How social media benefits us
May 12, 2015 by Thomas Wictor
I have my problems with social media. A lot of completely insane people contact me and either make threats or waste my time. Today a man gave me a tremendous gift. He allowed me to see a face I’ve wondered about for forty years. I can’t begin to thank this man.
When I was ten years old, my family moved to Tyler, Texas. I was born in an oil camp in Venezuela and had never lived in the US. Tyler is very Texan. To the kids at my new school, I may as well have been a human-octopus hybrid. Rice Elementary School in 1972 was not a fun place. I’d been bullied in Venezuela, but it was different because I knew all the kids. The bullying was more like the ultra-macho teasing that they do in the military and in police departments.
In Tyler the kids wanted me dead. They were like terrorists-in-training. My siblings and I rode the school bus three times before we told our mother that we weren’t going to go to school anymore. The bus stopped in swamps and picked up kids who sounded like their mouths were full of mashed potatoes.
“Sthluh thuh thleth bluth ith muh nith? Uh?”
Pow! Then a punch in the nose. So after three days Mom and Jackie Ungerecht drove us to school and picked us up.
That didn’t stop the assaults. Kids did whatever they wanted to me, in front of the teachers. I got hit so hard that I saw stars, just like in cartoons. They stole my lunch money, then my bagged lunches. In PE class they didn’t let me play. By the middle of the school year, I was a wreck.
I began failing all my classes, and I developed high blood pressure and nervous tics. I’d blink, sniff, clear my throat, and clap my hands until everyone yelled at me to stop. It wasn’t possible to tell my parents that school was absolute hell. We simply didn’t have that kind of relationship.
A very underrated film is Joe Versus the Volcano. It’s flawed, but not fatally. In one of the best scenes, Tom Hanks tells his boss Mr. Waturi that he doesn’t feel good.
“So what?” Mr. Waturi snaps. “Do you think I feel good? Nobody feels good. After childhood, it’s a fact of life. I feel rotten. So what? I don’t let it bother me. I don’t let it interfere with my job.”
That was how things were in the Wictor household. You didn’t let how you felt interfere with your job. My job was to go to school, and it didn’t matter if every single day was comprehensive physical and psychological torture.
One day my teacher Mrs. Bledsoe told me to stay behind after class was let out.
“Now Tommy, if you keep goin’ like this,” she said, “you’re gonna flunk fifth grade.”
So I realized that I’d have to kill myself. There was no way around it. Some of the kids in my class had flunked five times. They were fifteen, sixteen years old and still in the fifth grade. These teenagers were the ones who attacked me the most viciously. I knew I’d end up like them, another monster who lived in a swamp and had a mouth full of mashed potatoes.
Then a kid saved my life. Literally.
I didn’t know him, because he was very popular. His name was Thurman Biscoe.
He was a massive kid, as strong as a grown man even though he was only ten. When we played football, he knocked everybody flat. Every time it was his turn at bat in baseball, he hit a home run.
Without telling me why, he started beating the stuffing out of the kids who attacked me. I won’t mention a particular guy’s name, but he was like a rabid dog. He’d foam at the mouth as he punched me. One day he and I were outside a classroom, his fists crashing into my head, when suddenly I heard him go, “Buh-loop!”
I opened my eyes, and Thurman Biscoe had this kid by the throat. He threw the guy—who was fifteen—against the brick wall, very hard, and then Thurman… bellied him. That’s the only term for it. Thurman charged the kid and hit him with his belly, and the kid’s head smashed into the wall again. Then it bounced off the wall, hit Thurman’s belly, and thudded into the wall one more time.
It was like a jackhammer: ga-ga-ga-gak. I could feel the impacts in my feet. The kid fell to the cement, holding his head and crying. I never felt such joy in my life. Thurman readjusted his belt, gave me a very complicated look, hitched his shoulders, and walked away.
His expression said, Don’t depend on me. That won’t be good for either of us.
Because he was popular, I didn’t think he knew I existed. His intervention was a shock.
Thurman intervened about five more times, with extreme violence. Once he choked a kid, asking him very quietly, “Are you ready to stop now? Are you?”
The kid’s eyes and tongue were popping out. He nodded frantically.
Then everyone left me alone for the rest of fifth and all of sixth grade. When we went on field trips, though, it wasn’t safe for me to be on the bus, so the school called my mother to take me in our car. We always invited Thurman, who pretended that Mom was his chauffeur.
“Turn here, driver,” he’d say, waving his hand from the back seat.
It’s a tricky thing to be a protector. Thurman didn’t want me to feel to humiliated, and he had his own social life. What he did was keep the wolves at bay. The rest was my responsibility, which is only fair.
After leaving Rice Elementary School, I went to Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Catholic School. There was no Thurman Biscoe to throw kids against brick walls for me, so it was the worst period of my school years. I was nicknamed Potato Bug within three minutes of walking into the building. A potato bug is a Jerusalem cricket, famous for its big head.
My experiences at Gorman are part of the curriculum at Georgetown University. One kid made it his mission to destroy me: Bobby Joe Manziel III. Though he attacked me every single day, he no longer bothers me because he’s spent most of his adult life in prison.
To my relief, my father told us in December of 1975 that we were moving to the Netherlands. On the final day of classes before Christmas break, I came out of Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Catholic School for the last time and saw a giant kid with an Afro. He was talking to a bunch of our school’s best football players. As I stared at him, he smiled.
“You know who I am, baby?” he asked.
“Thurman,” I said. He nodded, and then he and his friends walked away. As he went around the corner, he turned and waved. My family and I left Texas two weeks later.
In May of 2014, while researching something else, I came across a death notice online.
Since Thurman died on a Saturday, I figured it was a car accident.
Today Thurman’s brother Andrew contacted me, having read my post “Remembering a protector.” Andrew told me that Thurman was killed by a drunk driver at the age of twenty-three. Thurman is the third person I’ve known whose life was ended by a drunk behind the wheel.
Andrew sent me a photo of Thurman taken shortly before he died.
Words can’t describe the gift Andrew gave me by showing me the man Thurman became. Yes, his physical life was short, but he lives on. For the last forty years, my siblings and I have never stopped talking about the giant who saved me because he hated injustice.
The Biscoe family has my everlasting gratitude.
Andrew Biscoe sent me an image of Thurman looking exactly the way he did the last time I saw him. Only thirteen, he was already six feet, three inches tall.
That’s precisely the image I’ve carried in my head for forty years. Even the shirt looks familiar. It’s another perfect gift from Drew Biscoe. Thurman was my first real-life hero. He’s part of the pantheon of great men and women who helped or inspired me. Without them I wouldn’t be here.
Thank you again, Thurman. Someday we’ll meet again—you, me, and Mom. I’ll have some malted-milk balls to replace the ones you accidentally dropped in the dirt outside of Rice Elementary, and Mom will bring our yellow Ford battleship so she can drive you wherever you want to go.
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