Bullies On the Bus

Those kids who were so malicious to bus moniter Karen Klein in the Rochester area have been punished. This is good. They’ll be better people for it, but only if their parents support the punishment, don’t encourage them to think of themselves as victims, and stay in conversation with them about how devastating and dehumanizing that kind of cruelty is for everyone involved. May they move on with their lives with more compassion and self-understanding.

Here’s a great article about bullying that includes links to the original story if you haven’t read it yet. It makes the point that there’s a LOT of bullying going on in the entrapped space known as the school bus. Yea, I remember it well. I’ve written about being bullied on the school bus by anti-Semites who called me Christ-killer and “kike.” They key perpetrator turns out to live about 20 miles from me now. I have occasionally thought that I might show up at his office and sit down and ask him if he remembers me. I wonder if he would care that he terrorized me for years and that he inflicted deep wounds that have never fully healed. I wonder if he has children of his own now, and if so, what he is teaching them.

I also like the insights in this article, and especially the point that bullying is a display of one-upmanship and status. I hadn’t thought about that before: it definitely bears consideration.

The story also triggered a memory.

I was in 7th or 8th grade at Saxe Junior High. We had a bus driver  —  a disheveled man in his 30’s or so — who was scary, snarly and unreliable. He zoomed past some stops, leaving small groups of schoolchildren screaming and waving him down as he sped by, and he took the curves on Frogtown Road with terrifying speed.

We complained to our parents and our parents complained to the school, but no one did anything for awhile. It wasn’t like it is now, where the safety of privileged middle class children is taken so seriously and security issues addressed immediately by responsive administrators or else.

One morning, the bus driver dropped all the older kids off at the high school just up Farm Road from Saxe and then proceeded to drive PAST OUR SCHOOL with a gaggle of junior highers in the bus. We all froze. What was this guy doing?

“I’ve heard that some of you are complaining about me,” he said. There were about four or five of us on the bus and we looked at each other in abject terror. Was he going to kill us? Drive the bus into a tree or over a ledge?

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. It’s no wonder I had buried the memory for so long.

I got up and went to the front of the bus. “Where are you going?” I asked. He said it was none of my business. I persisted. “Where are you taking us? You can’t do this. You’re going to get into big trouble.”

He laughed. I remember that I got very angry and hot in the face. And I said,

My father is the police commissioner of this town and you better turn right back around and take us to school.

Now, you have to think that if this happened today, all the children would have been texting their moms and dads, who would have been on the phone to the school and to the police and there would have been mass hysteria. There would have been a camera crew waiting at the school to make a huge story about the PSYCHO RUNAWAY BUS DRIVER. Can’t you just see the “Breaking News” headline and hear the reporter?

“Junior high school students in New Canaan, Connecticut were taken on a terrifying ride today, as disgruntled school bus driver John Q. Deadbeat drove them past their school and…”

Instead, what happened is that the Bus Driver took what I said into consideration and turned the bus around. He drove us to the door of our school without further ado and opened the door. We all piled out and my classmates ran to homeroom. I marched to the principal’s office and demanded to be seen immediately.

I’m laughing at this memory now, because at the time I was very full of myself, shaking with fear and indignation, and feeling like quite the little heroine. The principal didn’t play into my drama, though. I spent a few minutes with him explaining the situation, and he remained a cool customer. He wrote me a pass to go late to class (no one in the office was happy with me for trying to see the principal during school hours. I love this detail, as it shows that it would take death or natural disaster in my school district to take precedence over actual class time. New Canaan has fantastic public schools) and dismissed me with little fanfare.

We never had that bus driver again. My parents were concerned about the story and supportive of my actions, but they didn’t freak out, call for anyone’s head on a platter or drive me to school from that point on. Life is dangerous, people can be unbalanced, and you have to be brave and deal with it. Obviously the other parents felt that way as well, because we kids never heard a thing about it.

We just got back on the school bus with the next driver and got to school.

I wish Karen Klein well. She has responded to this event with dignity and grace, and has given the country an opportunity to talk about bullying, which is certainly not only an adolescent phenomenon but becoming a more and more common dynamic in our belligerent society. Americans have been fed bullying as entertainment and bullying is the main spirit within we have conducted our democracy for almost a decade now, and it shows in our communities.

I hope she goes on one helluva FABULOUS vacation with that fund that sympathizers set up for her. Ride on, Karen. Ride on.

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