The People You Never Knew You Never Knew

mossystonesA man who attended my high school passed away recently. He was a couple of grades above me. I didn’t know him, except as the face of an upperclassman in the halls.

I grew up in a small ranching community in the Western US. With a population of not quite 4K, we were the biggest town for miles.   Anything recognizably city-like is hours away. In such a tiny school, we all knew each other, at least by sight and reputation.

I knew the boy that he was as a terrifying bully.

There were all kinds of species of bullies in my school. As a puny kid with an interesting family background, I attracted the attention of most of them at one point or another. By sophomore year, the bullies had figured out that I had no problem with dealing out massive retaliatory hurt, so they mostly left me alone. This boy, a jock, was of the tribe of bullies who dealt serious physical injury. My strategy for that sort of bully was one of strict avoidance. I’m pretty sure that although I knew his name and face and reputation, I was completely, blessedly, invisible to him.

A few decades later, the woman I thought of as my best high school friend was dating him.  Until the explosion of social media, I hadn’t heard from her since graduation. Both she and the jock had been married and divorced. They had grown or nearly grown children with former spouses. They’d had careers and adventures out in the world, and returned to our tiny hometown to find each other. They didn’t have long together before a sudden illness took him away.  The outpouring of grief online revealed that the terrifying bully had gone on to become a minor sports star, a father, and a guy that many people back home still looked up to. I never knew that side of him. Despite my not particularly stellar memory of him, I found myself sucked along in the drama of his passing. I felt sympathy for the people who loved him.

The situation reminds me a little of Monsters, Inc. Monsters, Inc, supposes that the monsters are not all that monstrous, even to their victims. If you get to know them, see how cuddly they are? That’s very nice for the lucky few. It’s not at all true for those of us who carried their bruises on our bodies and their taunts in our hearts.  I’m glad that my former friend found some happiness with him. Does being terrific to some people excuse being horrific to some others?

Maybe he grew out of it. Maybe he didn’t. His hometown fans would say that anyone who was bullied by him had it coming. I know the bullies felt that way about me. We all went on to live our lives, none the wiser of the other. His seems to have been everything that he might have wished for, back in those days when I was being carefully invisible– sports stardom, accolades, hometown worship.  Farewell, dude I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. I hope you enjoyed your life.

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