John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Saturday, October 1, 2016

My bully is dead

Though I allowed my subscription to the Flemingsburg Gazette, the paper I worked for in high school and college, to lapse, I still occasionally check the Independent-Ledger in Maysville. Given that I have been away for more than forty years, I mainly scan the obituaries. 

A few weeks ago, there he was, the bane of my life in the third and fourth grades, my principal bully. I was a skinny bookworm and teacher's pet. He was bigger, more muscular, a halting student at best, and he was seldom at his best. He enjoyed tormenting me. 

Now he is dead, an old guy, like me, apparently mourned by his daughters. 

I don't visualize him as an adult with children. He is fixed in my head as he was then. The subsequent fifty-five years don't signify. (I will not describe him further, because he has children who mourn him.) 

There is the problem. He is fixed in my head. 

He, and the subordinate bullies who sometimes chimed in, established in my mind that I am someone to be bullied, someone who lacks power, someone with no recourse. My parents and teachers knew that I felt bullied, but they were at a loss to do anything beyond allowing the children to work it out on their own. 

My bully, to my astonishment, metamorphosed into adult for whom someone could bear affection. I, in turn, metamorphosed into an adult with a family, a profession, a reputation, a standing. 

But I am also someone who typically shies away from conflict and confrontation, because I was thoroughly programmed early on to see myself as unable to prevail in such circumstances.

Sixty-five years old, and I could still use some work. 


  1. The old horrors die very, very hard. And you speak more tolerantly and forgivingly about yours than I would about some of mine. There are still people I remember from school (teachers as well as students) and would gladly roast over a slow fire if I had the chance.

    But we will soon be able to talk this and various other matters over in person. See you and K soon!

  2. When we read we move among equals. We attend parties and are never ill-attired. We scoff at society's dimwits without having to prove our own savoir-faire. But when the bookworms close the book, we are confronted by a stubborn world of stupidity enforced by fists, or (as in my case) screaming conflicts we cannot resolve.
    The contrast reaffirms our love of reading, and leaves us to wonder what life could've taught us outside the covers.
    I've lived, am living, the feelings you describe so eloquently.

  3. I had a similar experience, at a much earlier point in life. My tormenter, like yours, had been "fixed in my head." I hadn't imagined him capable of emotions beyond meanness. After learning he died in his mid-20s, however, I now suspect he was visited by far worse than he gave me.

  4. I suspect his children are not so much in grief as they choose to appear in public print. A bully tends to remain a bully unless he meets something too big for him.