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I Had the Guts to Tell Him, After Ten Years
by Justin Reid
(St. John's Newfoundland, Canada)
My name is Justin. I'm a thirty-seven-year-old man living in eastern Canada, and I have a bullying story to tell.
Around ten years ago, I needed work and asked my uncle, the owner of a roofing company, if he needed a worker. I had no prior roofing experience, but he agreed to have me along on a few roofing jobs to help out. About a week in, we had a job shingling the roof of a small shed in a residential backyard. About ten other men in their thirties and forties were doing other landscaping work there as well. I was trying to nail some shingles on the roof, but as I was inexperienced I struggled with it. My uncle quickly noticed this and called the other men over to watch me fumble with the shingles. "Hey fellas, come look!" "Havin' a bit of trouble with it, are ya?" "You might have to take a hammer and some nails home tonight and practice!" Everyone, including my uncle, was just standing there all around me, smiling and laughing. I had never felt so embarrassed and ashamed in my whole life. I remember saying, "You guys are assholes. You do it then if you're so good at it." My uncle just kept smiling and chuckling at me. So I just sat there, refusing to do it while they were staring at me. Eventually, they all got bored and walked away. I left work on the verge of tears and never came back the next day. I also never mentioned it to my uncle after.
I remembered it again tonight while talking to my disabled brother (whom I live with and look after) while talking about my work experiences. I got so annoyed just telling him what happened that I said, "You know what? I want to ask him why he did that to me, his own nephew." So I called him. I made small talk and chatted about the family. Then I confronted him about it.
"So Glen, you remember when I was doing roofing work for you years ago?"
"Oh man, that was a while back. Think I remember a bit of it."
"Yeah, when we were shingling that little shed with some other guys. I couldn't nail the shingles on right and you called them over to watch."
"Ha ha yeah, I remember now."
"And you were laughing and cracking jokes about how I should take a hammer and nails home to practice. I was just wondering why you did that to me."
"What? Oh I was just carrying on, didn't mean anything by it. I did that to the other guys working for me too."
"That was really embarrassing. I wanted to just put down my tools and walk home."
"Ha ha, I didn't mean to do that to ya."
"And I couldn't understand why you would do that to me. I mean you're my uncle, and you made fun of me in front of all these guys, having a big laugh."
"I couldn't understand why my uncle would bully me like that. I felt like I was worth less than a worm. Like, shouldn't my uncle love me? I didn't want to come back the next day."
"Anyway, I thought about that every now and then and wanted to talk about it with you. Hope you're doing ok."
Made other small talk, said goodbye, hung up.
I felt so good the moment I hung up. Didn't raise my voice, didn't insult, just clearly said what I wanted to say all these years. I realized that people like that, who act tough and pretend nothing bothers them, they aren't big men. A big man is someone with the guts to stand up and say what he thinks. I feel like the bigger man now.