Last night on the PATCO train, when exiting the ticket machine, a young guy I had never met before motioned his wrist limply and lisped at me. A group of girls stood around him drunkenly laughing, and my own friends were already far ahead of me through the ticket machine. I didn’t know what to say or think. After years and years of taking the train to Philadelphia, I had never experienced a stranger making stereotypical jabs since high school. Even after so many years, I still have the same bitter taste and threatening anxiety ready to bubble over as I wonder how such things can still happen.
Should I be surprised when I have dealt with bullying before? When I shook those shackles that made me an invisible person off at high school graduation, I suppose I thought every element would disappear as well. I never expected that the situations could change, but the same difficult people would continue to crop up regardless of what I do and who I am.
I remember the first time I felt different. A day in fifth grade, before I even knew what it was that separated me from others, I somehow ended up wandering the playground alone. That day I realized just how alone a human being really is and just how invisible one can be. I wandered through the thick mulch of the jungle gyms, the grass of the fields, the basketball courts. I looked for the familiar faces of all the kids I had grown up with. I passed from group to group, attempting to make eye contact with a supplicating smile, secretly hiding my anxious dread. Eventually I went to a metal bench in front of the school and sat down watching the kids playing around me.
For maybe the first time in my life I felt what true humiliation feels like. There was nowhere to go, and I was forced to bare my social outcast status, praying to God, my fists held tightly together with sweat between the closely held palms, that no one would say something, mention this oddity, make me feel what I had known for a long time. I was different. Not the strange kid that eats paste, or the girl with a nest like hair and a cartoon t-shirt. Instead, I was something else entirely. Something they couldn’t put a finger on, but instantly mistrusted. It wasn’t something I could fix, because it wasn’t something I understood or could even understand. The best description of what that is comes from Carson McCuller’s Clock without Hands, when she states about the effect of a gay youth on a small town that, “He resembled a silk-sheathed knife.”
The first day of my sophomore year of high school, an older boy from another gym class threw me against the concrete wall of the hallway, as other students and teachers continued on with their day, oblivious to what happened. I did not know what I had done to make him angry. What was wrong with me? I told myself that I was not this person, the kid that got picked on. Or was I? No one ever tells you that the biggest problem with bullying is that the target does not wish to be a victim. Nothing is worse then being a victim. Nothing.
I went to my locker and left all my books. I knew only one thing, I would never go back, not ever again. When I shut the locker door, I lost so many things in one moment without realizing that I could never go back, or that it would forever change my life.
I refused going to school again. At first the school attempted to just take me out of gym, placing me in a study hall instead. By some crazy twist of fate, the same boy who threw me against the wall was in the same study hall, sneering at me from across the room. The Vice Principal stated later that what the boy did to me “Wasn’t personal.”
I considered dropping out of high school and getting my GED. With my mother threatening to sue the school, I was placed on homebound instruction. I became a shut in for an entire year, afraid to even walk into a small store. I had one friend, who would visit me at home. I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t enter a Wawa or a supermarket, suddenly fearing that a flashing sign above my head was pointing me out as a potential victim. Suddenly the world was nothing but an inquisition, a place of torment, with every stranger playing the role of an evil judge.
I am now a college graduate, yet my history is still me. With every new moment of gossip, a rumor, a bad name, or dim witted caricature, I wonder what it is about me that draws anger when what I should be asking is why no one stands up to people who try to bully others. Of course there will always be a pissed off, or hurt person, attacking someone. That cannot be avoided. But why is there no collective support? Why when I hear about the comments another person, says about me, do I not also hear how I was stuck up for or how the situation was deflated?
I write this simply to illustrate how much harder my life has been because people just like you, in everyday life, with not particular interest or position, do not defend someone being attacked and wronged. This doesn’t mean I expect every person whispering about a hideous dress to get punched in the face. However, when someone calls me a “faggot” why does no one take issue, or point out the fallacy, hypocrisy, and vileness of such an insult at a person without defense.
Next time you’re drinking it up and partying, I ask only that you live with some ethics. Make this world better, and do not allow behavior, that you would not wish to go your way. It’s the simple golden rule, that seems to be lacking.And I promise you that if anyone lies, or talks bad about you to such an extent or often, I will stand up for you.
Please send any comments or questions my way about your own bullying experiences, or dealing with difficult people, and how it can be dealt with more easily, as its clearly on my mind. It was difficult and painful for me to rehash my history, but I know that many can relate to such events.