I want to tell you a story:
When I was junior high was considered short by a lot of people. Perhaps I was the main one who thought that I was short, and everyone else just saw me as normal hieght. As you well know, it doesn't matter in junior high what others think of you because in fact, no one is reallly thinking of you at all. Junior high students are way too busy thinking of themselves to ever take anyone else into consideration, so my self-conscious attitute toward being what I thought was short was, like all self-consciousness, unfounded and unnecessary. But, like most junior high kids, this didn't deter me from feeling left out, ostrasized and like the wierdest guy on the planet. I suppose that my affliction wasn't as severe as many, but it still existed.
A major part of any short junior high boy's bane is the bully. I had my fair share of run ins with bullies. In junior high I could name the names of several that made life at Gentry Jr. High less than bearable. This particular story involves a gentleman by the name of Ruben. I don't feel the need the need to change his name, because while I'm not sharing his last name, I also don't have found memories of Ruben and don't feel the need to protect his identity. I'm sure Ruben has grown up to be a fine individual with kids and a house on blocks and all the great stuff that happen to former bullies, but for the sake of this story, he is the bad guy.
Ruben was a torn individual. He was your typical bully, balancing the need to feel powerful and compensate for his shortcomings and the desire to be liked. Depending on who he was around and who he was trying to impress, Ruben could morph loyalties and demeanor on the spot. Generally it was amoung the group of students referred to as kickers (kids who dress in cowboy garb) that Ruben felt that he had to be the tough guy. When he was around the likes of Wesley and Shane and Brent, other bigger, puberty advanced kickers, Ruben would go out of his way to be the toughest and meanest and most apathetically hateful guy around. These others who I named had their moments but Ruben was such a follower that he took bullying to a new level for the entertainment value of the others.
So, one day in gym we are running laps around the basketball court. I am going to assume that this is 8th grade since I remember that being the toughest year with regard to being bullied. Many had already started to hit growth spurts and whatnot, while I, seemingly on my own, was stuck in a child's body. As we ran around the court Ruben decided that it would be fun to ram me from the back. He would run up behind me and push me hard into the brick wall, or at least hard enough to make me lose my balance. Maybe if I had taken these little jabs as good clean fun then I would have been okay, but I didn't. I knew that it was not meant to be for fun but to make me mad. So I would yell back and perhaps even try to push Ruben back. At 5'4" I was no match for Ruben's sturdy 200 + pound, adult-like frame. As I resisted my abuse the humiliation rained down ever the more. I needed a friend who was not scared of this guy like I was. I needed some kind of protection as a little kid among giants who only sought to hurt me. Just then it showed up.
WHAM! Just as Ruben is taunting me with "What are you going to do about it"s He is sent flying into the wall and crashing to the floor. My hero had arived in the form of an even bigger black guy named Robert.
"If you're going to mess with someone, mess with someone your own size." Robert demanded.
Ruben tried to defend himself. "I was only playing. Weren't we, Kyle?" I wasn't biting. My loyalties were drawn and I've never cowtowed to pressure from bullies.
"We weren't playing. You were pushing me around."
After a strongly worded threat to yours truly Ruben was silenced once more.
"Just leave him alone." Robert ordered.
Robert and I never hung out or became great friends. We were in a few classes together in junior high and then in high school, but for the most part he was not a major part of my life in any way. But, Robert's character and sense of duty always stuck with me in a profound way. As he became a star high school athlete and rocketed to All-District in football and then a scholarship to play at Texas A & M, I payed close attention. Robert, who is known as Rocky to most people, was getting some well deserved fame and recognition for his talents. I was proud to have known Rocky when he was drafted into the NFL and boasted a successful rookie season with the Seattle, and this season as he helped his team to the Superbowl I was excited that this had happened to such a good guy. Rocky probably doesn't even remember that time in the Gentry Boy's Gym, but I certainly do and it's always made a big difference to me. I don't remember if I thanked him or not. I could have been too embarrassed, but if I ever saw him now I would certainly tell him how happy I was that he was so successful, because it couldn't have happened to a nicer, more genuinely good guy.