In grade four, my baseball cap was stolen from me and my basketball was heaved on top of the roof of a nearby school. I was shoved against a wall, and a kid two or three years older grabbed the collar of my t-shirt, made a fist with it and punched me. Tears welled up in my eyes.
It hurt, but the pain wasn’t physical. I’d been hit harder or at least suffered more sting while roughhousing with my friends. The salty water in my eyes was the result of feeling violated, of feeling the brunt of someone else’s unnecessary cruelty. Thankfully, this wasn’t something that I had to endure over an extended period of time. It was a one off, but it remains a part of memory, more accessible than a thousand nicer things that happened to me at the same age.
Looking back now, I recall being big for my age. I know the bully’s undefended punch didn’t render me unconscious. It didn’t even cause much pain. I probably could have defended myself, and I might have kept my Blue Jays hat for a little bit longer. But that didn’t seem like an option at the time. It felt like a theatrical play in which the roles in the unread script were inherently understood. He was the bully and I was the victim. It didn’t even cross my mind to attempt to overthrow that hierarchy.
I thought of this again after Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left his team’s training facility last week amid reports of a mental breakdown. The details were murky, but it almost seemed formulaic: prank in the cafeteria plus razzing from teammates equals a food tray smashed and a man in need of emotional counselling.