When I was in high school, all of the guys wore “No Fear” t-shirts that said “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever.” I guess they were right…
They would beat that slogan into me mentally and physically, every day, because I was gay. I remember my first day of high school in that town:
Jock: “Do you play football?”
Jock: “Do you fish?”
Jock: “Do you hunt?”
Jock: “Then you aren’t going to fit in here…”
I was a cheerleader. Yup, a cheerleader. I had the best skill and determination of anyone on that squad, because you know, when you are the underdog, you have to be the best. I received words of encouragement from the football team like, “I’m gonna beat the shit out of you with your pom poms…” (I didn’t even have pom poms, I was a male cheerleader….) I would also frequently get called out of class and sent to the principals office where he (the princi-pal) would inform me that yet another football player had reported me for “grabbing their ass in the hall. ” “I don’t know why they would all be saying this if it isn’t true,” he would say with a look of dead seriousness on his face. To which I always simply replied, “really…?”
On the weekends I would bravely venture out to the local skating rink to see my small group of accepting friends, only to be chased away by multiple guys much older and larger than myself. My (girl) friends at times would even create a womb effect around me with their bodies as to protect me from the physical blows, getting hit themselves. “I’m gonna kick the shit out of that faggot,” became, almost a collective school/town mantra. My high school years were the sheer definition of extreme bullying.
Even the woods were no safe haven for me. I had an herb garden behind my house where I would go to be alone. It was the one place I could go to clear my mind and get away from both my school and home-life problems. But that place was no sanctuary. Eventually they would find me even there. Four guys on four-wheelers ready for a fight. They threw me down, punching and kicking me, breaking my glasses like some classic scene from a movie where the defenses nerd gets ridiculed and beaten for being different. The only problem was, this wasn’t a movie, and these weren’t actors. And there wasn’t going to be an empowering wrap up scene of redemption in the end. No hero to swoop in and save the day.
When things like this would happen, I would just lay there and detach from the situation. Your mind and body have a way of shutting down to somewhat protect you from extreme trauma during times like this. My mind would wander off to a different reality. I would think, “this really doesn’t even hurt… why don’t I just get up and fight back?” But there were always four (or more) of them, so I never did. I now have these dreams or nightmares where I’m back in the same situation. Sometimes I miraculously get up and do fight back. I knock them all down and for one brief second I feel like I’ve vanquished these ghosts. Then I awake and realize that it’s 15 years later, I’m still being haunted, and the ghosts still won.
I occasionally receive apology messages from these same guys (bullies) today. They probably have children of their own, realize how horrible they were then, and wouldn’t want this to happen to their own kids now. I always give the same reply, “oh, hey, don’t worry about it. It never crosses my mind. But thank you for taking the time to write.” I let them off easy with the feeling that they have made amends for what they did in their past. I don’t tell them the the truth. I don’t tell them how I’ve been in therapy since my early 20s. I don’t tell them about my night terrors. I don’t tell them about my inability to turn my back or close my eyes in public without feeling the rush and pressure of a crushing blow to the back of my head. I don’t tell them how I have constant panic attacks and have to take anxiety medications just to be around large groups.
I definitely would not say “It gets better.” It just gets different.
Sometimes I tell people these stories and they look at me with a blank stare… disbelieving that I could have grown up in such a horrible place. Somehow that almost makes me feel better. It somehow justifies how fucked up I feel inside. It justifies all my feelings of frustration as a child who just wanted to love and be loved, but only got kicked and punched. The one thing that always resonates through my head is something my mom once said to me when I was 14. “You were always such a happy baby. I just don’t know what has happened to you.” I guess she really didn’t know, and I wasn’t telling her. At that age, you can be fooled into thinking everything is your fault and no one can help.
I try to move on. I guess that’s just what a humanist does. I don’t believe in “an eye for an eye.” I definitely would not say “It gets better.” – It just gets different. You react to things in different ways. You process things differently than other people, but you learn how to deal with that and hide it to seem “normal“. You try to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt, regardless if you feel like a battered shelter animal inside. I guess I’m sharing this personal story in the hopes that maybe this will help someone else some day.