I could have written this title various ways. I could have said, “The Mask of the Bully” or “The Bully Behind the Mask,” you name it. The phenomenon of the bully is in itself multilayered. The bully, a product of layering. Of hiding within, in front of, and behind fear.
I had known him since junior high, although never well. He was even more on the periphery of popularity than I was after the 7th grade. To be honest, I never gave him much thought, and hardly noticed him, except for one thing. He was a fine writer, so fine that my 11th grade English teacher sang his praises to the advanced classes of which he was not a part of, and held special writing groups, just for him.
Over the many years since we graduated from high school, I thought about him on occasion, even asking, once, a friend if she knew what had become of him. I asked if he was still writing. She didn’t know anything beyond what he posted on Facebook. I thought about friending him, my secret motivation to find out if he was still writing. Certainly, I told myself, he could not be denying his gift.
I didn’t have to friend him, a few years later, during the early stages of the current presidential election season, he sent me a friend request. I accepted. I didn’t ask if he was still writing. I didn’t ask anything. I looked on his profile and saw that he had a beautiful young family, and that he had been in the military. He vaguely resembled the boy I remembered. The face, older, but the same.
He didn’t ask me any questions either and I figured this was one of those friend requests that was sent out because he had vaguely remembered me from high school, and wanted to add me to the collection of his list of “friends.” We all do it, right? It’s Facebook after all. I “liked” his posts that featured his children, and the rare musings that showed the ghost of the writer I had so admired. I ignored the Trump posts, but he didn’t ignore mine. In fact they were the only posts of mine to which he responded.
The first one featured an article I had shared from a public site someone else had written about Trump’s bravado, demeaning and harassing women. As a preface I wrote, “Trump is no hero.” In the comments he had responded, “Bullshit.”
The next post I shared was a clip of Michelle Obama’s eloquent and moving speech a couple of days ago in Manchester, New Hampshire. A brilliant mother of two daughters, the wife of the President of the United States, who has been the epitome of grace these past 8 years. A brilliant grace, in my opinion. In the speech, if you have not heard it, Michelle speaks about her feelings about Trump’s treatment and disparaging attitude toward women. Her voice shakes with emotion. She speaks from the heart of all women who have been undermined. She speaks of dignity. Of basic human rights.
His response: “LOL.”
In that moment I realized I had friended a bully. It was not a lightbulb moment. Let’s be honest. The signs were there from the start, but I was holding onto that glimmer of hope that the gifted boy, the sensitive writer, was still living inside of there somewhere. I’m sure he still is, but I fear, he is deeply buried behind and within other masks. I don’t know what his life has been like these many years, I can only guess. I can make assumptions that we probably share some of the same struggles. I was not popular after the 7th grade, a product of the effects of bullying by two former friends that marred my reputation and “likability.”
He was, I had to admit, not my friend. An insidious presence, like Trump, coming out of the shadows only, it appeared, to undermine me and others for standing up for our basic human rights. He was there to intimidate and laugh at what we stand for. Why, I asked myself, was I willing tolerate this. I was not.
It’s as easy to “unfriend” someone on Facebook as it is to “friend” them. It just takes just one click. There is nothing personal to it, except what you make of it. That, I believe is the inherent problem of social media. This impersonal mask we can hide behind. It is a place where we can easily become the bully. The manipulator. The jerk. Our shadow side can easily be expressed behind the mask of a computer screen. Or, we can choose to shine the light.