Quietly Bleeding: One Mother’s Struggle to Define Violence, Hazing and Bullying

Quietly Bleeding: One Mother’s Struggle to Define Violence, Hazing and Bullying

By Krista Genevieve Farris


There’s a fine line between “peer pressure for play” and negative peer pressure. Is it bullying? Is it a gateway to violence? To hazing?


It’s a punch in the gut that keeps on bleeding, a silent fight with a growing bruise, a game that has already caused trauma and left collateral damage. Your son tells you kids are “bodying” each other in the locker room. And while you’re not sure what “bodying” is, and you know that’s the next question you hope he’ll answer after you gather yourself enough to ask it, you are certain it isn’t something good.

What you do know, because he led with the detail, telling it with a dramatic shake of his head, is that one of the boys ended up with a bloody nose after the bout of “bodying.” His second swing, he adds breathlessly—you’re not allowed to tell anyone. If you tell, he’s certain (and you are too) that there will be retaliation. A good offense is as strong as its defense that’s the lesson he’s learned on the court. Defense is silence beyond this kitchen. But, this isn’t a basketball court, you say. This type of defense won’t stand up in a court of law or to our conscience—a silent defense is internal bleeding.

“What is bodying?” You hope he answers. But, already he’s panicking, the damage has been done—”Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell my coach. Please don’t call the parents. Promise you won’t tell. Dammit. Promise.”  He’s bellowing now—slamming his fists a room away on the cluttered dining room table. You’re yelling back, still in the kitchen doorway “WHAT IS IT? What exactly is ‘bodying’?”

He says “bodying” is punching and being punched below the head—in the stomach, the ribs, etc. Anywhere that won’t show. The kids were having fun, MOM, they were just having fun. One just screwed up and hit a nose. The bleeding stopped easily, he says, or so he thinks. Tangibly, that’s what he saw.

You beg to differ on every count. The blood is still flowing. Your words drown in his panic. He doesn’t know he sounds like a man. You feel the bass of his voice in your chest. He doesn’t realize his strength—of voice, body or spirit. None of these teen boys know their strength. They don’t get that they can bring you to your knees by simply growing. Every day these young men measure their strength against each other—competing, and comparing—Instagramming photos of their facial hair and biceps, staging contests on fields and over sandwiches at lunch.

Your son knows it was wrong, that it wasn’t just boys horsing around in a pre-game game before taking to the court. You’re not perfect, nor is he. He’s made mistakes, likely thrown a punch in anger that didn’t hit. And maybe you’ve made calls that didn’t need to be made or waved a finger in an innocent face.

But, this thing has a name. And, it’s not a simple game. That’s why he’s talking. It scares him—and you. You know this, even though you’re not saying it. You’re walking on eggshells now, just to keep him talking. You and your son, you’re both holding and being held hostage by this “game” and the negotiations are touchy. You’re on tip-toe, but you’re still in the ring. So, it’s still OK for now. He’s saying less, but hasn’t left.

You remember when a guy named Frankie yanked you up from your seat at the junior high cafeteria table by pulling your long hair. You remember hurdling hedges and taking secret cut-throughs in your neighbors’ yards when you and your friend Alisha fled Frankie’s mean gal pals, the ones wielding fists and pocket knives. Both Frankie and Alisha died young, neither due to violence. And, you are still alive. So, really, is any of this stuff life and death?

The mamma in you knows Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion died recently after a hazing incident, a beating on a bus. You’ve heard the news reports on the radio while scrubbing the bathtub and stirring soup. You went to college. You know about hazing. Group think, hazing, bullying—one person’s game or joke can lead to another person’s violent misery. Observation and silence can mean complicity.

There’s a fine line between “peer pressure for play” and negative peer pressure. Is it bullying? Is it a gateway to violence? To hazing?

Your son is begging you not to tell. You make him promise, “swear on your life you will not participate.” He says he won’t. But, you know the bleeding has begun. You fear he will be punched in the gut repeatedly with real fists or metaphorically with scapegoating. The question is not if. It is by whom? It is when?

You’ve always tried to protect him and can still imagine when his hand used to fit in yours, when he used to grasp your pinkie or reach for a hug after you snapped him into his car seat. No, you haven’t picked him up every single time he’s fallen. But, you’ve done your best to guide him. He needs his independence. You’ve done your best.

This single “bodying” incident has left bruises all around its victims—individual, team, familial, school, community—because bleeding still occurs when kept under the skin. There’s no such thing as “under wraps” when it comes to the ramifications of violence. Telling could result in punches. Not telling could render the same—another round of damaging pummels; blows, blows that could hurt the liver, blows that break a rib that punctures a lung, a single blow that sweeps him off his feet so he knocks his head, gets up and concusses later.

Or, just as bad, a blow he throws in defense that hurts another. You know he’s strong. You know that’s a possibility—that he would be sucked in to “bodying” and swing a lethal fist. Or that he would resist the taunts and dares and be unable to control his own ire. You know this could happen, because as strong as we are, we all react to these hits, these blows.

You realize you should tell.

You are an adult. You are a parent. Is this when you are taunted? When your strength is tested? You have been scared just writing this down. Is this where true daring occurs? Is this when you step up and take one for the team? Or are you breaking from the team? Is this when you assume the risk of betraying your son? Or is the betrayal in remaining silent about insidious threats? Referees wear black and white, not shades of grey. Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, there might be a right answer in response to the “game.” You lift up your phone and wonder. Your aching gut hopes, just this once, another parent beat you to the punch.

Krista Genevieve Farris has the privilege of bouncing her rough drafts off her husband and three sons from the comfort of her dining room table in Winchester, Virginia. In addition to Brain,Child, her recent essays, stories, and poems can be found in Literary Mama, Right Hand Pointing, Gravel, The Literary Bohemian, The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, Screech Owl, Tribeca Poetry Review and elsewhere. Please check out her author’s webpage at https://kristagenevievefarris.wordpress.com/.