My Catholic elementary school was populated by a number of ethnic groups, situated in a working class neighbourhood on the east side of London, Ontario. St. Roberts had a history of being rough and it was not uncommon for fights to break out in the school yard amongst fellow students or with the rival protestant school or with those from the Christian Reform who dared cross our playground.
Naturally, St. Roberts had its share of bullies who marauded unchallenged during the lunch hour, terrorizing others at will. I managed to avoid these confrontations largely because I was buttressed by two of my brothers, one of whom was particularly deft with the fisticuffs, not reluctant to use them for self defense or in the cause of others. One incident, however, in Grade 6, continues to conjure vivid pictures and a lasting impression.
Sean Murphy, a fiery red head with a temper to match, stood a head taller than me and possessed man-size fists. He was surrounded by a cadre of smaller sycophants who succumbed to Sean’s malicious will as a form of self-preservation and protection. On this spring day, Sean had made it his business to torment Kendal Bonner, a fellow classmate although not part of my close friends. Sean had pulled Kendal’s arm behind his back, extracting painful cries of agony, yanking ever harder, pressing for a complete surrender. I was shooting hoops nearby, suddenly aware, realizing no one was attempting to intervene, when I heaved the basketball directly at Sean, hitting him squarely in the back.
Sean released Kendal immediately then whirled his head towards me, eyes ablaze with anger. I stood my ground as Sean took several steps before pummeling me with three hard punches to the head. It was over; I was beaten and everyone scattered. By the end of recess, my left cheek had swelled, the eye was red with bloodshot, matching an egg shaped purple welt. I sat at my desk, crying from the pain, abiding by the school yard code of not snitching. Eventually Mrs. Turner noticed, extracted the story and likely administered some form of punishment to the perpetrator.
I don’t know why Sean was abusing Kendal. It didn’t matter. I don’t recall what was going through my head when I decided to intervene and tackle someone who completely outmatched me. All I know is that a fellow classmate needed help, and I utilized what limited resources were in my possession to stop a bully.