A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short blog post about my youthful days. It had a lot of pageviews and a lot of people commented to me personally about my stories. As tough or as hard as those stories may have seen, it isn’t the events themselves that hurt. It’s what follows. The bruises heal. But the inner monologue doesn’t dissipate.
Though I may have been teased before, my memories of not wanting to go to school started in fifth grade. I had a few friends, but over time, as what happens to kids, many of them drifted away. I had a decent core of friends still nonetheless. The hardest part was that many of the people that I thought were my friends became my worst bullies. In middle school, it didn’t get easier. I tried joining things to meet people and make friends. I was in the musical in sixth and eighth grade, I ran cross country and track, I joined the wrestling team, I tried out for the basketball team, I did some sort of reading tournament. I did the whole outgoing thing. But it seemed that there were things that never got better.
I recently read the book I Never Liked You by Chester Brown. He details his junior high days and high school days in short comics. Generally, I thought there was something wrong with me, but reading books like this one makes me realize that there are just memes that kids have. There is a continuing storyline in the book where people are trying to get him to swear because he never did. I had the same thing. There is a scene were a group of girls surround him and start flirting with him until he realizes that they are just messing with him. He walks away. I didn’t realize that soon enough. I just let people say whatever they wanted. In the end, my top priority was school work. I am not sure where I was prior to this picture, but I am all decked out with Wrinkles (my stuffed dog) next to me as I laid on the floor doing math homework. If you knew me in junior high, you knew about Wrinkles.
It’s important to remember that I was not alone. In middle school, I had two or three really close friends, but everyone else that I knew drifted away as time goes by. By high school though, one friend moved and the others stayed around, but due to circumstances, we didn’t see each other often as we started our days at Prospect High School. None of this was anyone’s fault. But due to my lack of self-esteem and feelings of disapproval, I had a rough time creating new relationships. As my friends grew, I stagnated. I feared putting myself out there. And when I did, I was mocked for being too innocent or nice or some other thing that I was always told was a good thing but it turns out isn’t a nice thing for a thirteen year old boy to be.
But the lasting damage was that the minute I left high school, I left high school. I went to graduation because my mom wanted me to and I got out of that building as fast as possible. I don’t have pictures with many friends. I don’t have memories of that day. I fled. And there were good people who I got to know and who got to know me. But my memories of those halls were bad. I didn’t see the good people. I just saw the dread and the loneliness – the feeling I had every Saturday night when I sat at home when my younger brother and even younger sister would go out with their friends and I would sit reading a book next to my dog. On many a night, I would take him for a walk and cry. And I would ask myself the same question every night, “Why me? What did I do wrong?” I would look in the mirror and see myself as a cover of a recent Alex Ross comic. I saw myself as a freak. I have a similar hairline and would do the same look with my eyes
This carried through college where times didn’t get easier. I hid. And to this day, I still hide.
And because of this, I lost real friends or at least potential friends. People that could truly have been my friends for a long time, I just ditched. I did my best to stay in touch, but I didn’t try hard and distance grew and I basically became that island that John Donne said that no man is and that rock that Paul Simon was. Over time, I learned that most people weren’t being mean. I just assumed they were due to a few bad apples – that they would turn around and harass me like the friends before. But as the saying goes, Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice, Shame on You. I didn’t give people the chance to fool me that second time. And as time passed and people stopped returning instant messages or e-mails, I stopped sending the messages. I took it as a personal reaction. So, when I came home for the summer, I filled my days with work. One job was 16 hours a day. The second was not as much, but the schedule was erratic, so I used it as an excuse. The third, I didn’t even come home. And the fourth just led me to sit on the couch. It’s not like I was fielding phone calls to hang out very often, but I made no effort, and therefore, no effort was afforded me.
In the end, I took my Joker grin and just kept to myself. But as I matured in college, I found that not to be always the case. I found good friends over time. They aren’t numerous, but I learned that wasn’t important. Quality over quantity. And in law school, I found a few more. And in work, even more. I’m to the point that I look in the mirror and I don’t see that Joker grin anymore. I don’t wonder if I am like the Joker – a chaotic entity destined to destroy, but to laugh and seem happy along the way. The feelings that developed in me around the age of ten finally were starting to unwind. I did not see myself as the problem. Twenty years later, I see the same kid I was before I was called name. I see the smile and the joy. It’s not a constant, but it’s at least normal.
Nonetheless, there are at least ten people who got me through high school that I have rarely spoken to. I may have gotten back in touch with some of them due to the magic of Facebook, but the last time I actually spent any time with someone from high school was when a childhood friend dropped by my house at 6:30 and I was already in my pajamas. I’m still not the most welcoming person in the world. I also like flannel pants.
The lasting effect of bullying is exactly that though. I saw my world as hopeless and chopped it off. It would be like falling asleep on your arm, feeling numb, and deciding the correct course would be to remove it. But I was numb for a long time. It didn’t seem like it could be fixed.
It would be great to reconnect with many of those people that I lost. I’m not one of those people who wants to show off and prove his bullies wrong (I used to be, but I outgrew that revenge scenario), but I wonder quite often how those people who would bring a smile to my face are doing. Those people who signed my yearbook over the years not with insults but with honest mentions of my likes, dreams, and wishes. To those people – I hope all is well. As I sit in the same bedroom that I used to cry in, I realize that I’m not the same kid I was in junior high or high school. I’m not completely different either, but I realize what’s important and what isn’t.
The hardest part of writing this or the last post isn’t the pain of remembering the “dark days”. It’s remembering the people who I honestly cherished. And how I could not honestly build a relationship with them due to my past. I’m not sure where I wanted to take this. But I think I got all of the thoughts out of my head. In the end, I suppose that’s all that matters.