One day in the sixth grade, while out on the soccer fields during P.E., I was physically assaulted by one of my classmates. In an attempt to give me a wedgie, the kid (who is currently, as far as I know, an Upstanding Citizen still residing here in Miami) tore my underwear in half, chafing the hell out of my nether regions before tossing me to the ground, laughing, and walking away. Later that same day, in English class, I wrote the only suicide letter I’ve ever written and left it on my assigned desk before going to the bathroom to look for a way to kill myself. Of course–seeing as this was a boy’s bathroom at F.C. Martin Elementary School–there was nothing in there for me to use (except maybe the smell). Within minutes, four frenzied teachers burst into the bathroom and dragged me away to the principal’s office to call my parents and have them deal with the situation.
So, I guess you could call my attempt a fail.
Looking back on that day and remembering very distinctly how despondent I felt, I have no doubt that if I’d had anything sharp enough to cut through the skin of my 11-year-old wrist–or if my parents had had guns in the house that I had access to–I wouldn’t be here right now. A couple of other current children-turned-adults might not be either.
I was pretty determined. I remember that too.
I thought about this a few years later when a couple of teenagers shot up their high school in Columbine. I condemned them that day like everybody else, the stupidity and finality and overall selfishness of actions that led to numerous deaths.
But another part of me wondered what they’d been through to reach that point. I still wonder that, about the things none of us saw that kept chipping away at these kids’ resolves until they reached a point where picking up a gun and ending it all seemed like the best possible option.
Despite the assault on the P.E. field, there was no singular event that broke me. Rather, it was a culmination of moments that made each day more and more unbearable. In fact, most of the instances of bullying I remember didn’t even involve physical violence (though there was enough of that), but simply consisted of various inventive insults that would make your mama blush and subsequently wash your mouth out with soap (wordsmiths, these kids). This stretched back to the first day of that school year, moments that occurred so frequently and so unchecked that I seriously believed at the time that they would never end; that I’d forever be on that P.E. field, feeling disoriented, shocked, hurt, and–most of all–ignored.
Being the short kid with lingering baby fat, Payless shoes and generic clothes was never something that seemed to bother people about me before I entered the middle school era. Upon entering middle school though, my physical characteristics–everything from style to skin color–became a point of contention with what seemed like a neverending onslaught of hormonal pre-teens with much bigger arms and much angrier personalities than me. Add to that the fact that I wore thick glasses and always had my head stuck in a book, and it’s almost like I was a walking cliche, a character plucked right out of a comic, waiting to be bit by some radioactive spider, or to find himself accidentally stuck in a gamma ray test tube.
You typically don’t hear about comic book characters trying to off themselves though, unless it is in the pursuit of justice. I wasn’t seeking justice that day. I simply went to school (like normal), was physically and emotionally threatened by multiple peers (like normal) and decided that I did not want to deal with any of it for one more second.
At 33 years old now, I like to think I’m exponentially more stable than I was at 11. Yet, up until not too long ago (we’re talking four, five years, max), I couldn’t walk past a mirror without feeling some measure of shock at seeing my reflection and realizing the pudgy scared kid that’s been cowering in the corner of my mind for decades isn’t actually a reality anymore.
It’s this thought that comes to mind today when I consider the current social climate in our country; a climate that has led to entire swaths of people trying to justify their right to say and do hurtful things to and around other people, all in the name of free speech. And as a writer who touts himself to be a socially conscious individual–and also someone who is aware of the umpteen number of oppressive regimes our species has produced throughout history–I get it. Absolute free speech is an absolute necessity; handing over the power to express our thoughts, to a government entity at that, would be the ultimate in lacking foresight.
However, free speech is not a valid excuse for just plain not giving a shit about others.
This lingering apathy in much of the population’s approach to social awareness is going to ultimately be the doom of the species if we don’t figure out how to shift towards a more sympathetic mindstate. Because–and this is the point that many people don’t seem to get–no matter how overwhelming it is to think about SEVEN-BILLION-PEOPLE living on the planet, you cannot ignore the fact that within that mass of seven-billion-people there are seven billion individual personalities.
That means seven billion sets of human experiences.
Seven billion wants. Seven billion needs. Seven billion aspirations.
Seven billion fragile minds. All connected genetically and–if you’re so inclined–spiritually.
So, considering that, the ONLY logical way to approach interacting with ANYBODY is to consider what they might have been through on the way to the current incarnation of themselves.
Logically, it’s the only way to sustain our species without destroying each other.
Think about your own rock bottom experience (we all have them) and consider that the person across from you has felt the same at some point in their lives, and that their rock bottom moment(s) has largely shaped who they are right now.
We need to find some sort of connection point within ourselves to bring individualism to the forefront of social consciousness. The current state of things is unsustainable. Check history; all this conflict has ever led to is simply more conflict. We need to open our minds to the possibility that fear has driven most of our species actions since the caveman days, and continuing down that path can only lead to our self-imposed extinction.
And despite my eleven year old self’s letter stating the contrary, I very much want to continue living, as freely and comfortably as possible.