When I was eight or nine years old I had a friend named Martin who, because of our size difference, would get a great kick out of surprising me from behind by jumping up on my back, putting one arm around my neck and with his other hand playfully slapping my head, all the while laughing because it was so much fun. For him.
He did it at school. He did it at his house. He did it at mine. He continued to do it no matter how many times I told him to stop — even after the one time his arm around my neck almost made me pass out and we tumbled to the floor, him laughing and me struggling to breath and stay conscious.
I never returned the favor or reacted in anger more than verbally toward Martin because my mom had made it clear to me since I was bigger than the other kids my age, I had to be very careful how I handled myself, otherwise I might be considered a bully.
I finally told my mom what was going on and she was very upset because she had inadvertently made me so worried about bullying that I was being bullied — however unintentionally — as a result. Then she did the coolest thing. Instead of going to the school or to Martin’s parents, she showed me what to do the next time it happened, guanteeing that it would be the last time. We practiced the maneuver over and over until I had it down. I was both nervous and excited to finally be able to get some payback.
When that day finally came, Martin had come over to visit one weekend. We had finished playing with my Hot Wheels cars in my room and decided to go to the park down the street. I had barely cleared my doorway ahead of Martin to tell my mom in the kitchen when he executed his signature move and started cuffing me about the head, giggling.
I did as my mom instructed: “Stop it!” I yelled. He didn’t. My mom heard me and came out of the kitchen into the living room. I guess I must’ve had a resigned look on my face standing there in the hallway with this kid two-thirds my size hanging off me, because I saw her stifle a smile and replace it with dead seriousness.
“Do you remember what we practiced?” she asked.
“Yes.” I answered.
“Well then go ahead.”
And with Martin giggling and me looking straight at her, my right hand shot back and got good hold of a fistful of Martin’s hair. Leaning forward and pulling him with me, his laughter abruptly turned into a surprised “Hey!?” after which I wasted no time driving my left elbow as hard as I could into his stomach. Martin let out an “Ooof!” and his arm was no longer around my neck and he was off me. In a heap on the carpet looking up trying to find his breath he stammered “Whadya. Do. That. For?”
“I told you over and over to stop jumping on me and you never listen.” I held out a hand and helped him to his feet. “Now you know what’s going to happen if you ever do it again, OK?”
His answer was to rub his stomach and frown in an awkward silence my mom finally broke with a wink at me, asking “Where you guys off to now?” A smile replacing her serious look.
“The park,” I said. “You still wanna go, Martin?”
He stood there undecided, a little sore, and a little sullen at the realization that he’d suddenly lost something he’d enjoyed.
“No hard feelings?”
“Sure,” he said and off we went.