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my own MVP (most valuable post) of 2002

I was talking to Juan Gato (well, emailing) and for some reason, I started thinking about my childhood. Which leads me to my own post of the year.

The post was written in February, 2002 and it led to a gradual emotional breakdown that culiminated in my finally getting on some anxiety medication in March.

In many ways, the post that made me face my past and all its scars made me face the future. It healed me. Don't let anyone every tell you that having a blog is a silly hobby. This space has been worth a million therapy sessions for me.

Once I wrote those words and found the nerve to post them, I went into a tailspin. Of course, it is always darkest before the dawn and I came out of that tailspin with a dark part of myself purged and thrown away. That is why the following post - one of very personal, very intense memories - was my favorite, most important piece of writing I had to offer in 2002.

I was walking across the street from my mother's house last night when I saw him. He was standing in front of his father's house, diagonally across from where I was, taking something out of his trunk. It had been several years since I saw him last, and many more since I looked him in the eye. I would not look at him this time, either. I put my head down and picked up my pace, trying to get out of his line of sight before he picked his head up and saw me. He would want to say hello, like the last time. He would want to make small talk about kids and school and old friends, as if nothing bad ever happened. As if all that went on didn't matter anymore.

He's not the only one I see. A few of them stayed in the neighborhood, got married, had kids, got divorced. I see them up at the school sometimes, picking up their kids. I see them in the grocery store or at Little League games and it's always the same. They talk. I nod. I avoid their eyes. I go home and cry.

I can't let those years go. I was small when it started, probably in kindergarten. If anyone ever tells you that little rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," well tell them they are full of shit. Obviously they never had words thrown at them like weapons.

If it wasn't the words, it was the objects. Literally sticks and stones. Back in those days kids walked home from school by themselves. Even at 5. They weren't yet teaching about stranger danger. And they certainly weren't teaching about classmates being evil little bastards. The offenders would hide in the bushes, behind fences, wherever they could crouch unseen. When I walked past, they would jump out, not to scare me, but to throw things at me. And then the names would start.

This went on for many years. I learned how to spot them. I learned how to walk on the other side of the street. I learned how to convince my mother to pick me up from school. But I never learned how to use my voice. How to tell them to stop. It wasn't just the walk home from school. It was walking to to the store. Being in front of my own house. Trying to play outside. They harassed me daily, at first just two of them and then a whole crowd.

It crossed over into school eventually, and I became one of those kids. The kind with no friends and no social life except for what her mother arranged for her. Even then, those play dates were awkward and distressing. Frankly, I didn't want friends. I didn't need friends. I was happy to just go home and sit in my room and read. All I ever needed was a book. At least that's what I told myself.

As we got older, past the point where you could chalk off the behavior to kids being kids, the teasing and name calling persisted. But I was partly to blame at this point. I let it happen. I took it. I actually hung out with them after school and stood there while the belittled me and I convinced myself that I was part of the gang and this is how they all treated each other.

Sometimes, out of desparation to be included or to be liked or to feel wanted, you do things that you probably shouldn't. And those things are taken advantage of. You try to prove your worth, to prove you belong, and you do it in ways that only serve to cheapen yourself. But you don't realize it at the time.

These things went on for years, until I finally left the school system and moved on to private school and turned my back on those people and that life.

And now, all these years later, I wonder. I see these people around town and I wonder. Do they remember all of this? Do they know what they did to me? Do they have any idea of the effect that their words and actions had on me then and how they would effect me for the rest of my life?

I mean, here it is, almost 25 years from the last time I hung out with them, and I still can't get over it. I still can't look at them. What do they see when they look at me and try to make that small talk? Do they see the same person they heaped abuse on when we were little? Do they think at all about those days? I doubt it. I doubt that if I ever brought it up with any one of them that they gave it any thought in the past 25 years. Because it didn't effect them. They went on with their lives and they forgot about me and those days and the rocks and the names and the things that went on in Jimmy's backyard.

I want to tell them. I want them to know that even today, their words are with me. That everything they did back then is still with me, in my fears and my self-esteem issues and the way I view men, and myself on a whole. I bet they don't know that. Because they think they were just being kids. They didn't know they were setting the course for my entire life.

I'll continue to see them around town and I'll continue to avoid them in my day to day life, even though they continue to be part of my nightmares and part of my psyche. There's really no escaping your past. I'd like to say I'm over the things that happened so long ago. But I'm not and I never will be and I don't know if it would make me feel any better to know that they have some guilt over what they did or that they do think about it and feel badly about it and that it stayed with them as much as it stayed with me. It probably would only make me feel worse.

So this is me trying to purge myself of all of this. It's the first time I've written about it, even if the words are very vague and scattered. I'm trying to let it go. Maybe this is the beginning of doing that.


February 20, 2002 06:30 AM

Comments

Oddly enough as I read this Bob Seger's song Turn the Page , came on. That is probably the best advice I could give you.

Funny, I think I'm going through some similar shit right now...

I call it my 'train to New Orleans' phase, for reasons which can be clarified without one of those 'it was a cold day in january'-type stories.

So, I'll spare ya. See, I can be merciful sometimes...

Yeah, I was that kid too.... I went to a new school every year so I was the new kid, the small kid and the weird kid who was always reading.

Lucky for me I had three older brothers who liked to punch me around so I became numb to pain and learned to fight. By the third grade I had learned prison behavior. Find the biggest, toughest guy and jump him for no reason then wail on him. Win, lose or draw, no one else would mess with me after that. I also learned to like in-school suspension as they made me stay in the library. Now where is the punishment in that?

Too bad it took me till I was nearly thirty to unlearn that behavior. I came damn close to a few felonies before the law convinced me that it was unacceptable to smack people around.

We survived. I'm sure that if you close your eyes, you can conjure up the passing parade of faces that didn't. I try to avoid doing that these days as there are so many who did not survive. Friends, fellow freaks, the different and weird folk that accepted me and gave me social shelter.

As I've aged, I've gotten more comfortable in my skin and I really don't much care what others think. They are either one of us and no explanation is necessary or they are one of them and no explanation will suffice.

I feel like I should say something, but I don't know what. That's an amazing amount of crap you put up with.

I was neither the teaser nor the teasee when I was little. I was that other kid, the one who just watched it happen. Too scared to become the teasee to get involved, even though I knew it was wrong.

I remember that post I commented without knowing the full story like a dumbass.

It was very intense, very emotional, very personal. It's that kind of stuff that makes for great writing.

Makes me want to cave the dude's head in with a crowbar too.

I still hold a bit of a grudge against the people who tortured me 20 years ago.

On the other hand, I've become myself, and have my live before me, instead of having to think back to forever receding high school triumphs for glory.

Similar things happened to me in childhood, from grade school all the way through high school.

I don't live in that neighborhood any more, and neither do my parents, so I'm not subjected to having to see those people and be reminded of past ugliness. The last time the past came close to me was a form letter from the company organizing my 20th high school reunion. ("As if," I muttered to myself, not without a certain pleasure that I actually was willing to admit to myself that I didn't want to go. Therapy has its uses!) And I don't think about those years that much these days. No nightmares, no upsetting flashbacks.

But... I know damn well I would be a different person if I hadn't been ground down all those years. Less cowardly, certainly. Less shy with men. Less phobic about new places with strangers in them. Less inclined to retreat from life. I grew into assumptions about myself in those years - about my undesirability and general unworthiness, and about the contempt and faithlessness of those around me - that I still carry around, ground in so deep to the texture of my life that I rarely even notice them. What you don't notice you can't question, let alone escape.

And yes, occasionally I too wonder whether the people who did this, and the teachers and assorted other adults who didn't stop it and didn't tell me it was wrong and unfair, ever think about the consequences of their actions and ever regret what they did. I think I know the answer.

There are not many things I regret in my life, but one of them was the way I treated a oung girl who was in grammar school with me. unfortunatly, I sat on both sides, I was the teaser and the teased. My brother, three years older than I, would pick on me, not like all brothers do, but tormented me to the point where I have no real interest in him to this day. With us, everything is a competition, everything is an argument, I feel relief when he is not present at family functions, when we don't have to speak. I regret this, I wish that we as two grown adults could get over this. I hope that it doesn't take a real tragedy to bring us together.

We tried counseling just me at first and then together. It brought us to the point were we can be together and tolerate eachothers
company. I don't know how he feels, but I feel therapy just made it possible to be in the same room, but not be brother.

Because of my fear of going home everyday to face my brother, I filled the void by lashing out at this one girl, Linda Allen. I wish I had understood at the time that this was no way to fill that void, no way to heal the wounds I was suffering from. At the time I didn't know, and this is the biggest regret of my life. I used my words, not stones, If I knew where this woman was, or where I could contact her, I would, and I would apologize. I made her feel what I felt in an effort to make my hurt go away. It didn't help, and the end result is that I did to her what my brother did to me.

I wonder if she thinks about or remembers me, I imagine she does, as I remember like yesterday doing it to her, and having my brother do it to me. It is hard to believe that of all the things I have done in my life, this is the thing I regret most. So Michele, I know what it is like to be on both sides of the fence, and I know what it feels like to scar and to be scared. I imagine these people who you canot look in the eye have difficulty doing the same to you. Maybe someday I will be able to apologize to Linda Allen, and maybe someday I will have a brother. This is closure I dearly desire.

Hurt exists in all forms, and it is possible that these people were suffering from some hurt of their own. Unfortunatly this is no excuse. It seems so simple, I should have seen how hurting her did not help heal me, but for some reason I didn't. This is something that I have to live with, and I can't help but think the people who hurt you live with it as well.
They unfortunatly have not taken the oppertunity given to them, and this tells me that they are as shallow now as before. It wouldn't be easy to apologize to you, as it wouldn't be easy for me to apologize to Linda, and my brother has not apologized to me. I have some solice in knowing that given the oppertunity I would do the right thing.

This would be a good post on my site... I just don't think I have the balls to post it.

I went through exactly the same thing as a child. The wounds never heal. You just learn to deal with it as you get older. As I've gotten older...dare I say MATURED...I've somehwhat become a person that I actually LIKE...and it's taken me a damn long time to get there...I still have my bouts of depression (am stuck in one now), but I generally like the person I've become...and my thoughts don't dally too long on those rocks that were thrown at my head or the verbal abuse I suffered...

a lot of us were those kid.

I eventually fought back. like they told me to.

A mob had me on the ground. kicking at me punching and one was holding me there for the rest. one.

he was punching at me as he held me--I was trying to push him off.

my hand pushed at his face as he laughed...as they all laughed....and then...

I jammed my thumb under his right eye. It just went right in. the eye fell out on my palm and I jerked my now bloody hand away and the eye just hung there.

he was screaming now. not laughing. none of them were laughing

I got up and I laughed. And they all looked at me. NOT laughing.

And I ran home.

It didn't help. At least not in the way the books and movies always go on about. No one cheered at me for taking down the bullies. No one made me a hero for finally standing up to them.

They didn't taunt me--to my face- much after that, and I didn't get beaten as much--particularly after they heard the stories.

My social life stayed with freaks and outcasts. People even the punks avoided

Cathartic to let it out? no. Why? 'Cos I'm happy, after my fashion. I've got two kids who are as strange as their father, and a wife who'll enjoy the rain with me, who understands that 'bleak' can be an upbeat appellation.

but I thank you immensely, michele, it's good for us to know we're not alone.

Thanks for posting, Michele. Comments show that your reflections resonate with a lot of people...you aren't alone in what you experienced or what you feel.

There was a front page piece in the Wall St. Journal about a month ago (not online), where a reporter who had been bullied went back to his suburban home town. He was welcomed with gladness and sorrow by the bully's brother, also a former bully, who is now trying to make amends. The creep himself had died in the late '90s after many failed relationships and scrapes with the law. The brother related how chaotic his childhood had been, domineering then absent father, ineffective mother, impulsive and violent kids. The interview with the mother was touching: "My little babies were bullies! Naw... you don't say?!" You'd have to work pretty hard to be that clueless, but she was up to the job.

... and part of my own childhood journey was going from bullied to bullier. I got out from under my older sibling, at the price of sometimes joining in to torment my younger sister. I'm still ashamed of things that happened > 30 years ago. I have tried to apologize and make amends to my sister, but we can't really do it. In the present, it's me that wants something, while to her, the past is over and not worth reflection. Maybe some day she'll feel differently. In the meantime, I'm grateful that we have built a relationship between our two families.

Being a childhood bully leads to a mix of repressed memories and guilt. Last I checked, the recipe for a fulfilled adult life doesn't call for much of either ingredient.

I don't think most parents realize what a "Lord of the Flies" hell school can be for kids. I was teased as a kid, but somehow having a quicker mind and sharper tongue than the tormentors actually helped me. Once the bullies were revealed to be slow witted thugs, some of the more moderate people around them actually gave me a little respect. Along the way I learned valuable lessons that have have helped me immensely. Mercy, empathy, kindness, honest self-appraisal- a laundry list of things I'm happy to know. When people would tell me I was worthless, always a little voice inside would say "They're wrong." It's this voice that kept me going and made me strive to try and be the kind of person they said I was not. That's still a work in progress, but it has always been a worthwhile challenge.

One brief anecdote. A friend of mine who was in the same boat was being tormented by a thug during gym class. After a particularly harsh taunt, my friend turned and seethed "Someday you'll be my janitor." Not nice, but it shut the kid up, though I don't know if it was out of shame or confusion.

Good luck out there- your best years are ahead of you. For the others, they're behind them and weren't all that good anyway. Would you rather win at life or "win" at high school by putting down those around you?

----Brian