In the spring of 2021, I decided to write stories from my past. Covid had put so many restrictions on us that many of us couldn’t go out and socialize as much as we’d like to. Since I couldn’t go out and hang out with people I turned inward for content for this blog.
One of the things I did was to write stories about my childhood growing up in northeast Philly and my summers in Wildwood, New Jersey. One of the stories I wrote was about a bar band from back in 1980 in Wildwood that I liked. They were called the Dead End Kids and had a profound effect on me back then.
I had been doing some research on the subject and had come across a tribute page to one of its former members. He had gotten cancer and passed away a few years ago. When I finished the article and posted it on my blog, I decided to place a link in the group on Facebook that was a memorial to him.
This garnered a huge positive response from its members and fans of the band. It also brought this blog a truckload of traffic. So when I started to write the old stories about Philly and Wildwood I found groups on Facebook that enjoyed those subjects. In those groups were many people from my old neighborhood and classmates of mine from the past.
Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I liked being a voice for my peers from our collective childhoods. I think that was the first time I felt like Phicklephilly had any real value. I know I provided a lot of dating and relationship advice and stories about my own dating life, but it always seemed cheap to me. But when I wrote these stories from my heart and memories of this innocent time in all of our lives it changed something in me. I knew that I’d eventually be able to write the stories I wanted to tell from my life where the goal wasn’t to get traffic, subscribers, or ad revenue.
One of the most wonderful aspects of writing these stories was from people from my past reached out to me in the form of comments, likes, stories of their own, and phone calls. It was nice to connect with people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in over 40 years!
I realized that this blog had a greater value than I ever expected it to have when I started writing it back in 2016. Here was a forum where I could touch the hearts and minds of people from all over the country and the world. It was exciting. My heart beats in the past as a boy, beating now in the present at 60 years old, but beating just a bit faster as I shared in the joy of others through my words.
I got calls, comments, and emails from people I knew and some I never knew. It didn’t matter. We all shared the same memories and experiences.
But one of the people who reached out on Facebook was a guy I knew as a child. Now a man with a wife and kids. I wasn’t friends with him on Facebook and hadn’t seen him in over 40 years. I was never friends with him in real life either. Because back in the mid-seventies he was an arch-enemy. A bully that picked on me as a kid.
I had been picked on for years in the neighborhood and school. Happily, this all ended when I entered high school, but before that, it was a living hell. Fel’s Junior High and my neighborhood were nothing but battlegrounds to me. I wasn’t safe anywhere. Well, maybe in my room or back in the woods at the edge of my block.
The teacher’s scorn. The bullies and animals at school. My father. I was terrified of them all. All of them contributed to my anxiety and depression. (I didn’t even know what those things were back then. I was just scared and sad inside all of the time) Instead of lashing out at society I turned inward, and made art and created things. The pain was so powerful that most people that don’t have it won’t understand what it feels like. It can be a lifelong thing. But I always turned my pain and suffering into some sort of art and found solace in comic books, music, art, and sadly later…alcohol.
Alcohol is a lovely temporary bandage for suffering. It can never truly heal you, if anything, it does the opposite long term. What once makes you feel better and makes your problems vanish for a few hours, later comes back to undo all of that pleasure and turns it into pain.
I’m not writing this piece to talk about my history of self-medication. If anything my will and sense of identity never allowed it to truly own my soul. I just did it because I liked the way it made me feel and was a welcome repose from the constant pain of my life. (Mostly self-imposed by my own poor decisions) I rarely ever drink now and have lost almost all of my desire to drink even socially anymore. I’ve fixed all of the flaws in my character and feel clearer and stronger than I ever have in my life.
But getting back to people from my past, this one guy reached out to me one day on Facebook with a simple question: “Hey Charlie. Do you remember me?”
Based on my experience with this man as a child in my past, I think that most people would block a person like that. The memories are too sour to ever even speak to a person like that ever again. There’s a reason people are gone from your life. That goes for any time in your life, past or present. But social media can bring forth people from your past that you may not be prepared to ever deal with again.
Back in my day, when people were gone, they were gone for good. There was no way to ever get in touch with them again. That was fine, but with the advent of Facebook that all changed. Now you could reconnect with people from your past… good and bad.
I don’t think we’re meant to be able to do that but I could be wrong. I’m sure many people have been happily reunited with families, friends, and loved ones thanks to social media and the internet.
I waited a couple of days and thought about how I would respond to this man. I even spoke to my daughter about it. She is in her 20s and said she would immediately block a person like that and make sure they stayed banished from life forever. I agreed with her, but she didn’t know the full story of this person.
I don’t have all of the details but have gotten the story from a very reliable source.
This guy as a kid picked on me and found joy in torturing me daily. He hung out with some bigger kids on the corner and just enjoyed hunting me for sport.
I’ve lived a long time and experienced so much in my life. Happily, I’ve learned from all of my experiences. Especially the bad ones. You learn to not touch something hot when it burns your hand. I’ve known many people like that in my life. In some of the relationships, I’ve even chosen to be close to them for the wrong reasons.
My family moved away from that neighborhood back in 1979 and by then we had all grown up a bit and no one bothered me anymore. Many of the kids went to different schools for high school and many simply grew out of that bad behavior.
But not all of them. This one guy fell in with the wrong people as he got a little older. There was some sort of altercation between this man and another group of outlaws. Whatever he did or they assumed he had done against them deserved swift and brutal retribution. Now the hunter had become the hunted. They exacted their revenge upon him with a baseball bat. They beat him brutally and had I witnessed this as a teenager I would have applauded their brutality against my aggressor. It would have felt like sweet justice for the endless days of torture I had sustained at the hands of this guy.
But the beating he sustained caused some sort of catastrophic brain injury. The guy was never quite right again. As far as I know, no one was ever brought to justice for this assault. So the ultimate victim was this guy. My bully. His lifestyle had brought on his demise.
Now, at 60 years old, I had a different view of the world and its members. I thought about how I suffered at the hands and wrath of my father and suspected this boy’s life was probably far worse than mine. My dad was a nice guy. A peaceful man who never addressed his issues, but not an inherently violent man.
But what if this kid’s dad was a monster? What if he beat this kid all the time or got drunk and did worse things in his household. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors in any home in this world. In some form, there is heartbreak in every house on the block.
I had survived the pain of my childhood and come through it a better and more evolved man. This guy on the other hand had been altered forever because of a single incident.
But was it a single incident? What happens to a child that makes him a bully? Bullying isn’t something you’re born with. Bullies are created by adults. Mostly toxic men who are emotionally and morally bankrupt as people. They’re mentally broken and download all of the bad data into the heads of their sons and make more of themselves. It’s a vicious cycle of violence and suffering.
I thought about all of this information some more and concluded.
I would respond to this man with kindness. I had forgiven people in my adult life that were far worse than anything he ever did to me as a youth. I wrote:
“I do remember you. You used to hang out with the guys up at the corner who played ball and hockey in the street. Hope you’re doing well.”
This man may remember me, but in his current mental condition, he may not remember any of the details of his past with me due to his injury. But maybe he does remember the past and what he did to me. Maybe he reached out to test the waters and see if everything was okay with me and if I remembered. I remember it all in great detail, but he doesn’t need to know that. I’m sure he’s suffered enough in this life for his choices. I’ve had a wonderful, colorful life full of joy. He may struggle with some basic functions for all I know.
I forgive him. Forgiveness is hard and that’s why most people struggle with it. But look at it this way if you can…
During the second world war, Japan flew its planes to Hawaii and bombed Pearl Harbor. Just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, where they managed to destroy or damage nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and another 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.
We later dropped not one but two atomic bombs on two of their cities to make them surrender. On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
That’s an absolute nightmare when you think about it. But here’s the thing… during the war, our automobile plants stopped making cars and made planes like the Mustang to fight in the war. A car company in Japan did the same and developed the Zero to do battle against its enemies.
You’d think after killing 120,000 of their people in response to killing 2,400 of ours would be unforgivable.
But after only 40 years, Chrysler and Mitsubishi manufactured automobiles together in the same factories on American soil.
So if nations can forgive on such an incredible level, I think I can forgive some kid for knocking my books out of my hands and pushing me over some hedges for a couple of years. I’m sure what made him who he is was far worse than anything that ever happened to me as a kid.
Forgive. Don’t drink the poison hoping your enemies die. You’ll only be hurting yourself. I’m not saying to make friends with your enemies. But for goodness’ sake… let it go! Life’s too short.
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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1