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Growing up in San Francisco #2

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Posted (edited)

The Bully

Ronald Pilkington was the class bully. He never physically abused anybody, but he had a real 'tough guy' demeanor and was a master at intimidation. We were all afraid of him. He would threaten to beat someone up after school, but somehow the victim was always allowed to 'escape'. The next morning Ronald would tell him how lucky he was that he got away.

Ronald lived in Marin City, a low rent housing development across the bay built by Kaiser during World War II to house shipyard workers. He had no father, and he and his sister lived in one of the barracks like apartments with his mother. I imagine his mother sent him to Saint Brigid's in the hopes that the Sisters might be able to straighten him out. They never did.

I don't know how or why I became Ronald's only friend. He certainly wasn't afraid of me. I was one of the smaller boys in my class, somewhat shy, and certainly not a threat to him. But I was his only friend.

About once a month Ronald would ride the bus across the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco on Saturday morning and we'd play. He didn't like any of the other boys in class, and he never was a part of the 'gang'. Rich and Bob would have nothing to do with him. Even Lee stayed away when Ronald was around. Ronald was always talking about how he was going to be a big time criminal when he grew up. He read every issue of Crime Comics, and the criminals in those stories were his heros. Ron was already practicing shoplifting, and whenever we walked out of Woolworth's, or a drug store, or a grocery store, he would pull a small toy or a candy bar out of his pocket. He insisted on sharing these with me, and I was too afraid to refuse. On one occasion he urged me to shoplift some candy from Woolworth's. I was afraid to do it, but I was more afraid of Ronald. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. My hands were shaking, but I grabbed a roll of Life Savers and put it in my pocket. I was sure that everyone in the store had seen me do it. I was frightened and felt guilty. What would Mom and Dad say if I got caught? I would have to tell Father Jerrod or Monsignor Cantwell at confession next Saturday. I didn't want to do that.

Mom didn't like Ronald at all. She kept urging me not to see him. But he had adopted me, what could I do?

One afternoon we were playing down at Marina Greens. There was a large yacht harbor there. We would walk out on the piers and look at the motor cruisers and sail boats. This day a small row boat was tied up at the end of one of the docks. We climbed in and played on it for while, rocking up and down with the waves. I climbed out first. Ronald was right behind me. I heard a big splash and turned around. Ronald was in the water, his arms flailing and his mouth sputtering water. I stepped back into the row boat and grabbed him. He reached for the side of the boat, and with my help, pulled himself back in. He was soaking wet, and terrified. I suddenly realized he didn't know how to swim.

We went to the grass and sat down for a while. He was very silent. Then he looked at me and said, "You saved my life!" From that day on, I was not only Ronald's only friend, but also someone he was indebted too. He became my protector. And he listened to me. He stopped shoplifting when he was with me, and he never urged me to do it anymore. He still talked about becoming a big-time gangster, but his petty criminal activities stopped, at least when he was around me.

The bullying didn't stop though. Whenever he threatened classmates, they would ask me to talk to him. I would tell him to back off. He always did, but only after letting the frightened boy stew for a while. Sister Mary Catherine saw what was going on, and she stopped urging me to avoid Ronald.

I never saw Ronald again after the school year ended.  He didn't return to school for the 8th grade. I don't know if they moved away, or if his mother transferred him to a public school in Marin County. But Ronald was gone, much to the relief of the boys in our class, Sister Mary Catherine, Mom, and yes, even myself.


Edited by birdguy
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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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