I don’t respond well to threats. I’m not good with bullies. When I see someone being pushed around, made fun of, threatened or hurt, I can’t help but step in and try to stop it. When faced with bullies myself, though, I used to get quiet, ending up sad and defeated. But even then, there was always a fire in me, smoldering somewhere deep in my belly, putting pressure on my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I could never really accept being mistreated, it just took me a while to realize that I have to protect and defend myself the same way I would anyone else. And it’s taken until these last few years for me to realize I CAN.
When I was around ten years old, a neighborhood boy made my little sister cry. We were playing outside and he was angry for some reason or other. This was right after the first Gulf War, and the boy started taunting my sister, telling her to go back where she came from and spouting random hate speech and Saddam-related insults. I began arguing with him and tried to explain that we aren’t actually from Iraq, duhhh and it wasn’t nice to say things like that and didn’t he care that he made a little girl cry? Things escalated, and I felt that heat rise up in me. I took off my giant red-rimmed eyeglasses and handed them to my sobbing sister. I held up my wiry arms and formed weak little fists. I and this kid circled each other with our eyes locked in a death-stare and my sister ran to tell on us and then I was on my back on the grass staring up at a summer sky, the air knocked out of me by a well-placed punch. Knocked down, gasping for air, yet I had somehow won the battle of the wills and that particular bully never bothered us again.
When I was in high school, I was walking with a friend through the hallway after a newspaper meeting. Most of the school was empty already, but a group of boys were hanging out, sitting on a ledge along a line of windows across from the cafeteria. As my friend and I approached them, the lead guy (the short, popular, good-looking type) stepped away from the windows and started calling my friend a fag, coming up right next to his quickly reddening, freckled face and getting louder and nastier with each laugh from his groupies. I couldn’t take it. I whirled around, angry, burning from the inside out, and I got in his face. I was taller than him, but thinner, physically weaker and I didn’t care. His friends oohed like high school boys do, and his eyes narrowed, his ego clearly bruised. He told me, “You better not cross the line or you’ll get hurt.” What the hell is that even supposed to mean?! I felt a very dangerous peace come over me, a slow smile stretch across my face, an odd mix of shaking and calm working its way through my muscles and skin and suddenly I was stepping forward, getting to an inch in front of him and whispering in the calmest, sweetest, deadliest voice, “Oh, did I just step over some kind of a line?” The ooooohs and laughs and high-fives and embarrassed sideways glances that followed were distant and satisfying, but nothing can compare to the pleasure I felt as the bully, the tough guy, stepped back away from me and actually, visibly paled. I felt like a goddess. I felt strong.
I am not a violent or mean person, but I am also not able to tolerate injustice. I don’t know where this intense need to keep things fair comes from, but I know I expect people to be kind to others or else. But when I was pushed beyond measure by Naveed and his family, I didn’t know what to do with that fire that grew inside me. The more I tried to suppress it, the more it burned through me, searing me, damaging me until I had no choice but to either speak up or allow myself to become nothing but ash. I found my voice and I found my strength and I spoke up for myself, telling the truth, letting myself finally free. I have never felt better, stronger, happier. So now, when this same bully Naveed threatens to tell lies about me to anyone who will listen, trying to defame and humiliate me into submission, I refuse to give in and I refuse to let my resilience and my newly found self to be weakened by him again. I won this particular battle when I filed for divorce a year ago. And like I’ve said before, it makes no difference to me what lies Zahara’s father or his family spread or what gossip the media reports or what nonsense people believe about me. I’ll still be the same person and I’ll still do what’s right for me and my daughter.
I will never stop telling the truth or fighting for my rights or living the life I was meant to live. You want to lie about me? You want to spread rumors about me and threaten me to try and control me? Go ahead, I won’t change. Those who know me know exactly who I am, and more importantly, I know who I am and what I’m capable of and what I deserve. Your threats just prove how weak and desperate and insecure a boy you truly are. And I never let foolish little boys like you get away with that. I always stood my ground, whether I seemed to get knocked down or not, and I always came out strong, because good, honest, happy people can and will overcome against bullies. My confidence and my fire have never let me down so I’ll rely on them now, as well. Let’s see who backs down. Let’s see who’s really a coward. I promise you, it won’t be me.