I told my son to hit him hard and fast.
“Aim for the nose,” I said. “It will make him cry. He’ll bleed -- a lot. Then hit him again. Harder. If you get in trouble with the school, don’t worry. You won’t be in trouble at home.”
My son always said no. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. It’s not who I am.”
Each day for endless months my son came home from seventh grade with stories about the boy. How he humiliated my son in front of the class with a clever putdown or a quick smack when the teacher turned her back. At first my son’s friends laughed it off. Then they turned primal and wouldn’t let him sit at their lunch table. I was enraged, my son was stunned and becoming glummer by the day. Hit him, I pleaded, wishing I could somehow inhabit my son’s body and do it myself. My son always said no.
“That’s not who I am,” he said. “You’re only making it worse.”
The turning point came one day in the locker room when the boy looked at my son as they changed and said, “I dreamed I [hurt] you.” [Editor's note: The original version of this quote was edited to remove a graphic description of the specific threat.]
I didn’t trust the principal to help and my son didn’t trust me; I called the police instead.
The officer showed up at the school, but the principal met him at the office. He told the cop it was his school, he would handle it. The principal called my son and the boy down to office over the public address system for the whole school to hear. Everything became instantly worse. When I found out, I called the principal.
He said he brought them into his office and told both of them to stop or else.
“If there are any more problems,” the principal said, “call me and I’ll take care of it.”
Months of fury and impotence and hurt that I couldn’t direct at the boy swelled within me. I was grateful there was a phone line between the principal and me, and not something so flimsy as a desk. “Why would I call you?” I said. “You’re useless to me.”
That night, the officer called my son and listened to him awhile. In the morning, he bypassed the principal and headed straight for my son’s class, taking a seat next to him and near the boy. He told the boy my son was his friend and he didn’t want anyone bothering him. The cop told the boy he could be his friend, too, but the boy didn’t say much of anything.
“After that,” my son said, “I asked him if he wanted to be partners in English.”
“Why?” I cried.
“Mom,” said my son, “I heard he has problems at home. I couldn’t hurt him more than that. It’s not who I am. Don’t you understand?”
Finally, I did.