Pork Chops, Meatball Grinders and Lunch Ladies
Contributor
Written by
Ann Lineberger
October 2018
Contributor
Written by
Ann Lineberger
October 2018

     A boy recently tired to gain the attention of one of my daughters by repeatedly calling her fat. She was more annoyed by him than upset because he had started to badger her and his tactics were getting more overt. She went to the dean of her school and reported it. The boy was adequately reprimanded: A note was added to his file, he was given a minor form of detention, and he had to apologize. This is how well-managed schools handle bullying, and this is how kids who are taught that bullying is wrong and that they don't deserve it respond to it. 

     When I was in seventh grade, a boy named Robert started to chase me through the halls of our school yelling "Pork Chop".  I would exit IPS or Algebra, and he and a few of his punky friends would be waiting for me. Robert was a foot taller than my five-foot, three-inch frame, and weighed a good fifty pounds more than my one hundred and ten pounds. He was the biggest kid in our school. The badgering would start as I stepped into the hall and by the end of it,  I'd often be in a full sprint clutching my schoolbooks with my friends trailing close behind. 

     We went to a small Catholic middle school and half of our classes were held in an adjoining high school. The halls of the high school weren't as well monitored as the halls of the middle school and Robert knew it was a place where he could taunt me. It never occurred to me to tell on him. I can't explain why other than name calling was a much more common and accepted thing in all of the environments I experienced as a child. 

     Our class took a field trip to Mystic Aquarium at the end of eighth grade. Robert approached me while I sat with a friend at an outdoor exhibit. He sat to my left, and as I began to move away, he stretched a clutched hand out in front of me, blocking my departure. As I stared at his fist debating what to do, he slowly turned it over and opened it. Lying in the middle of his beefy palm was a perfectly shaped pale pink heart made of soap. 

     "It's for you," he said. "I bought it in the gift shop." 

     We shared a seat during the bus ride home, and we became friends. High school started the following September and wherever I looked, there was Robert. He was no longer trying to taunt me. Instead, he had begun a very successful campaign to make me smile. 

     We shared the same math class, and every few days it would go something like this: Robert would drop a pencil to get my attention. Then he would shove an entire piece of loose-leaf paper in his mouth and begin to aggressively chew it returning it to pulp. When our teacher, who everyone in the class hated, would turn to the blackboard, he would remove the wad from his mouth and fling it at the board several feet from her. It would explode on impact, spraying the backboard with white bits of pulp. She would spin around and face the class, angrily asking who did it. No one ever told on Robert; she was that hated. 

     At lunch, Robert would wait for me and my friend Lisa outside of the cafeteria leaning against the tiled wall with a giant smile on his face. We would enter the food line together, and he would proceed to eat as much as he could before making it to the register. His face and shirt would be covered in mayonnaise and crumbs, and his pockets bulging from hastily crinkled sandwich and cookie wrappers. One day, Robert ate three large meatball grinders in line, shoving them into his mouth and chewing like an animal before one of the more astute lunch ladies began to yell:  "Robert, I see you!!" … "Robert!!! Stop!!!" ... "Robert, you are going to have to pay for those!!!!" Lisa and I were doubled over in laughter, barely able to push our trays through the line. 

     Three years ago Robert died. He overdosed, reportedly, and from what I've been told, there were several suicide attempts over the years. Robert and I lost touch after high school. He lost touch with most of our mutual friends. I read about his death in a Facebook post. Included with it was a picture of him smiling broadly; his bright, mischevious eyes and his tremendous, familiar grin overtaking my computer screen. If I hadn’t seen the post, I wouldn't have heard about his funeral in time to go.

     Robert lived close to the schools we attended together, and his funeral was held in the chapel of our middle school. I recognized very few people at it but noted who had become his friends in the twenty-five years in-between. Some were clearly still struggling with what killed him. Seeing his mother was the hardest part. Based on what was shared about their relationship during the funeral and after, she had dedicated her life to get him clean. 

     A mutual friend of Robert's recently reminded me of a story about him from high school. Robert and a group of boys were asked to sprint from one end of the gym to the other during a race. Determined to win, Robert ran hard and fast, slamming into the mat-lined brick wall on the other side. He broke both of his wrists badly and ended what was a promising basketball and baseball school and potentially college career. 

     I cried like a baby at his funeral. As much as I hated him during middle school, I had grown to love him in the years that followed. I loved and worried about him. Signs of a growing addiction weren't noticeable to me during high school, but his extreme nature was evident. I wish it could've been channeled in a way that led to a fulfilling life; he was one of the funniest people I've ever met.

     And I wish those who are bullied could recognize that the person who is taunting them is in as much pain as what he or she tries to inflict. 

*****

If you liked reading this blog, please let me know. I'm working on a series of short stories (memoir and fiction) to be published next year and the ones I get positive feedback on will be included.

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Additionally, if you liked this blog, please check out my website, novels and follow me on social media: 

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Thank you for your time! I know how precious it is and how much competes for it. Thank you!! Thank you!! 

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