I know it's fashionable to talk about bullying, these days...and homophobia, but I really don't know much about that. Yeah, when I was growing up, some folks thought I was gay, but that wasn't why they kicked the shit out of me. It was an ancillary insult, despite the fact that at least three or four occasions were based on me talking to the wrong girl (these people were not geniuses, which may have spurred their anger in the first place.) I...I just don't get that part. I understand being different, at least to a '70s small-town extent. THAT I know.
I was, to put it really mildly, awkward as a youth. (I am also awkward now, but considerably less so.) Among my first school memories are my first rejection from sitting with other kids from my preschool when we graduated to kindergarten, my first beleaguered attempts at playground peacemaking (apparently, "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone", as suggested by my well-intentioned and long-suffering mom, does NOT work), and my first trip to the school nurse (a bee sting. Not everything was the work of bullies. Sorry.), and my first dozen or so fights. I did alright, a hair over .500 by my reckoning, until they started using numbers.
Things didn't get better when I made my first friend (second or third, if you count the Sewer Rat, the poor bastard upon whom I was inflicted by our mothers, or my buddy Paul, who was sentenced to the same Sunday School class), Scotty. Scotty and I were such losers that the local bullies would kick BOTH our asses together. It wasn't as embarrassing, somehow, to have a companion in trauma. Go figure.
I'm not sure how I made it through actual school days, in grade school; I know I did, sure enough, and I managed enviable grades until that first D (Math, sixth grade, Mr. Kishel.) Once my grades swooped down to reach my self-esteem, I just sort of fell apart. The next two years are a blur of embarrassments: suspensions for fighting, academic failure left and right, social inadequacy upon social inadequacy, and a general sense of having dropped what little ball I had. I won the citywide spelling bee, three years straight, but because my town didn't cooperate with other communities, ever, that was the end of the line. A fifty-dollar EE bond (all three of which were spent on diapers and formula), a dish of ice cream with two teachers who were probably just as amazed at my lack of suicide as I was, and then it was back to the horror mill, so to speak.
At the end of the eighth grade, I was asked to trim the hedges along our driveway. That is the last thing my lumpy, tallish-but-never-tallest, misshapen, fat, clumsy, adolescent somatosense remembers. I overclipped, in an effort to even out early errors, and I stayed out in the sun too long. The hedges recovered, in time. I am not so sure that I did, in a lot of ways. (I am still no arborist, even in the meanest sense.)
I came inside, ablaze from the near-summer heat, and passed out.
I am not sure how long I spent in the quiet, cool darkness of my room. I am not sure if my hazy memories of coming out, eating and drinking, then returning to the beige-eggshell-paint-covered womb are accurate. I may have left Earth; I would not know.
When I woke, it was July and I was six feet, almost-two-inches tall. I was approximately 250 pounds. Nothing fit.
Suddenly, I had a lot of new friends; many of them had been a bit less charitable, and terribly recently. I felt compelled to discuss that, I will admit. I may not have been kind, but I was certainly more compassionate than they had been in alleys, swamps, and the odd parking lot. Numbers did not help them any more.
The first year of my sudden superhumanity was almost as awkward as its predecessors; my immune system, in particular, took its dear sweet time to catch up! I also had to relearn walking, and was cruelly denied a spot on the football team. My pediatrician was more concerned about my walking career...whatever. He did, however, clear me to lift weights with the team.
My second year, I did just that.
My mother, happy to finally see her son not get punched in the face with alarming regularity, even though it was all her fault (I'm kidding; she and my dad were more concerned that I'd get in trouble for fighting, as Dad had as a kid...we had similar tempers, so it WAS a valid concern. I was not as kind about this, when I was younger. I have since apologized, though my mother only punched me repeatedly in response. Thankfully, she is still a bit of a dwarf.)
Mom set me straight, early on in the mutative process. I was never to start a fight; I was never to pick on people who were different (and who wasn't?); I was never EVER to punch someone in the face, if I could avoid it; I had to protect people who were smaller than me.
(Many of you owe my mom a lot more than you'd like.)
Given that my mom is 70 in two months, and she still kinda scares me, my 1984 self bought into this policy without delay.
I ran into some difficulty, my first freshman year. I didn't do a lot of homework; I was in detention (for talking, and smoking on school grounds, in most cases) with great regularity; I was, as mentioned, sick a lot. So I stayed back. It was that or public school, and for a change, I chose wisely.
Not a month into my second freshman year, I had all As, was sitting with a thoroughly-engaged table of black kids (there were about eight; I went to Catholic school), and it was then that I made my cardinal mistake.
There was this tiny, mouthy little snot in my French class, and he lipped off to a gigantic sophomore (always the cruelest participants in Freshman Friday, as they had vivid, recent memories of torture.)
The sophomore in question was about six-two, 225...we'd had words the year before. Mine had involved a lot more syllables than he liked.
In about a second, I'd tucked Mighty Mouth behind me and was inviting my more simian colleague to move along (which he did.) I have never regretted that decision, even on days when that particular homonculus has done his best to tempt my wrath. We have to protect those who are small, even when they are small and incredibly annoying and poorly-dressed.
It was then that I started collecting fellow misfits. I have yet to stop, really. Look at you. Look at me. Look at us. The nice thing is that we have each other.
Being this big (at this writing, 6'6", about 290 lbs, and quite a bit more certain of foot and hand), I want to take these kids, gay, straight, or whatever, and get them behind me, too. I want to ask their predators, and good fucking GOD there are even more of them now, thanks to the intarwebs*, to try me first. I wish I could be one of my more-evolved friends, who reach out to those in need, and empower them, reassure them, remind them that there are people who care, even when you're on the ground and the fuckers, those poor, scared, stupid fuckers who won't stop because they don't know any other way to deal with the fear than to find the weak or solitary victim and brutalize them, just keep kicking and punching...but I can't.
I want a piece of them. Every mother who bullies their kid's classmate, every jock who thinks that fast-twitch muscles entitle them to anything, every mob, every community that thinks tricking a lesbian teen into attending a fake prom, every roommate who doesn't see a problem in posting their shy gay classmate's video on YouTube, every asshat who rocks Ed Hardy and makes fun of the Wal-Mart kid...I want them. I guess that fat kid is still in here, hundreds of pounds and hundreds of poundings later. I guess I haven't learned all that much, since those first lessons.
I'm proud to say that my sons have, though. My oldest hangs out with the band kids, as well as the jocks' other traditional victims, the drama club, and he stands up, despite being a good deal smaller than me. My middle man has Asperger's, but he still has enough sense of social cues to not be mean (except to his big brother, but that's different.) Jake knows not to make fun of classmates, and to help anybody who needs it.
Me? I'm still a gigantic jerk. And I'm still collecting freaks. Nobody hurts my freaks.
*If we'd had the internet when I was a kid, I'd be 4000 lbs, alone, and still living in my mom's basement...assuming I hadn't committed suicide from the desperation of it all. How do these kids DO it, surviving from day to day while under siege about body image, popularity, and sexual mores? I like to think I'm kinda tough, but the ones who make it, and help others on the way? They kick my ass like my mom would have. Really. Bless them. Bless them all, and often.