These Shorts Rock, and Remind Me of Being Bullied, Too
I wear these shorts a ton, but today…today they bring back some memories that are both great, and hard. They fill me with love, and a shiver of remembered fear.
These shorts make me think two things.
a) I don’t really dress up for work as often as I used to. Well, I do in the winter, but in the summer? Please!
ii) A little redder and they would match the pants I used to wear at Sault Area High School in Sault Ste. Marie. Bright red pants and dress shirts, including a pink one.
That combo especially brought on a bunch of good-natured teasing.
And some pretty strong bullying.
I don’t talk about the bullying a lot, but I do think about it now and then. And the places I was bullied show up in dreams, which is kinda weird.
To be fair, I had a pretty good childhood. And I grew with my family filling me with love and confidence. That helped, a lot. BUT, all that love and confidence doesn’t mean the bullying didn’t get to me.
It doesn’t mean walking down the halls and hearing someone yell “faggot” at me was no big deal. And it doesn’t mean being pushed around on my walks home didn’t fill me with dread.
Alan Enters the Picture
One Sault Area High School student in particular was the biggest trouble. Alan*. In computer class, in the hallways, on the way home, whenever he had a chance, he’d find a way to get near me and call me the worst names, say horrible things about my family.
He was only a year ahead of me, which meant he was younger than my brother John, who once told him to “Suck a fart!” (a phrase I used many times with him). The thing is, no matter how hard I tried to NOT show he annoyed me, he made my skin crawl. And he knew it. No matter how cool and collected I was when I spoke up, he could see me tense up as he came by. He always ended with, “Not now…some day when I have you alone I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
And that must have been what filled his bucket.
The Story of the Stairs, and The Hero that Didn’t Talk
One day long after most of the students had gone, I was walking to his locker, and took the stairs near the typing room. Suddenly Alan appeared and started closing in. We were alone. He threw down his books, and I thought, “Well, this is it. You’re going to get beat up for the first time.”
I’m not a fighter. I punched a kid once in 2nd grade, but that’s the extent of my experience. What do you do? I dropped my books and tried to look tough, but I was, what? 150 lbs at best? And not 150 pounds of muscle. Alan was strong, Alan was going to win this fight. I was going to be bloody, it would hurt, and it sucks to know it.
I was standing with my back to the stairs and knew enough to know I had to get out of that space, but he was so close, I didn’t have any room to maneuver. I definitely stepped up into his space, which caught him off guard, and at that moment, I thought, “I gotta act! Punch now! C’mon, do something!”
How do you make yourself hit someone? I couldn’t get my arms to move…and tho it must have been just a few seconds, Alan started smiling, and bumping me backwards with his body.
I pushed back, staring at him, but he had a better footing…he was going to pop me one and I’d fall down the concrete stairs. Crap. This was really going to be bad.
Then, suddenly, “Hey James, is everything cool?”
It was Tom, a classmate since grade school, saying more than I’d heard him say in a month of classroom time.
Tom matured early and no one messed with him.
Alan immediately pulled back and I looked at him, not cocky, just, “Are we?” He took off, down the stairs and out the door.
“No, I think I’m fine.”
I grabbed my books, and Tom and I walked out together.
All the love and confidence in the world helped me step up to Alan. But it wasn’t enough to teach me how to defend myself…and, then the eventual deep hard feeling of inferiority. Having a friend help you out, it’s huge, but it doesn’t stop you from thinking, “I can’t take care of my own problems.”
I don’t think I’ve ever publicly told this story. In fact, it’s only in the last few months I realized what helped me thru the bullshit of bullies. Family trips.
My mom and dad took us on a lot of trips. Nothing fancy, no Europe, and like that. Just around the United States and Canada. But it was enough to let us see all kinda of people, all kinds of lifestyles, all kinda rich and poor, and so much food!
I know some classmates are reading this thinking, “You got bullied because you were weird! Like, really weird!” And it true…but not weird in the “he drinks candle wax in the lunchroom.” Weird like one trip we took was The Great North American Unicorn Hunt train trip across the top of the USA and back thru Canada.
That kinda weird doesn’t help much in getting along with other kids in school, but it does help when you’re just sick to death of it, feeling low, and need something to grab. Something to help you get back up, and go to school the next day. Because as bad as it can be, you won’t let them keep you from becoming the entire you.
The short version is one sentence…
My parents helped protect me from the world by showing me as much of the it as they could.
*Not his real name. Not even close. Maybe he’s changed by now. I hope so.