This is the last and final post from my “Teenage Angst Clearing House” series. It is always good to do a cleanse around the new year and the best way sometimes to to just get everything out and start fresh in January. But we are not quite done, we still have to talk about Bullies. For this, I absolutely ADORE the “It Gets Better” project. It is a great example of how the internet is amazing. Kids who don’t fit in where they live now know that there are others like them all over the world who feel the same and that they are not alone and it is just a matter of finding yourself, your community, and knowing that it does get better.
R.I.P.: High School Jerks
I would say that through my junior high and high school career, I had four real consistent bullies. Well, at least four people come to mind. There were plenty of other minor players, but four serious ones. I could use their names (and call them a few new ones), but name calling was their style anyone that went to that school, knows enough to know who they were/are. When I told my junior high school counselor that I was being picked on in gym class (guys would punch me in the back, purposely trip me, and call me fag), I was told by the counselor that it was just how guys joked around and I could probably use some toughening up. The counselor must have mentioned it to the gym teacher because he told me to “stop being a pussy” and to not “go crying to the school counselor” about situations where I should just be sticking up for myself and “holding my own.”
One bully sat behind me in history class. He would flick the back of my head and ears, he would make that fake sound that he was spitting on my back, and he would call me fag, faggot, and queer. He made it really hard for me to pay attention in class and learn anything. He was also in my gym class. He would always hit me harder than needed for whatever sport we were playing. He died our senior year. I think he was hit by a logging truck while walking down the road.
Another bully called me the all standard names, but also added hard shoves into the school hallway walls. I was very small compared to everyone else my sophomore year, my mother bought a winter jacket for me that was on the big side with anticipation of my growth. The first day I wore it to school, this bully asked me while he was standing in front of the class if the jacket was my boyfriends. He sat in the front of the class right near the door and the clock, the obvious direction that everyone would look. He would embarrass me by telling me loud enough for the whole class to hear to stop looking at him. Then he would turn to a friend and say how gross it was that I was checking him out, I obviously was not. I rearranged my entire route between classes to avoid going down the hallway where his locker was. He did and said things to me that he knew annoyed and upset me and he clearly got pleasure in my torment. He was instrumental in me hating myself, my school, my town, and my life. He died a few years ago. They never say how or why people die in the newspaper.
One is a minister in now, he sent some bullshit grace/bless message to our class for the high school reunion. Maybe he found a different path. Maybe he found other people to bully? I remember in junior high, he pushed me down as I was walking into the bathroom and accused me of trying to look at his dick. My books and papers were scattered all over the bathroom floor, he kicked a book under a toilet stall as he left. After that, I tried to only use the bathroom if I really needed to and then, I would try to get a hall pass to use it during class time when it was empty. [It turns out there are several ‘men of the cloth’ from my graduating class. I was not bullied by all of them, just one who had a very accomplished mullet our senior year.]
I don’t know what happened to the other one. I would google him if I could remember how to spell his last name. His hatred and focus on me was maybe in part to his liking my girlfriend. Maybe if he called me names and stuff, she would see how bad I was and how cool he was? As far as I know, their only direct interaction is when she ran over his foot with her car when he was chasing us and screaming about my faggy-ness or something. We were in a VW Bug, so I am sure his foot was fine.
I do not feel sad, I do not feel anything really. I guess I feel odd that people my age are dying in general. I guess that I feel sad that they are dead and the only thing that some people remember about them is that they were total assholes in high school. That has got to suck because I know or at least hope that they got to love and be loved by someone. I hope they did. I hope that they got to experience passion and and deep connections to other humans. I hope that they managed to deal with the unmanaged fear or rage or whatever it was that caused them to strike out at people.
I do not believe in karma, it isn’t a fair trade. While I admit that they did make my school life horrible on purpose, I really do not think of them or what they did much anymore. I know that it is in part due to them that I went through a very rocky period in my late teens and early 20′s. I hated myself so much, I thought I was stupid and worthless and futureless. But I came out of it and it is because of that journey that I am who I am today. For the most part, I like who I am today.
I used to think it was sad that I will not have the chance to meet them now and see the possible change and growth that has made them into different guys, but now, I don’t care. I don’t care what they have become, how they have become loving parents and husbands.
It get better. It really does.
That said, it is most important that parents do not dismiss their children when they say they are being bullied. Advice of ignoring it is horrible, it does not work. You have to understand what your child’s reality is. While it may seem trivial and no big deal to you as an adult, school and fellow classmates are your child’s entire reality. Being an outcast in your reality sucks. Being called horrible names day in and day out by the inhabitants of your reality really sucks. Do not expect the school to change anything. You need to teach your kids to fight, not necessarily physically, but fight for themselves as people who have just as much of a right to be there as they do and to be there unharnessed. And if it comes to it, fight physically to protect themselves. And if you are a parent, teach your kids to not be bystanders. When they see something happening, teach them to stick up for what is right. There were 30 other kids that sat silent in that classroom while one kid called me “fag” and knocked my books out of my arms every day. They did nothing. While it may not be your child that is the bully or the one being bullied, they can still change the situation.
For whatever reason, even in liberal non-confrontational Seattle, I still get called “fag” to this day, usually from across the street. If they are closer, I simply reply “I know. Does calling me names make you feel better about yourself?” It is a lot to take in all at once, so I have rarely had a reply. That, and I have probably 70 pounds more muscle than I did in high school. Back straight, shoulders down, bend your arms slightly like they are so big they can’t fully straighten, tilt your chin up just a hair, and ask the question again. Ya, I didn’t think so.