There are many influences that can make adolescence a complicated time of life. Bullying is one of them, and the defense against it can make or break someone’s self-esteem. When I was a kid, I was proud of my ability to defend myself against the worst kind of bully I ever encountered. He is still in jail for murder, and was an adolescent who should have been stopped then, but somehow manipulated the system and made it through without any deterrent that he respected. Later in his life, he admitted to figuring out how to give the right answers during interviews and to get by the authority that should have kept him off the streets.
I made it through many stressful meetings with him, and to make matters worse he was my neighbor on our country dirt road. Here is one incident to show the devious bully I knew. This one I’d say was the worst, but I lived to tell about it afterwards. This person is an example of how someone devious and without proper direction can manipulate those around him until it’s too late. I have changed his name.
I was about 13 or 14 years of age and lived out in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. One of the life skills my woodsman father and his friends taught me was trapping. During the winter it’s the season for muskrats and mink. I checked the trap-line every day and roughly at the same time because there isn’t a lot of daylight after school. One particular night I recall having yet another violent encounter with the tall and mean neighbor up the road. Johnny lived about a half mile away but it was within view of the path I followed through the snow along the banks of the beaver pond and stream where my trap-line was set.
Johnny evidently was waiting for me to show up that day, and had some sort of plan in his head about what he wanted to do to wreak havoc on my life. I wasn’t afraid of him, but never trusted anything he said or any gesture he made to gain my trust. I’d had many physical confrontations with him over the time I knew him, and believe I had better self-defense skills that I’d learned by fighting him off. Being only a few years older than me, he was a lot taller and larger than I was. He appeared to be approximately 5 foot 9” or more, which seemed huge compared to my 5 foot 3” stature. He also weighed at least 150 pounds or more, and I was barely over 100 lbs.
That day, Johnny came over to me and asked if he could follow along with me as I checked my traps. I didn’t want him to, and I told him I was not wanting any company. He persisted and said he really didn’t have any bad intentions. My gut told me to just leave and not check anything else, but I tried to be a friendly person and gave in, telling him that he had to just watch and not get close to me or my traps. He grinned and said that would be fine, he’d just watch. As I waded through the snow and kept looking over my shoulder, I worried he was still up to something.
I checked a couple of traps along the stream and over next to the beaver dam, then headed toward my last one under the bridge. I was carrying a .22 rifle with me. I always had the single shot along in case I needed it for animal threats, and to just feel like I had some comforting protection. I got to the bridge and had to look under it by leaning over and tipping my head down while on my hands and knees. I took my .22 and put it stock first in the snow, and leaned over the bridge to look at the trap I had placed there. The bridge was about 8 feet or so above the water. The terrain and stream bed have since changed due to a couple of major floods that came through since then to fill it in. A different bridge is in place now. Hurricane Irene was the latest major influence to rearrange the lay of the land there in Cavendish, Vermont.
As I was looking over the edge of the bridge, trying to focus on the dark water to find my trap location, Johnny was busily unloading my .22 caliber rifle. I started to stand up, and as I was pushing off the ground with my hands, he grabbed me around the neck with the crook of his elbow and lifted me into the air, holding me against his chest while squeezing my throat with his arm. I tried to jab him with my elbows to attempt to break his hold. It wasn’t working. I tried to flail my feet, to kick back to his body, but that wasn’t working either. A ton of things were going through my head as I kept moving, frantically trying to get away. I couldn’t talk to yell at him to let me go. Finally, I had one more idea. I just went limp and pretended I had passed out. In a matter of seconds, Johnny’s knee was in my back and he pushed outward, pushing me away with his hands as well. I sailed through the air heading fast toward the frozen pool of water below, broke through the ice and instantly felt frozen all over. I pushed off from the bottom, came back through the ice and scrambled toward the shore. Finally I came up on the near-by bank and made my way to the road and bridge above. With all the energy I had left, I raced over to my .22 in the snow bank.
While I was in the river, Johnny’s dog had showed up to be with him. The dog had a similar personality to his, and the rest of his strange family. Johnny’s maniacal laughter was bold in the crisp cold air and he told his dog to “Get” me. The stupid dog grabbed me behind the knee and began tugging at my wet, frozen pants to knock me down. I tried to escape the dog’s hold, and fell down. The dog got a better grip, pinching me with her teeth behind my knee. The only thing I could do was to put my gun barrel on the dog’s skull and told Johnny to call her away or I’d shoot. He laughed even louder and with a more twisted look on his face. Finally, after warning him again, I pulled the trigger, but the gun remained silent. He had unloaded the gun. I reached into my right side pocket and pulled out another .22 shell.
“This one’s for real Johnny! Call off your dog or I’ll definitely kill her!” I yelled. I was in agony from the dog’s teeth pinching the back of my leg, and though I didn’t really want to kill the dog, I had to do something. He called her back and thankfully she let go of my blue jeans and the pinching grip was released. He sneered and laughed again in his evil laugh as he started walking back towards his house, and as I stood up with my gun in my grip, I kept watching them until they went out of sight. I didn’t want in any way to turn my back to him again.
If it hadn’t been a two against one situation, things would have gone a bit differently during the confrontation after I got back out of the icy water. It probably would have ended in a fist fight. I had prevailed over Johnny a number of times before in this manner, that’s why he was so calculating and planned this meeting. He knew he couldn’t beat me one on one.
When I arrived home, I was about frozen. After the half mile walk back, my pants were stiff as a board from being wet, my hands were red, and it was difficult to move my fingers. My mother gasped at the sight of me, and asked what in the world happened. I just told her I had fallen in the beaver pond through the ice on the edge. She yelled for me to change my clothes and then told me if I wasn’t more careful I’d have to quit going to check my traps. “It’s dangerous to get wet in this weather!” I didn’t dare to tell her what had really happened because I worried there would be consequences for my family. She’d tell my father and he would go up there with a weapon and threaten their father for sticking up for their jerky kid that had thrown me in the water, the kid who essentially tried to kill me.
My parents were hard for me to talk to about any trouble that occurred in my life. I was always scared that my father would get arrested for sticking up for me, as he was apt to go right to the source and start asking questions. He was over protective of my siblings and me, and if someone had threatened or done any physical harm, he could get violent. This time the perpetrator, was way out of line, and his parents were just as bad.
The next morning, the make shift school bus came to pick me up. It was driven by Johnny’s mother. When she saw me get in, she asked me with an evil grin, “Hey Wyman, how’d you like your swim last night?”
Needless to say, it was good to see that family finally move away.
© Rick Wyman
2 thoughts on “Icy Ambush”
You’ve told me this story many times, Rick, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve tried to feel how you must have felt that day and the other times you encountered “Johnny.” The bullies I had to deal with in Mahopac, NY, when I was in grade and middle school were never this threatening to me but then again, I didn’t encounter them in the woods like you have.
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The lonely woods is always a worrisome place to be attacked. He was definitely a major contributor to my having ptsd most of my life.