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Lions Roar : July 2018
HEN I TELL MY DAD I’m going to hang out with Jeff Zlotnik, he laughs. “Once, when you were a kid, I asked why you were so scared of Jeff. You said, ‘Because he’s so much bigger than me.’” In reality, I was a head taller than Jeff. But he was so con- fident and aggressive that he always loomed large in my life. My earliest memory of him is from kindergarten. A bunch of us were playing in the sandbox, and I’d loaded up a Fisher–Price trolley with action figures. Out of nowhere, Jeff ran up, swiped the toy from me, and threw it into some nearby plants. He smiled, but it was a mean smile—Jeff ’s signature smirk. It was the first time I remember feeling like someone wanted to make me feel bad. I went home and cried to my mom. A few years later, during a soccer game, Jeff kicked the ball to me—a rare thing. I wasn’t exactly well-known for my athletic prowess, and Jeff ’s vote of confidence made me feel especially good. But at the last second, I let the ball sail past my feet—right into the clutches of the other team. Jeff screamed at me, calling me an idiot. What hurt most was that I kind of agreed with him. There were other incidents over the years—the time he told me I couldn’t sit with him and his friends at lunch, or when he picked a fight with me in the schoolyard over a girl we both liked. Honestly, none of it was major—just kids’ stuff. But I was a painfully sensitive boy and it had lasting effects. Jeff made me aware there were places I didn’t belong and groups I’d never be a part of. My Bully Became a Buddhist When ERIC STEUER discovered his childhood bully was now a Buddhist teacher, he asked him the question he’d always wanted to: Why did you treat me that way? PHOTOBYJASONMADARA Author Eric Steuer (standing) shares a warm moment with his former bully turned Buddhist teacher Jeff Zlotnik. W LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 42