You could spy his house from the bus stop. He would arrive last since he could see the bus coming down the street from his window. He didn’t need to get there early.
But, after school when the bus let us off in the same place, the last stop before turning and heading out of our neighborhood, then, he’d hang around. With his little group, teasing, frightening, terrorizing the younger kids.
The knotted ball in my stomach urged me to jump off the bus and sprint home the minute the bus stopped. His house was the other way, he wouldn’t follow. Not too far, anyway.
But no, you can’t run away, you can’t show your fear. Don’t let him bother you. Ignore him.
Afterwards, I couldn’t remember if he was in the group of boys who, one spring, decided to collect and burn caterpillars. This was my first effort in wildlife conservation. A group of us girls (it was almost always the girls against the boys back then) was intent on saving the caterpillars, and fought back.
We quickly lined shoe boxes with leaves, then we scurried, picking up all the caterpillars we could and housing them in their comfortable new homes.
I still recall the smell of burning bugs, feeling worried about the suffering insects, thinking we’d never be able to save as many as they killed. And we probably didn’t, but we did save some. We felt that we had done something to counteract the brutality of our world.
I definitely remember when he stopped bothering me. It was after school one day, when the bus let us off at our stop. It had rolled over something in the road, a log, a rock, it could have been anything. But as we got off the bus that day, we saw that the wheels had rolled over Billy Greenstreet’s dog and it lay dead under the bus. A sickening wave came over me as I looked at the dog (I had a dog too after all!) and then I saw Billy. His mouth open, tears already streaming, face red, he wailed all the way back to his house.
My point of view flipped that day.
He probably kept on teasing, but I saw him differently.He was a child who loved his dog, just like I was. We all loved our pets. This incident sparked a turnaround and magically, he was no longer the other; we were the same.
I heard something just this week, on a TED talk by Andrew Stanton “The Clues to a Great Story”. He was quoting the children’s TV host Mr. Rogers, who apparently carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that read:
“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
So, here’s to Billy Greenstreet, who went from neighborhood bully, to boy who loved his dog, in a flash.