Sunday, April 25, 2004

There was a bully in eighth grade who made a point of picking on me every day. I've never felt that much hatred toward my crop of bullies; really, I found it kind of cute that they were so dependent on their daily dose of Leticia. So... it didn't surprise me ALL that much when my eighth-grade bully was at a fancy dinner in which snot-nosed men in fancy suits dropped tiny, naked women in their martinis, so that they would fizz up like Alka Seltzer. And this bully wanted to know what was served, and was shocked to find that the main course was, underneath one of those metal bell-things that they serve meat in, that girl from eighth grade he was always picking on, covered in naked woman broth. I looked at him kind of shyly and nervously, but the look in his eyes pleaded for forgiveness as he cut me up. Oh, yes.

So.... back on the subject of bullies (I'm determined to give this post _some_ redeeming social value), being the odd girl out everywhere I went, I was picked on a lot as a child (the kids who made me cry by yelling "Sonic sucks!" into my face will share a very special circle of Hell)... and every adult I talked to said things like, "Oh, just ignore it." So it took me about until fifth grade to realize that these bullies have echo chambers for craniums and if I stuck a straw in one of their ears, it would come out the other end. This was therapeutic for me; if I only let what the bullies said slide, then they were completely powerless over me. However, if I followed my instincts and socked 'em in the jaw, I would be in the emergency room quite soon, although I hear they have free cable.

(No, no, what I mean is that I had to learn is that guys who hit girls as their form of entertainment are not worth my time. I need to look out for myself, you know? Still, it makes me sad that they would feel so hopeless with the world that they would turn to bullying to make themselves feel more powerful. It makes me want to give 'em all a great big hug.)

In fifth grade there was a bully who consistently told me that I needed to be tougher and smarter. I made it clear that I did not want to deal with him, and so he hauled off and punched me in the stomach. I lost my wind and keeled over, and he left, saying that this is what happens when you underestimate snot-nosed bullies with nothing better to do than hit girls. (That isn't quite what he said, but you know, in retrospect, everything seems a whole lot sillier. Remember cooties?) I told the teacher that this kid had hit me so hard that I couldn't breathe for several seconds, and the kid came back later, spectacularly apologetic. "Are you okay? Did it hurt?" He seemed genuinely concerned that he had stopped my breathing. I told him I was fine now, my stomach was okay. When the teacher came back to ask me if they needed to punish him, I told them not to. He's learned.

I hoped that, if the very person whom he socked in the chest wouldn't fight back, he wouldn't do it again. He would think twice before dehumanizing people he thinks as lower. That said... pushing people down is how you get up in grade school.

I went to a gifted school for two grades. I hated every moment of it, but I soon learned that other schools were worse. Here, the bullies had at least some pragmatism to their methods. For instance: there was a table that I sat nearby, of five kids who idolized Dilbert's Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. They took pride in the busted fluorescent light that hovered above their chosen table. And so, all five members of their elite circle of insufficient light were given coolness quotients, kept track of on an official piece of paper (made from insufficient trees, I imagine). This ranked every member and potential member of the Table by their coolness. The catch? There were only five spots on the Table, and coolness could neither be created nor destroyed. So, the only way to get coolness was to take it; by doing something cool at a member's expense. The coolness of the members was ranked by the Table chairman and deputy, who were, by default, the two coolest people at the table. They made it clear who was permanently cool and whose coolness was on probation; my childhood friend, the shy, freckled kid, was desperately fighting for table scraps of coolness in attempt to get into this circle of losers.

Ah, but this is what happens when gifted kids from Hicksburg get into fights over masculinity. (These kids were all boys. Did I mention that? Yeah, I didn't think I needed to.) Being a boyish girl, I was declared persona non grata by the Table of Insufficiency, and I was often the target of their tormenting. I had a teacher who did the unthinkable and tried to put a stop to the bullying at this small, elite gifted school (unthinkable because most middle school teachers look the other way and say that boys will be boys), but it couldn't be helped; it was so ingrained in these kids, they had fancy charts and graphs to back it up. They knew bullying like professionals.

(That said, it could be helped; I recall that the chairman and especially the deputy chairman were very intelligent kids and went on to get past their fucked-up-ness.)

So... where was I going with this? Ahhh, yes. I just saw a brand-new video on bullying, to be shown at middle schools across the country, to show what happens when you get a bunch of kids together whose hormones are raging and who are determined to show that they are the top of the heap, either through "boy ways" (torment and posturing), or "girl ways" (gossip and backstabbing). A lot of adults, according to our presenter, could not watch this film because they could not stand to watch what they had been through in middle school and their students are going through right now. I watched this film with a group of kids my age, and as the kids onscreen moaned about the latest bully calling everything he doesn't like "gay," or as the camera panned to the insults scrawled onto an unpopular girl's locker, or as a fifth grader let loose and told his interviewer very frankly that he feels like shooting up the school every day, all my friends nodded and said, yep, that's just like Brand X Middle School that I went to. I never realized how lucky I was; the Table of Insufficiency, for all its Machiavellian reality TV overtones, was the tip of the iceberg. I was in the Mafia and they were stuck with the street gangs.

Now I go to a community college, alone, with nobody to tell me that my skirt is too short or my thighs are too big or my hair is too poofy or too knotted. I also have nobody to sit at the candy store with me and eat rocky road while braiding each others hair before returning home and having a pillow fight in our fluffy pink unmentionables, but the worst is over. There is no longer an elite table determined to bring me off my stand of human dignity. I will live.

Usually I take this last paragraph to offer some inspiring Leticia Truism that you can bring into your life to solve all the world's problems. What I like to say is that you oughta treat young people, who are growing up and have hormones gushing out their ears, more like adults; it meant the world to me when an adult was big enough to have an intellectual discussion with a twelve-year-old. But also... stand up for kids. We are all part of the same human race. If one of us is knocked down, it hurts us all. When some kids shoot up a school down in merry Pleasantville and all the adults say "golly gee, not my fault, if only they weren't playing Massacre Mania on their PlayStation 37 and a half these things wouldn't happen!" I just want to hurl my insides. When somebody goes postal, it's all our fault, it's America's fault, and we should have the good sense to stop these things before they happen. Be a good citizen. Stand up for kids. It's only being nice.

(Aaaand a good role model! If they had an adult who respected them maybe they wouldn't turn to Grand Theft Auto for their images of adulthood, n'est pas?)
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