into the car and say,
“That’s number eleven.”
(Kevin O’Keefe, author of Bully, travels the world teaching circus, theater & yoga.)