Thursday, October 14, 2010

Because the world will break you, if it can

It was a conversation with my Mom, a fairly recent one. I had said how one of my favorite things about being part of the science fiction/ fantasy community was how much of a community it was. People care about each other, and support each other. Whenever I have turned to someone and asked for help, I have always been met with an outstretched hand. I suggested that maybe part of this was because so many of us had been ostracized as kids, had been the nerd in the back of the room.

"But you did well in school. You were fine. You had a boyfriend, you went to the dances."

And high school, yes, actually, high school was pretty okay. I wasn't part of the popular crowd, but there were enough people like me, who wore black, and fenced, and read Douglas Adams, that I had a group. More importantly, by that point, I had gotten good at hiding things.

I did well in school, I was polite to teachers, and everyone assumed I was fine. I remember complaining about things once, trying to convey how utterly miserable I was, and was told that school was for learning, not making friends. That was when I learned not to complain.

I learned to tell half-truths: the broken elbow? Sure, I got it playing dodgeball. When all the balls were thrown at me at once, and I was hurled into the side of a building. And it is possible to crack your kneecap jumping rope if the rope is pulled up to trip you. I learned to lie, and fake being sick so I could stay in from recess, or to volunteer to be the one who helped out in the classroom. I didn't tell her about the time in seventh grade, when we read A Wrinkle in Time, and the son of one of her good friends made sure everyone called me "IT" for a month. Or about all the times I was told I was ugly - too skinny, too freckled, flat-chested.  I didn't tell her about trying to wedge the blade out of her safety razor so I could use it to open my wrists.

High school was better. High school was survivable, and that things that nearly weren't had nothing to do with being bullied. And I, too, find it strange and difficult to look back at elementary school and say that bullying was what was happening. It's so much easier to just say, oh, I wasn't popular. Who was?

But there are so many voices. And maybe we're okay enough now to extend a hand in help, or to speak up so someone else who is suffering might hear, but who made the rules that said childhood is an ordeal that must be endured?

Because here's the thing that scares me: if someone could have found that girl, sitting in the bathtub, shredding her fingertips with metal and plastic, and said, "you will get through this, you will grow up, you will be happy, just hang on" I think she would have said: I don't care.


  1. This resonated with me on a lot of levels. In school (middle school and high school), I was the smart kid in the back of the class -- who always had the answers and who was just a little odd. I had friends, but I was teased (especially in middle school). People can be mean, and it's tough as a kid. Especially when life feels so uncertain at that age -- and vulnerable.

    I survived high school, but I loathed it. Apparently at one point, I asked to be home schooled (I don't remember this -- and I'm taking my mom's word on it). College was better. So much better. There were new people and so many books.

    But, thinking back to middle school and parts of high school, there are some memories that stand out. Picking teams in gym class, being told I don't dress right because I wore what I wanted (and not what was popular), being told I wasn't pretty, or that I was too heavy.

    But to speak to your opening paragraph, every writer I've spoken with has been (in some way) helpful and supportive. There are a couple of wonderful people who I know I can email for advice. That has helped me through a few rough patches. I like the sense of community some creative people have, even outside medium. I love the idea that there's this commonality, because of a passion for art, whether it's writing or photograhpy. It reminds me that being a little left of the middle is still really ok. In fact, it can be kind of awesome.

    I'm stopping there, because I've somehow shanghaied your comment section. It's a rainy day out, and that's made me extraordinarily pensive, apparently.

  2. I was badly bullied too, Kathleen. Because of that, I've always had a love-hate relationship with my classmates, who were (in practice) my brothers and sisters for twelve years, given our small class size. But hey, "I turned out fine," right?...except that, two weeks ago, I spent a day crying after a romantic rejection, convinced I'd been turned down because I was "too big." To whom do I owe that conviction? The bullies who called me the Jolly Green Giant for weeks after I wore a special all-green outfit to school, one my Dad had bought specially for me. (Needless to say, I never wore it again.) And all of the other taunting about being too big, too fat, what-have-you.

    It does lasting damage.

  3. Ali: No need to apologize. I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to share here.

    Monica: You are beautiful, and I love you.

    You're right. Those things we lived through, they do leave lasting damage. I wish I knew how to heal that.

  4. Maybe it's a matter of re-healing, over and over again. Because I do feel much better now than I did two weeks ago; calmer, my older wiser self having taken over again. And I do think it is Something, to have looked at death and chosen life. Even if it was something tiny that pulled you back: "I have to turn in my homework tomorrow." "My Dad would be upset." "It's too hard to get this damn razor out."--all of which are, in fact, choosing life.

    And that also has a lasting effect :)

  5. For me, it's a matter of the ability to have perspective (and maybe that's another word for re-healing.) Because I can say, "I would not be who I am now, if I had not also been who I was then."

  6. Monica, I think (sometimes) there are triggers for those old wounds. They heal as well as they can, but something tears at the scar, evoking those terrible thoughts and feelings. Then, like you said, we heal again. I like to think that each time we do, we're a little bit stronger than we were.

    Kat, thank you for that statement: I would not be who I am now, if I had not also been who I was then. So, so true.

  7. Bullying makes men, warriors, heroes who put others before themselves. Of course women would not respect or understand it.