Sunday, May 5, 2013

On Bully, on yin and yang, on change and love.

Sometimes, I feel there are non-idoly things on my mind that are too important not to share.  As with a couple of other posts of this nature I have done in the past, I will take this down after a time.

I posted a less-polished version of this as a Facebook status a few weeks ago, and it hasn't left my mind since.  Sometimes, there are things in life that deeply affect us in a way we can't articulate with a few words or gestures.  There is a little thing I watched a little while ago, and it made me think about life, the universe, and everything.  I kept it to "myself" (and those I'm connected to on FB) for quite a while, but a few things have happened in this past week that made me want to share this with you.

This week has been very good to me, while being very cruel to others in my life.  I recently returned from a conference for the non-profit I work for, which teaches a 5-point ear acupuncture protocol for trauma response treatment, drug and alcohol recovery, and stress management.  I met lots of incredible people, learned many things about the light and darkness in the world, and did my best to atone for a big slip-up I made last week.  And it was hard to do all this while a dear friend of mine was back in Wyoming, afraid to leave her home because of death and rape threats.

But the biggest thing I learned was not at the conference.  I was talking with my oldest friend and truest soulmate, Eric, this week about my upcoming move to Seattle.  Eric and I have known each other for over a decade, and we've seen the best and the worst of each other, sometimes at the same time.  But through it all, he is one of the few people on the planet I feel I can expose my worst flaws to and not be arbitrarily judged.

(Oh, don't get me wrong, we do openly judge each other, but in ways that help us to grow and not be assholes :P )

We were sitting in the park in Denver just being with each other, when he told me that he was happy I got into grad school somewhere else, even though it meant I would be moving a long way.  His penultimate piece of advice to me was this: "Create new habits and get out of old patterns. A new place will be a good way to start doing that."

I have lived in Wyoming since I was 10, and these past almost 16 years have seen me through both the best and worst years of my life.  I have learned many things here, some good and some really, really bad.  And some of these things were learned as a kid.

They follow me.  But some must stay behind and change for good.

*   *   *

So, I finally watched "Bully." (Because not only am I hip, I am WITH IT, YO.) It was masterfully put together, mind-twistingly informative, and even pretty damn poetic in places.

But above all, it was incredibly painful.

Like many people I know, watching "Bully" was a deeply personal experience on many levels.

I was NEVER a kid who was liked by other kids. Not ever, with the POSSIBLE exception of a couple years in high school when I just couldn't be bothered to give a fig. I had very few friends, and many of them didn't even want to be seen with me.

The list of adjectives and nicknames people used when referring to me is quite extensive, and I have not forgotten a single one of them. I know when and why each one was born, and in many cases, I remember the first person who used it.

But I remember so much more than that. For many people, time heals many wounds. Not so with me. One thing not many people know about me is that I have an exceptional memory. Not photographic, but it feels that way some days.

I remember: it was the last class of one particular day in eighth grade. One person spotted something I was drawing (Pokemon, if you must know), and that was all it took. Names, adjectives, looks and observations started coming from every person in the class save one, who looked away in either shame or embarassment. I crouched down in my chair and closed my eyes, trying to take the counselor's advice and "just ignore them." When it became too much, I sat up straight and opened my eyes. And everything was LITERALLY washed in red.

The next day, I faked being sick so my mother (who of course knew I was so very full of shit) would come take me home.

I remember every single first name and every single last name. I remember what classes we had together. I remember what some of their favorite animals, favorite shoes and favorite subjects were. I remember what shows they weren't allowed to watch on TV.

I remember the color of their hair, the unique downturn each one got in one corner of their mouth when they looked at me, where their bus stopped. I remember some of their favorite sports, where they went to church, and where they smoked after school. I remember some things that they were really good at.

I remember seeing some of them get hurt and cry. I remember seeing some hurt themselves. I remember how some of us learned to lie to get attention and praise, and I remember feeling horrible whenever we did.

For some of them, I remember how they were a friend to me for a while, and then one day, as kids are wont to do, they either left or betrayed me. Some of them, I have long since forgiven, and they know it. For others, most of whom I know I will never see again, I hold a deep grudge.

But beyond all of MY personal memories, I also remember something else: I remember THEIR pain. No matter how badass they tried to appear when juxtaposing their place on the totem pole with mine, I could ALWAYS see it. And some days, I know I contributed to it, whether out of wanting revenge, a desire to get even, or just plain old thoughtlessness.

*   *   *

I remember: There were two boys in fourth grade. I remember both of their names, every single line on their face, how many freckles one of them had, and their favorite spots and imaginary games to play at recess. They were exactly one link above me in the food chain, and they knew it. Though they weren't safe from peer shaming either, they took advantage of that one link every chance they got.

But there was one day when the three of us had a single, blinding moment of understanding. One day, we met on the playground.  For a while, we threw our peers' nicknames at each other, until I got fed up and threw a school counselor favorite at them:

"How would you feel if someone called you a name like that?"

The freckled boy replied simply: "We DO know how it feels. We get called XYZ every day." At that moment, we just looked at each other, bobbled our heads, and walked our separate ways. This moment changed nothing on the outside, but it opened my eyes forever, even if showing it in front of the ravenous children was verboten.

I remember: There was a boy in junior high whom I ended up having a crush on for four years, and who was also pretty mean to me. I knew he would never ever feel the same way about me, even without overhearing a conversation of his in which the words "no way!" were uttered.  I had resolved long before that day never to say a word to him unless I had to--I was a dreamer, but I wasn't stupid.

I was talking to one of his best friends in class one day. Though this boy was also usually standoffish toward me, he was merciful, and could feign niceness long enough to get me to shut up. Somehow, we got to talking about "crush boy," and as a defense mechanism, I pulled a 90s classic: a "yo momma" joke. His friend looked at me and said only 4 words: "His mom is dead."

"Oh," I said. I turned red and went back to making my clay cow-lion thing.  I went home and cried for him that day, and I never mentioned my feelings for him to anyone else.

I remember: I'd grown a spine at one point in high school. Some boys were bringing up "old shit," as it were, in the middle of class, when I got up to use the pencil sharpener. And one boy, one who didn't usually participate in group shaming sessions, started laughing with them.

At me.

Instead of just letting it slide, as I was pretty good at by this point, I took my newly sharpened pencil, raised it over my head, and jammed it into his back. He bled. He yelled. Loud. I glared and sat down. The class shut up.

*   *   *

Bullying begets bullies. Bullying is both a symptom and a contagion.

You know what the red landscape and the pencil incident have in common? Both times, the teacher in the class, the person who had studied for so long to help mold the minds of the future, did absolutely NOTHING.

In one case, an entire class got away with torturing me for what felt like 10 solid minutes. In another case, I got away with flat out assaulting another student, who was a good kid, because I was feeling fucking froggy.

None of the adults in the education INDUSTRY who were featured in "Bully" did a damn thing to protect the children, much less teach them.

Watching "Bully" was, for me, like watching a horror movie that wasn't directed by Joss Whedon.  I hate horror movies.  They do things to my head.  But the reason I've never been good with a lot of horror movies is not because I can't deal with gore or with being startled--it's because the gravitas of people being cruel to one another literally makes me sick.

I have both taken it and dished it out. Few did anything meaningful to stop any of it beyond tried-and-tried-again platitudes.

I have spent many a night over the course of my short 25 years on this planet wondering what I did wrong. How did I become such a shit-magnet?

Most days, it's gotten pretty easy to say to myself  "You know what? It's the past now. You grew up. You made it. You're going places now, honey child." But other days, it's far easier to regress into a state of constant "You have always been too weird; too showy; too impulsive; too this, that, the other thing."

And still other days, it's "you deserved it. Karma, bitch."

I don't think any child should have to grow up thinking like this. You know what skill that the children, the HUMAN BEINGS in miniature, who are bullied and who learn to bully have honed the sharpest? It's not hurting others. It's not having a thick skin. It's not sneakiness or street smarts.  And it's not attention-seeking.

It is the constant state of learning to walk, to strive and to EXIST completely and utterly alone.

*   *   *

I also remember some others who were unlucky enough to be on the same social rung as I. I remember their stories, some of their likes and dislikes, and, in some cases, their family life.

I remember: A blond-haired, blue-eyed girl in elementary school. Not only did she have to be "the new kid" at one point, but she was totally different in every way. Her voice was deep, and she snapped at people when she got angry, but above all that, she was blind in one eye and moved her mouth sideways when she talked. And we became great friends.

I went to her house for a sleepover. After meeting her two gorgeous high school age twin sisters, we went and played. Then her stepdad came home. There was a movie playing on the TV, and one of her sisters took me to watch it as her stepdad marched back to her room.

I pretended to watch the movie, but all I heard was him yelling. Her talking. Him hitting. Screaming and crying. Hitting more. Begging him to stop. Over and over again for 15 minutes. He came out, grabbed a beer and left.

I lost contact with her when I was 15.

*   *   *

Watching "Bully" reminded me that there are some kids who are bullied at home, at school, or both. Some who were in far worse situations than I. I felt so unworthy of having made it out alive and stronger, because of their stories.

But I also know that their sacrifice must be made worth something.

This continues into adulthood, whether we know it or not.  Their sacrifice must be made worth something.

I am a deeply flawed human being. Those who hurt me, and those whom I hurt in return, are deeply flawed human beings. And we still treat this as something that should push us away from each other. But this is really the reason we need to pick up all the puzzle pieces of humanity, realize that none of us has all the right pieces, and love the crap out of each other.

This is what "Bully," this week, and those I love, once loved, and still love, have reminded me of.

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