Monday, February 28, 2011

Bullying - A Personal Experience

I was bullied in grade school. I was a dork. I still am a dork. I am not ashamed of my dorkiness, nor have I ever really been, except for a period of time in 7th grade when I managed to let my guard down and really let the bullies get under my skin.

When I say that I am a dork, what I mean is that I was very socially awkward. I think a good portion of my awkwardness was based upon the fact that I had a very advanced and above average intellect for a kid my age. My teachers called me an “old soul” and marveled at my ability to correct them when they were wrong in the lessons that they were teaching, almost on a daily basis. To do so meant that I was leaps and bounds ahead of my peers in knowledge and interests, because they were just then learning about things that I was so well versed in that I could catch the small errors, misconceptions, or mistakes in the curriculum that even the teachers weren’t catching. To get to that point meant that I spent a great amount of time learning on my own, reading ahead in textbooks from grade levels above, reading books with differing viewpoints, teaching myself algebra, and so forth. It was what I wanted to do with my life. I hungered for knowledge like it was sustenance, and most importantly, I found myself to be massively bored at school. It was all review to me, you see. The classes just couldn’t keep up with me, and so to stimulate my brain and keep from dying of boredom, I would read these advanced texts when other students went to recess.

I had a few very close friends, some of whom I am still very close to to this day. They accepted me as being who I am. They saw that just because I was awkward socially didn’t mean that I didn’t have something to offer as a friend. My friends all had a select few things in common, however, which I find to be interesting now looking back on it.

1.) They were all above average intellect. My closest friend of all ended up being valedictorian. I did not, unfortunately, because often times I didn’t focus on turning in the right paper at the right time. I was far enough ahead that it seemed remedial to me to have to write this paper or do that assignment, and so I often times ignored them because I didn’t see the benefit in doing them when I knew that I had mastered the subject, much to the chagrin of my teachers.

2.) They were all physically active outdoorsy types, like me, but didn’t find a lot of benefit to playing with our peer group during recess because the things they did – playing hopscotch of dodgeball or whatever – just didn’t interest them.

In hindsight, I realize that I had very few friends from my specific age group, and in fact most of my friends at the time were quite a bit older than I was. This is still true to this day. “Old soul” and all, I guess.

I was also a bit doughy. I was always big for my age, and have since birth carried too much fat for my frame. I was typically the tallest kid in my class, with few exceptions, and was nearly always the heaviest. I wasn’t massively fat, I was just really big, but when you take a physical difference and mix it up with social awkwardness, you have a recipe for a bullied kid.

I was no exception.

The funny thing about it all was that, looking back on it now, I never really let it bother me much. I knew at that time that I was so advanced in intellect over these other kids that them making fun of me was like some Harvard grad making fun of Einstein because he didn’t have an Ivy League education. In my mind, I was like an eagle being harassed by crows – so far above the crows in ability, stature, and concept that they were just a paltry annoyance rather than a real concern.

Until 7th grade. They found a chink in my armor sometime around 7th grade. To this day, I cannot put my finger on what exactly changed in 7th grade that had me go from a boy ignoring a bunch of hectoring annoyances to a boy mentally destroyed by horrible bullies. Something did change, and I was miserable for it.

I didn’t want to go to school. There was nothing there for me, you see. I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from 7th grade classes when I was already reading sophomore-level textbooks, and I wasn’t getting any good social interaction that I couldn’t get from a visit to my friend’s house after school, and so all I was getting was beaten down, hectored, and made to feel sub-human by a bunch of human parasites that acquired their motivation to live by sucking it out of others.

My friends, many of whom ran with the same crowd that bullied me when they weren’t around, to their credit, stuck by me to a man. When the popular girl would come and ask me out, and then, before I could answer, would laugh in my face and call me a fag, they would tell her to fuck off, as good friends should do, but none of them really came to blows over what was being done, and you could see that inside their eyes, they were conflicted about it all – stuck between two sets of friends and not sure which one to stick by.

It only lasted for two years, thank Christ, because I matured, grew into my body, and lost a bunch of fat. My Freshman year in High School, I was bench-pressing 275 pounds, which was 100 pounds more than my body weight. I also developed socially and became gregarious, witty, and not nearly as withdrawn as I’d been for most of my younger years. These factors, put together, meant that I graduated from being a fatty social pariah to the popular crowd, to being a person that they wanted on their “team”. At first I was flattered to be able to be friends with the “in” crowd, and even found myself watching them torturing another person in much the same way that they’d previously tortured me, and to my everlasting shame, though I did not take an active part in it, I did nothing about it.

That lasted about a month or two, before I realized that these were not the types of people that I wanted to be friends with. I moved on, keeping my old friends close and growing as a person, socially, but for the most part, I kept my head down and didn’t do much with the bully crowd, either with them or against them.

I found my last two years of High School to be some of the best of my life. I was no longer socially awkward – quite the opposite, in fact, as I’d suddenly become to life of many a party. I was no longer fat, per se, although as I said before I was and always will be heavy. Think of the “me” back in those days of resembling Magnus Vermagnusson in that I was certainly not a skinny man, and was definitely blessed with an overabundance of body fat, but that I was not fat in the classic sense. I was barrel-chested, tall, and big. By my Senior year in High school, at 17 years old, I was bench pressing 350 pounds and weighed 230 pounds, and stood 6’4” tall. This, more than anything, may have been the reason that the bully crowd left me alone. I could have physically destroyed any one of them in an instant if I’d so chosen, and if there is one thing universal about bullies, it is that they are all, to a person, cowards.

It was in my Senior Year of High School that it really sunk in that I had not been alone in being bullied. It seemed to helpless at the time, and I felt so alone, that it hadn’t really occurred to me that other kids had been living the same hell that I had been. Many others, of whom most hadn’t been blessed with a spontaneous social blossoming or massive size and strength, meaning that their torment had continued while mine was abating, were still out there, living the same hell that they’d lived since first grade. They hadn’t had the same armor that I’d had in my formative years, and a decade or so of being beaten down by their peers had left them convinced that they were useless, and that all of the things that they had been told all of those years were actually true.

One boy in particular caught my attention. I am ashamed that I cannot remember his name after all of these years (I think it was Josh. Pal, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry), but I can tell you that I remember the rest of him very well. He was slight. At 16 years old, he stood to maybe 5’ 4”, and weighed a blush over 115 pounds. He had white, wispy hair almost like an albino (although he was not true albino), and had a very low self-esteem, and a corresponding very low IQ. He sat next to me in German class. I helped him in his studies every day, but soon realized that he needed a lot more help than just getting past German class.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight, I realize that the poor kid probably came from an abusive home. He was obviously malnourished, and was so beaten down that he truly thought that he was incapable of even the simplest of tasks, and died a thousand deaths of embarrassment and shame every time he misspoke or made even the tiniest of mistakes.

All of which made him the perfect target for the fucking coward bullies. He was too small to fight back, even if he’d been sure enough of himself to give it a shot. His home life had already beaten him down into tacitly accepting his worthlessness, and so it came as second nature to him to absorb the heaps of abuse that were pushed upon him by the cowards in the commons.

It was this poor boy that made me realize that I had the ability to do something about this torment, and so I did. I made friends with him, even though I wasn’t really interested in being his friend – he wasn’t even remotely close to being my intellectual equal, and his only interests were getting across the school commons without being abused, so we shared no interests and had nothing in common except for the fact that we’d both been victims of the same bullies, only he more viciously than I. I began to tutor him after school on my own time and for no other reason than because I wanted to help him.

I made it clear to everyone in my school that he was my friend, and that anyone who decided to treat my friend with anything other than respect was by extension doing the same thing to me. I had recently gotten in one of the three fights that I’ve ever been in in my entire life after a punk pulled a switchblade on one of my friends while I was nearby. The guy with the knife lost horribly, and so I’d gotten a reputation as a guy that would and could defend his friends. The second fight of my life occurred shortly thereafter, when Josh accidentally got a piece of wood bound up in a table saw in the woodshop and it got bound up and shot across the shop, hitting a popular kid in the back.

The offended kid was big, fast, and mean, and he saw the accident as an affront to his dominance, and after class, proceeded to kick the ever loving shit out of Josh. I almost cried when I saw him later, because he needed to go to the hospital, but didn’t even think that he was worth the nurse’s or doctor’s time to fix him (such was his level of self-worth). He talked about limping home that night and killing himself. I called the school counselor, who came and helped him with that, and who also got him medical attention (that which his parents would allow, which wasn’t much). In the mean time, I went looking for the bully responsible. I didn’t plan on getting in a fight with him for two reasons. First, I don’t fight. It isn’t me, and I’m not the kind of guy that does stuff like that. Second, I was scared of this guy. He was faster than me. He was certainly meaner and more confident in his fighting abilities, and at the time, I was certain that he was stronger (although that proved to be incorrect).

Turns out when I found him that he wasn’t interested in talking about what he’d done, because I think that subconsciously he was ashamed of it. There is no honor in beating the shit out of a wisp of a kid like Josh, and he knew it. Instead of admitting that or discussing it like a rational person, he decided to escalate the situation and fight me over it. I didn’t strike him, although he got a good right to my cheek that stung like blazes. I was a wrestler, and decided to try to wrestle him into submission. I got him into a particularly painful submission hold and made him promise to apologize to Josh and admit to the main office that it was him that had beaten him. I doubt very much that he did either, because I never checked up on him later, but it didn’t matter. My point had been made, and I had proven that this guy wasn’t as tough as he made himself to be.

Three weeks later, I graduated, and never saw Josh again. I don’t know where he is, or what he has done with himself, but I can only hope that he found a way to overcome the adversity that he lived through in the first half of his life and has done better with the second. What I do know is that for at least three weeks, Josh got a reprieve from being hectored and heckled, because none of the coward pieces of shit that were bulling him were brave enough to do so once they knew that there would be consequences.

It is for this reason that I do not care what horrible things happened in a bully’s life to make them a bully. Every man makes his own decisions in life, no matter what has happened to you in the past. The decision to be a bully is simply a pertpetuation of whatever bad thing happened to the bully to make him the way he was, and this inability to break that cycle sits low in esteem with me. I lived through a short period in hell because of these cowards, and I’ve seen people ruined over it. I won’t waste any breath defending a bully. They’ve made their choice, and if I’m around while they ply their horrible trade, they’ll have me to deal with. While that may not be as big a thing as it used to be, before I hurt my back and got sick, it is still 6’ 4” and 300 pounds of stronger than average mean that will be coming after your ass, so think about that before you try to lift yourself up by beating another person down.

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