Saturday, October 23, 2010

my take on the bully thing

[as i wrote this i realized that i should note that if you find yourself one of my facebook friends, you're probably not real high on the list of people i'm talking about below. i still remember names, and i am not "friends" with any of them. why would i want to be?]

so i read a series of posts from single dad laughing about bullies. you can, and probably should, read his posts (in order) herehere, and here. a lot of people seemed to like them, and they've made the viral rounds, what with the recent spate of suicides of kids who've been bullied for one reason or another.

i see what he's saying. and maybe he's right.

but i can't bring myself to extend love to bullies.

like many, i was bullied as a child. in elementary and middle school, i went to a tiny (as in 10 kids in my class tiny) private religious school. while the academic curriculum was excellent, the social environment was, for me, totally abysmal. i very quickly became the out kid, and in a school that tiny, there aren't even other out kids to make friends with. the only real relief was in 8th grade, when there were only two kids in my class (and i was one), and there was nobody in 7th grade. i endured all the usual taunts, and had all the usual things done to me. and for a variety of reasons, i had no further social interaction beyond school and the tiny, hostile religious community i grew up in.

sometimes even summer was not a relief. for a couple of years i went to a religious day camp, and was picked on and bullied there. i was from texas, i talked funny (having a draw in chicago makes you stand out, and while mine isn't very thick, they noticed it), i was weaker and slower and didn't know all the games they played and was physically uncoordinated anyway, i was new to the camp, wasn't as observant as they were, and so on and so forth. i was locked in disgusting public park bathrooms, pulled under water in the swimming pools (in an attempt to drown me), had my trunks ripped off so that i had to leave the pool naked, was taunted and punched on the bus, and on and on and on.

in high school it was more of the same. i was the damned nerd, completely unathletic, perceived as gay because i didn't have a girlfriend (what girl would have wanted me?), i was ugly and looked stupid and dressed funny and smelled bad and i was jewish. i lived out of district and didn't have a car and had to take the city bus (not even the school bus) home. when my dad was supposed to pick me up, he was usually late, and i got stuck on the steps waiting for hours at a time. i was taunted and called names, spit on, had my locker broken into and my belongings urinated upon, had my locker's lock broken so that i had to get it cut off (on multiple occasions). as my grades deteriorated, i got bullied for that too. because of my grades i was unable to participate in extracurricular activities, and i got harassed for that as well. when i wound up being classified a junior a second time, it got predictably worse.

in all three places, i had acquaintances, but no real friends. nobody bothered to defend me: not other kids, not teachers, not administrators, not counselors. as my reactions became less and less acceptable, i was punished for my outbursts (and i was taunted for that too), but nothing ever seemed to happen to my tormentors. they continued to feel free to throw food and piss on my stuff and steal my belongings and shove broom sticks up my ass (yes, really).

unlike single dad laughing, i did not mark out my pictures in my yearbooks. i couldn't even bring myself to look at them at all (and i still find pictures of myself horrific). at least for the ones that weren't stolen from me before i even got them home (yes, assholes stole my yearbooks), i threw them on a bookshelf and never looked at them again. in time, i threw them away completely. i did not then, and do not now, ever want to relive that misery. school was never a joy to me; i do not go to reunions, hang out with "buddies," or have nostalgic reminiscences about my life as a high school student. my experience was that every moment was a constant threat, and i was always in fear that i'd be hit, insulted, taunted or degraded at any moment.

i still feel the same way today. most interactions i have with other people feel hostile and threatening, even with my own family, and even if some more normal person wouldn't find them that way. i still don't really have any social friends to speak of, and my life continues to feel like one downward spiral after another. there is no light at the end of the tunnel; there is no tunnel. there is only an endless pit, and the question is not whether or not i will fall into it, but only how fast i will descend.

i told one person a couple weeks ago that our nightly conversations, which happen over skype and which usually end with her falling asleep and snoring in my ear (she's been sawing logs for the better part of an hour as i write this), is the only non-threatening interaction i have in a given day. whether it's work or school, a visit to a doctor or going out on a hot date with a cute chick, i live in terror and loathing and doubt.

even in my mid-30s i still get harassed some. i pointed out to some students in a college class, on a field trip, that if they were going to talk shit about someone, they should do it when the object of their derision is not sitting within earshot. only one of the people in that discussion had the balls to apologize; the others have acted like it never happened. and this wasn't some when-i-was-20 college class. this was spring 2010, in sedimentology.

i know that today, a lot of my problems with not having many friends stems from my stand-offishness and my chronic depression and the attitudes that it brings. but the things i went through growing up still profoundly affect my outlook on life, and being happy and bubbly and positive all the time simply isn't in my personality anymore. if that ability was ever there, it was crushed long ago. now i am cynical and negative, pretty much all the time. (which is one reason i don't write here much. who wants to read all that drek?)

the only way i ever learned to deal with bullies came from two experiences. the first was at the jewish day camp the first of two years i went, and the second one happened in high school.

at the day camp after four or five weeks of endless torment, i finally got so angry at one bully that i whumped him over the head with the bag in which i carried my things. the bag had my keys in it, and the keys cut his face so badly that he needed a dozen stitches to close the gash. the rest of his friends, and especially his older (and larger-than-me brother) kept on me for the rest of that year and all of the next, but scarface (his face had been badly scarred before -- my 10 stitches were nothing) didn't bother me much after that.

the second was in high school, when i finally got so fed up with some of the assholes on the soccer team that i took a 2x4 to one of them. that didn't result in any serious injury, but it got his attention and he also pretty well left me alone after that.

the lesson i learned is this: bullies respond only to pain. excruciating physical pain. they come to understand that if they fuck with you, you will cause them a great deal of pain, and so they will leave you alone.

so probably dan pearce is a bigger man than i ever will be, and that's okay. but i do not, can not, and refuse to learn to, love bullies. the only lesson in my life about what's worked with bullies has been to hurt them -- quickly, badly, and memorably.

and when, in time, one or more of my children become victims of bullies (and i know it will happen, because i know my children), i'll be the good parent and go through all the usual channels at school to get it dealt with. and when it is not dealt with, because it never is, some bully somewhere will find himself in some pretty serious physical pain, until he learns to leave my children alone. because that's the only language bullies understand.