There was a shared carport in the front of my second Hawaiian home – recently built adjoining duplexes in Navy housing. I used to climb one of the supporting poles a couple of times each day – there were no trees big enough to climb in that new development. I loved the higher vantage point because I could see the top of our car, and I’d touch the ceiling before shimmying back down to the ground.
People inside either of the duplex units couldn’t see what was going on in the carport, which led to problems with Neil, the boy who lived to the left of me. He knew I wasn’t allowed to go on his side of the carport, so he would run over onto my side when I was climbing and hit me with a stick or throw a ball at me. By the time I got down and ran after him, he was already back on his side, beyond my reach. Sometimes, he’d run back into his house, sometimes he’d laugh and do a victory dance just out of my reach. His parents never bothered to correct such behavior, so he got away with it.
When I told my mother about the whole thing, she did something I didn’t expect: she change the rules. “If Neil hits you, you can go on his side of the carport and hit him back.” It wasn’t long afterward that I was up the pole, and Neil ran over and hit me with a stick. As he expected, I jumped down and chased after him. But this time, I didn’t stop at the midpoint of the carport. He was doing a little dance just a few yards past, not even looking at me. For the first time, I ran across the line and shoved him to the ground. He was more surprised than hurt, but landing on the cement gave him a few bumps and scrapes. It was the only time I returned violence for violence because he never crossed the line again.
Had there been a peaceful way to settle the matter, I’m sure my mother would have taken it. In the absence of an alternative, turnabout became fair play. There are consequences to throwing stones and wielding sticks, and sometimes those consequences knock you on your bottom.
Every so often, I wonder if Neil learned that picking on others – even the little girl who lives next door – is harmful to self. Sometimes it’s a scraped knee and bruised shins. Sometimes it’s invisible, but even more harmful: the growing fear that the world takes no notice of you. Violence never makes you bigger or more visible, it makes you smaller and your true self even more obscured. It’s an irony that the biggest bully on the playground has the smallest and weakest sense of self.