Asher Coaches Georgie on Bullies:
My father came in twenty minutes later, smelling of wood smoke from the Banks’s fireplace and the ink from the printing machine in Tillman. He pulled my desk chair toward the bed, turned it around backwards, and straddled it. I saw the pipe-shaped bulge in his shirt pocket and realized I hadn’t seen the pipe in his mouth in a long time. Maybe it had become to him like my lucky rabbit foot had become to me, something I didn’t need anymore. There were purple smudges on my father’s fingers. He saw me notice.
“I had a fight with the mimeograph machine, but I won,” he said with a grin. Then his face grew serious. “Georgie, your mother told me about your conversation, about your–eh problem with the McGee boy. I’d like to help.” He looked down at his hands. “Shakespeare said–”
I groaned and covered my face with the French book. “Oh, Dad! The bard can’t solve every problem.”
“No, but his work spoke to almost every human condition. All I was going to say is ‘To thine own self be true.’”
The words washed over me. “I get it, Dad. I know I should stand up to Kelly, but he makes me feel so bad . . . so ugly and small,” I said miserably. “He has since I was about eight.”
“I’m sorry for that, sweet pea. I wish you had told your mother and me. Bullies lash out at others to try and redeem their self-worth. You have to learn not to play his game,” he said with a wink and tapped his temple with a finger. “Make him play yours,” he added, punctuating his words with pokes to my knee.
“There are things you can put in your toolbox, words you can practice saying, gestures you can learn to use.” He shifted in the chair and lifted his chin. “Cite me an example of something Kelly’s said to you.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He used to call me Georgie Porgie, you know from the nursery rhyme. Then he started calling me Georgie Porkie, like I’m fat.”
“Clearly you are not fat, Georgie,” my father said. “You know better than that.”
“I know. But he thinks I am.” I sucked my bottom lip in and held it between my teeth.
“He doesn’t think you’re fat. He’s just trying to find . . . a tender spot, one he can prod. To get your goat. You must stop considering Kelly’s opinions. They mean nothing.”
“I know,” I answered glumly.
“Look at me, sweet pea. Here’s where you’ll start: when McGee approaches you roll your eyes, or let out a big yawn as if he’s the most boring person in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Don’t let him see your discomfort. Turn your back on him and walk away.”
“But one time at school he cornered me on the stairs. I couldn’t get past. He was looming over me like Bella Lugosi, like he was about to bite my neck.”
“I’d like to wallop the little shit for that,” my father said making a fist of his right hand and wrapping it with his left. I’d heard my father say shit a few times, but never right in front of me. “If that ever happens again, you push past and say, you’re wasting my time, or I’m not interested in your opinion.”
“Maybe we can write that down so I can remember.”
“Absolutely. How about Thursday morning while your mother’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Is it a date?”
“It’s a date,” I said.
My father rose and replaced the desk chair. He stretched his back, and considered the poster of Robert Redford above my head. “I thought Butch Cassidy was supposed to be the handsomer of the two.”
I returned his grin. “Nope. The Kid.”
“As handsome as Truman Parker?” he teased.
“Not that handsome,” I said.
“Truman’s a fine boy. Smart, too. He chose you, didn’t he?” My father cupped my cheek in one hand. “You are beautiful, daughter, like your mother. I should tell you that more often.” He kissed my brow. “Good night, sweet pea.”
“Good night, Daddy.” I hadn’t called him Daddy in a long time.
He moved to the door.
“And Dad? ‘Boldness be my friend.’”