Logan Kinlaw. Seventh grade bully, bully to the gods. I was quiet and awkward; Logan was obnoxious and powerful. We were equally unpopular, me for my social ineptitude, Logan for his tyranny.
He humiliated teachers by “answering” questions in class with sexually explicit responses, embarrassed administrators with, in at least one instance, a pantsing and ass smacking of Assistant Principal Johnson; and, among his countless other triumphs over school officials, Logan befriended Ms. Jenkins, Head Cafeteria Lady and Grand Ultimate Queen of Mean. It was with this résumé he inherited — nay, originated — the ironic mantle “King of Noble,” named for our school, not for his virtue. Class clowns quieted when he passed them by, lunchtime crooks paid him their tithes, classroom bullies wept at his feet; from sixth-grade innocents to eighth-grade veterans, Logan reigned over us all, our unrivaled villain supreme.
Wiser students considered themselves lucky on the first days back from summer and winter vacation when they walked into classrooms to find the worst of their troubles were bullies like Brandon Shepard, whose style was preteen-traditional: a few arm twists and shoves here, a cruel nickname and devastating assessment there — bullies who’d destroy you one minute and cower at tattletale threats the next. Logan’s methods dwarfed the worst Brandon and his peers dealt. Logan “bullied your insides,” a girl once said.
Logan had no parallel. He didn’t lower himself to name-calling; “pansy,” “pussy,” “fag” — favorites of his underlings — were too cliché, too easy. What made Logan so lethal was his perceptiveness: he knew more than how to bully, he knew why bullying worked. He identified in his victims’ insecurities at their roots, emotions that no other 12-year-old could recognize. Logan understood that truly distressing his targets meant diving deep, into corners to which even we were unaware: fears of loss, sexual abuse, loneliness, death.
He never threatened us with physical violence; he put many into the pavement — sent at least one to the hospital — but he did so reactively, to silence foolhardy challengers. Fighting was beneath him. Logan killed his victims from within, and most torturous were his whispered attacks. We all knew when one was coming.
I’d been something of a “student” — in the purest sense of the word — of Logan’s for some time. I studied him closely with the sort of morbid fascination onlookers exhibit when slowing down to see the aftermath of car accidents. We even made eye contact a few times, but to no end. I always figured Logan saw me as too easy a target, an invisible nerd, a side dish even to a normal bully. But that would come to an end.
Seventh grade, boys’ locker room, fourth period. Everyone but Logan and I is laughing and teasing one another as they file out of the locker room and into the gym. I’m on a bench, tying my tennis shoes.
“Hey, Justin,” Logan says as he approaches from behind. Like all of his harshest attacks, his tone is unsettlingly pleasant. I pretend not to hear him and stand, shoes untied, and start my way out with the other boys.
“Justin,” he says a bit louder. I stop. He knows I’ve heard him. Before I turn to face him, a boy in front of me glances back with sympathetic eyes.
I turn to Logan. He walks to me, stands uncomfortably close, rests his hands on my shoulders, puts his lips to my ear, and slowly pushes his body into mine, his chest first, then his legs, then his groin. I’m instantly and at once terrified and aroused. His breath is steady, sensual, warm on my ear. He smells clean and masculine. As he pushes into me, I wonder if he’s gay. Maybe he’s spared me because he likes me. He’s never done this to anyone. Of course, his attacks were always innovative.
“Justin,” he whispers. His breath smells of Listerine and Jolly Ranchers. “I know you’re queer. And I know you like me. I know the way you stare at me, and at everyone else.” He pushes further into me, puts his hands on my waist, pulls me in. “And I want you to know that if you weren’t born so f*cking ugly, if you weren’t so f*cking disgusting to look at, your wrists weren’t so small, your head so big, your arms so thin, if you weren’t so pathetic to talk to, if you weren’t too stupid to see that everyone already knows you’re queer, maybe if your dead mother—” He grabs my head, thumbs on my cheeks, and stares into my eyes. I’m already crying, trembling, burning all over. His tone remains soothing, his touch remains gentle, but his eyes are red and murderous. He says things about my mother and other members of my family that I cannot repeat in this magazine.
I jerk away from him, he grabs me, I jerk away again. Let him hit me. I don’t care. I see only my mother. The world looks different now. I’m not here. I’m looking at myself from above, flying away. He comes to me again and rests his hands on either side of my head and continues with concerned eyes: “What’s the matter, sexy? Wanna talk to your mom?” He pushes into me again, grinds into me, more aggressively than before.
“Justin!” calls out a classmate rounding the corner into the locker room. He sees Logan. He sees me. Together. Touching.
Logan does not look away, nor does he move at first. He stares for a moment longer, softly kisses my cheek and walks off, shoving past the boy.
What ensued was a year of torment from virtually all of my peers. I was ostracized, the target of bullies who didn’t know me, and a “faggot” to everyone else. Logan had executed his plan brilliantly: he’d quelled the rumors of my being “queer” by confirming them — he’d pretended he liked me, he’d kissed me, pushed himself into me, to find out how I’d respond. And I’d taken him up on his offer. I’d pushed into him. I’d kissed him back. I’d made it clear that I was gay, dirty, and in love with him.
The story, however outlandish, stuck because Logan so decreed. He faced no repercussions for “pretending” he was “queer” to test my sexuality. The blame was mine. I wasn’t to be trusted in the locker room. My classmates made me wait in the bathroom while they changed into their gym clothes and they laughed when I emerged. Yet they and others laughed with sad eyes: they knew the truth, for how silly it’d be to make a move on Logan of all people. I imagine now that my classmates felt sorry for me then, but their role was to survive; mine was to endure.
Far more devastating, though, was Logan’s “inside” attack. He had read my insecurities all too accurately. He knew I was insecure about my looks, that, like so many others, I was afraid of rejection, but he knew too that my weaknesses originated from a deeper place. It escapes me even today how he knew about my mother’s death, about other things he later mentioned, about my dysmorphia, and how he managed to thread them all together: I feared dying like my mother, who’d prioritized vanity over friendship, and had lost her beauty by the end, leaving her alone at death. Until Logan, I’d never before drawn—or even could’ve comprehended—so fundamental a wound.
The public confirmation that I was gay, an accusation I knew never to refute ignited dangerous suicidal thoughts. Logan knew that to take me down for good meant appealing to the superficial recoil gay students faced in class. Proving I was gay meant raising an army of bullies to suffocate me.
I changed schools before eighth grade.
I’m certain Logan wasn’t the mastermind this piece makes him out to be. He may have been a smart bully, but even he couldn’t have understood the network of emotions he provoked. Yet that wasn’t his genius as a bully. His genius was in that he had the ability to leave his victims with enough loose ends that his words haunted them—bullied “their insides.” He created time bombs.
I don’t know what happened to Logan (that’s not his real name, of course). I’ve scoured the Internet searching for him on and off for years, looking for a criminal record, a high school reunion membership, a college alumni association, a Facebook, a Twitter, anything. But my searches always turn up empty. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. No one ever really knew who he was; he knew us better than we knew ourselves.
Logan lives now only in my seventh grade yearbook, smiling brightly into the camera.