Tim sat quietly on the playground. It had been several days since he’d made it through a recess without torment, and today looked promising. Both groups of bullies, those who were stronger and those who were smarter, were preoccupied with other sociopathic pursuits.
Tim wasn’t exactly odd, at least not according to his parents or teachers. He knew a bit too much of the world to fit into 5th grade social structures. He didn’t care to converse about the latest trend, discuss the latest dirty rumor, or play some mindless game with people he hated. So he hung out on the side of the building, waiting and praying for the bell to ring.
“Gotcha”, screamed the largest one of the pack as they rounded the corner. “Knew we’d find a loser like you here”.
Tim endured the taunts for the eternity of ten minutes before the bell rang. It’s ringing sent the pack scampering off, but Tim stayed back a moment, to make sure they wouldn’t be near him as they marched single-file back to their classroom. He stood in the shadow of the building until a hand on his shoulder startled him. He spun around and saw a man he’d never met before, but instantly felt comfortable with. There was something so familiar about him.
“Hello Tim”, the man said.
“Who are you?”, Tim said as he inched away. His brain told him to be cautious.
“My name is Tim too”, the man replied. “In fact, Tim, I’m you – just about 20 years older”.
“That’s crazy – who are you really?”, Tim replied.
The man then proceeded to verify his identity. He told Tim about memories he’d never shared with anyone, and showed him the scar on his leg from an accident they had suffered a year earlier.
“So why are you here?”, Tim asked the man.
“I need to give you something, something you’ll need”, the man said with urgency in his voice. “You see, having it will make the next 10 years much easier”.
“What is it?”, Tim said.
“Permission not to care about what they say”, the other Tim said as he gestured toward the spot the bullies had stood on moments earlier.
“Oh, I don’t care”, Tim said.
“That’s not true, we both know it”, elder Tim said. “You and I both know that the words do hurt, and that there is nothing that anyone, even I, can say to make them not hurt. The truth is, children can be the most psychopathic bullies on the planet – irritating each other adults alike. So I’m not going to tell you to ignore them, I’m just telling you that you have permission to not care about what they say. There is a subtle difference”.
“Sounds the same to me – just ignore them, they’ll go away – that’s all my parents … uh… our parents say”, Tim replied.
“And they don’t go away, do they?”, elder Tim said with a laugh. “They won’t go away – but you can stop their words from having any effect once you realize that nothing they say has any meaning at all”.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m from the future – right? I know what’s going to happen to you and them, and I gotta tell you – in 20 years you won’t have talked to any of them for 17 years. And every stupid little thing they say now will have absolutely no bearing on where you end up in life, what you do, who you marry, and how good of a person you are. You’re going to have dozens of friends in 20 years, they’ll all love and respect you, and you know a few of them already”, elder Tim explained.
Tim stood there while his older counterpart put his hand out.
“Just think about it Tim – you can build a shield they can’t penetrate – you know what they’re saying makes no difference beyond the moment they say it – and even then, only you can give it any weight”.
Elder Tim left, while his younger self somehow made it back to class in time.
The next day, Tim stood where he wanted to, not in the corner. The bullies approached.
“Hey Dummy – you look so stupid just standing there”.
“Really? Guess you’d know what stupid looks like – you see it in the mirror every morning”, Tim said in reply. He’d been saving that line for months – but by following the advice of his parents to ‘ignore’ the bullies, he’d never used.
“Why you little…”, the big one said as he charged toward Tim.
“What are you going to do Dummy? Go sit in the principal’s office for hitting me?”, Tim replied.
The older kid had never heard someone talk back.
“Let’s go guys – this dummy is too stupid to beat up”.
As Tim watched them walk away, he chuckled at the irony of the bully’s final taunt.