AJ walked into the kitchen, dropped his backpack by the door and started to head towards his room. “AJ” his mother called after him “what happened today? Why are your clothes all dirty? And that massive bruise on your arm?” AJ walked slowly back towards his mom “It’s nothing mom. I just tripped over a rock trying to get home. I’ll wash it and it will be fine.” His mother huffed. “Fine? What does fine mean? You know, I’ve had to wash your uniform every single day this week! How are you so clumsy?! You’re not this bad at home,  so what do you do in school? Blindfold yourself? Monday you fell down the stairs, yesterday it was something else. I work so hard and I am tired you know, and you just keep adding chores to my list.” She was upset, he could tell.  “Go wash up, come down and get your snack and then go finish your homework. And then we need to talk about some safety measures.”

AJ sighed as he walked away. His mom was right, every day this week he had come home with disheveled, dirty clothes and bruises. Even his face was covered in dirt most days…and dried tears. He would stop off at the park on his way home and wash his face so his mother never found out that he had cried. His granddad used to tell him “You’re a big boy now and big boys don’t cry.” He couldn’t be seen crying. But it hurt so much when Dixon kicked him in the stomach or in his back. He tried to curl into as tight a ball as he could but even then his blows had a way of always finding the most sensitive spots. At first, he begged Dix to stop “Please Dix, it hurts. Stop” but that only fueled the kid’s rage. AJ finally figured out that if he just lay there and took it, Dix would get bored and walk away after a few punches and kicks. AJ would lay on the ground until he was sure Dix had left, then he would slowly raise himself off the ground and make his way home gingerly.

Dixon Matthews aka Dix was the new kid at school, larger and meaner than most others in 4th grade. He had an anger within him that scared AJ. AJ wasn’t too sure when he got picked as Dix’s punching bag. All he remembered was trying to get his book bag out of his locker and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground. The back of his head hurt like someone had smacked him hard. He looked around slowly to see a big kid turning around to look at him as he walked away. He had the most evil grin on his face, AJ thought. That had started this endless cycle of torture. AJ was a small kid so defending himself never crossed his mind. Any thoughts of complaining were wiped clean when Dix said during one of his beatings “If you tell on me, you will pay for it.” AJ hoped Dix would tire of him and move on to another kid. If he could only hold up until that kid came along. That was 2 weeks ago and Dix still “loved” AJ.

AJ dreaded walking into the school building. One day, Dix demanded “Give me your lunch money” and when AJ said his mother packed him lunch, Dix took the lunch box away and punched AJ in the gut for good measure. From there it became a steady, daily torture fest. AJ was surprised he hadn’t broken any bones yet. Maybe it was from all the milk his mom made him drink. What surprised him even more was the fact that his mom hadn’t noticed at all that her once clean son now came home almost everyday looking like a bedraggled child.

The first day AJ came home with a black eye and told his mom he ran into a door, she simply believed him. He figured if he could keep up the charade until Dix moved on, he would never have to tell anyone. He wasn’t so sure anymore he could take this for too much longer. He had considered telling Ellie, his friend. Her dad was a cop and maybe he could put a stop to this. But he had seen on TV that cops need evidence, which meant Mr Cooper would need to see Dix beating him and if Dix found out, he might hurt him worse. He had tried to fake a stomach ache to stay home from school but his mother would have none of that. “Aaron Jason Hamilton, I can tell when you’re lying. You WILL go to school unless you want to become a farmer like your pawpaw.” He saw no way out.

On Thursday, as AJ was headed out the door, his mom said “AJ! Guess who’s coming to dinner tonight?” Just seeing how excited she was, he knew it was Uncle Paul. Paul was his mom’s youngest brother, one she had practically raised herself. He had served 2 tours in Iraq as SpecOps and AJ wanted to be like him when he grew up! An idea slowly started to form in his head! He was going to ask Uncle Paul to teach him some of his fight moves. He wouldn’t tell his uncle why, just that he wanted to learn. It must have been a lucky day because Dix wasn’t in school that day. The teacher said he was sick. “I hope the bug kills him” thought AJ bitterly.

That night at the dinner table, AJ could barely contain himself as he asked his Uncle “Hey Uncle P, since you have some time now, would you teach me some of your karate chop moves? I want to learn too so I can grow up and join the Army like you.” Paul grinned at his nephew and affectionately tousled his hair “Sure thing, kiddo. Are you ready though to get up at oh dark thirty to train?” AJ’s jaw hit the table and Paul doubled over in laughter. AJ loved his Uncle’s deep laugh. Coming back from the war, he had sadder eyes, wrinkles around his mouth but his laughter was still warm!

Uncle Paul agreed to start training him from Saturday. “Eat a light breakfast with protein and then meet me on the field behind the park at 7:30 am sharp. If you’re late, you’ll have to run circles around the field.” While AJ was excited about starting training, he was also worried about Dix being well and back on Friday. Luckily there was no sign of Dix and the day passed by relatively quietly. AJ laid out his clothes for the next morning, told his mom he would have 2 boiled eggs for breakfast and then slipped into bed. After a long time, AJ slept soundly. He even had a slight smile on his lips. 🙂

Next morning AJ thought he arrived at 7:30 sharp. But his uncle’s army watch said he was a whole 12 seconds late. That cost him 2 laps around the field. He made 3/4ths of his way around the first lap until his scrawny legs couldn’t carry him anymore. Uncle Paul smiled. This was going to be an uphill one. He just hoped the kid didn’t give up. Little did he know the motivation behind AJ’s request. 10 minutes of breathing and panting in the dirt later, AJ stood up and ran the rest of the laps, slowly but he did it. If Paul was a crying man, he would be teary eyed by now. AJ limped over to his uncle, wiped the sweat off his face, bent over with his hands on his knees and almost whispered “What next, Uncle Paul?”

That was 2 weeks ago. Paul and AJ trained everyday from 6-7 am, except on weekends. Uncle Paul was adamant about rest days. After training, AJ would rush home, get ready and rush to school. There was still no sign of Dix. The teacher had said he had come down with a bad case of pneumonia and to pray for his speedy recovery. AJ did no such thing. He instead stepped up his training to make sure he was ready when Dix did come back. Now he was running 3 laps around the field on his own. His uncle was so proud to see him improve. He was still a work in progress but his stamina was up, he was getting stronger and he seemed happier. He had actually begun to look forward to running into Dix at school.

He didn’t have to wait long. 3 weeks after being gone, Dixon Matthews was back in school and madder than when he left. He had been stuck in bed for weeks and made to eat soups and stews and he was raring to beat someone up for it. He walked through the doors, grabbed the backpack off the kid nearest him and slammed it onto the floor. The kid recognizing Dix, simply backed away. That’s when Dix spotted his “old friend” AJ. AJ was rooting for something in his locker, apparently unaware of Dix walking up behind him. Or so Dix thought. Dix walked up to AJ and put his hand on his shoulder. “Hey old bu…” he hadn’t even finished his sentence when he felt his hand being twisted, his feet came off the ground for a brief few seconds and then he was on the ground on his back. He was so stunned, he had no idea what happened! He looked up to see AJ looking into his face. That made Dix all the more disoriented.

AJ just stood there looking at Dix. Other kids slowly started to gather around. Dix was starting to get red in the face. AJ said calmly “I’m not the same kid you knew 3 weeks ago. I won’t put up with you anymore. And if you think you can move on to another kid, that’s not an option either.” With that, AJ grabbed his books out of the locker and walked away. Mr Faulk, the English teacher saw what happened. He had always known Dixon was a bully and had even complained to Principal Moore about it. The Principal had said though that he couldn’t do anything until someone actually brought in a complaint and if Mr Faulk saw anything untoward happening, then to break it up and send the kids to his office. Dixon was sneaky though and never did anything in plain enough sight to get caught. Today, a child had finally stood up to this bully and actually won.

Mr Faulk smiled as he walked away. There is hope, he thought. Today he was going to deviate from the syllabus and talk to his students about bullying. He was going to take the “bully” by  the horns like AJ had. Today, an 8 year old had taught him a valuable lesson!


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