"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Thursday, November 27, 2003
A Wounded Heart, Who Can Bear?
as-sault Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English assaut, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin assaltus, from assalire
Date: 14th century
1 a : a violent physical or verbal attack b : a military attack usually involving direct combat with enemy forces c : a concerted effort (as to reach a goal or defeat an adversary)
2 a : a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person (as by lifting a fist in a threatening manner) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension of such harm or contact -- compare BATTERY 1b b : RAPE
3 : what pervaded my childhood.
It took me over thirty something years to realize that I had been abused as a child.
Not sexually abused by my parents, no, nothing like that. But rather the abuse that comes from a group of people working in concert over a long period. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First things first, after all.
When I was very very young, maybe four years old or so, I got a pair of toy guns for Christmas. They were part of an entire cowboy outfit; somewhere there is still an old black and white picture of me in that outfit, standing on our porch grinning in the sunshine. I had the hat, the chaps, the belt, the badge (of course! All cowboys had badges!) and best of all two real cap pistols.
This was back in the days before political correctness, before some idiot thought that a toy gun should be anything but a gun. These were real beauties, solid die cast iron coated with gleaming silver, heavy in the hand and durable so little kids couldn't tear them up easily. I could go through a roll of caps faster than you could say giddyup-lickety-split.
The kids next door were a few years older than I was. One day I was out in my backyard playing with those guns and I heard them in their yard. I asked them if they wanted to play with my guns, they said no. Well, I simply could not believe they wouldn't, these guns were perfect, after all, and my prize possession, my best toy. I asked again and they said no. But I had been taught that sharing was a virtue, that friends shared even what was dear to them.
So, I tossed a pistol over the fence anyway. I hauled back and let fly with my best four year old pitch I could muster.
And it landed squarely on an unprotected and unsuspecting head, knocking him out.
He came to in a minute or so, and was crying uncontrollably. His brother took him into the house, and when they came back out he was holding a towel to his head. He showed me the blood all over their towel where I had busted his head open.
Pretty soon I was called in by my mother who fussed at me for busting the kid's head open and made me sit in a corner. That was the first time I ever had to do that. After an eternity (15 minutes, but hey, I was four) she came in and asked me if I was ever going to do anything like that again.
So, I'm thinking, you know, life is long, you never know... and I answer "maybe."
Wrong answer. Another fifteen minutes and I got the answer right.
What I see now is that the little boy that stood up in that corner fifteen minutes later was not the one that had awakened that morning. His cozy simple world had been changed by a startling realization. He now knew that he could be dangerous, particularly when he was trying to be friendly.
He knew that somehow, he had not done it right. He had harmed when he intended to help.
So, I knew that inside, somehow, I was flawed.
Soon, I entered school. Preschool was a lot of fun, I loved going. First grade was great too. Second grade, well, it was pretty good but there was this kid down the street that was starting to bother me.
That was when the term "bully" entered my vocabulary. My dad's take on it was to face the bully and overcome. But I didn't want to hurt anyone, I did not like doing that.
It was in third grade that things started to really go south.
One day I was in a shed in the back of my next door neighbor's house with a kid named Wade that lived on the other side. The neighbor was a doctor, and his daughter was a few years older than we were. We found a skeleton of a chicken in the shed.
Now I know that this must have been some sort of science project, something painstakingly assembled by the neighbor or his daughter. Even then, I knew that a full skeleton like that was somehow special.
Wade began tearing the skeleton up, breaking the bones.
"No, stop doing that," I said.
"Why? Its just chicken bones," he replied.
And I was baffled. We never played together again.
Third grade was also when I discovered girls. Not in a physical way, but rather in a romantic way. They became in my mind something more than just strange different creatures with odd tastes, which is what they had been up to that point. All of a sudden, they could be wondrous, beautiful, objects of adoration and the subjects of daydreams and flights of fancy.
We also moved that year, if I remember right. Maybe right before that year. Anyways, I managed to fall in love with two girls in my third grade class at the same time. One was named Wendy and the other was named Sara. I was scared to death to talk to either one of them, of course.
And things were not helped at all by the new role I had stumbled into, the role of victim.
You see, about that time, the school bullies chose me as a fun target. And it was a permanent position.
School, which had been a source of excitement in my life, began to be more stressful, stress that as an eight year old I should never have had to deal with. My dad forced me to join little league baseball, which I hated. At one game, a kid took a swing at me and I fell down. I stayed down because I had no desire to get in a fight (remember, I could hurt people, badly) and my father was there. He was ashamed of me.
I had failed him. I dropped out of baseball.
And the bullying at school got worse.
My grades fell. They had been A's, then B's, then C's. I started to gain weight.
I remember Wade and a friend throwing rocks at me when I walked by his house. He knew I would not throw any back, would not do anything to stop him. It was like hyenas after the scent of blood.
On Valentines Day, I wanted to give a special card to Sara. By that time, I had pretty much messed up the Wendy thing, I think. Anyways, my mother insisted on riding her bike along with me as I delivered the card. I was way too self conscious to stand there and hand her the card, so I carefully put it in the doorway and rung the bell, then ran.
I grabbed my bike and realized that I had no time to get on it and ride, so I was running down the street with it. My mom was telling me to stop and get on the bike, all calm and just standing there with her bike in the middle of the street like everything was fine. I stumbled and fell on top of it about the time the door to Sara's house opened.
And there I was flat in the middle of the street.
Sara and I were never an "item."
Fourth grade was when life really began looking more like hell. And I suspect that was also when the bipolar began to show symptoms, since I remember deep depressions from that period.
The abuse from the bullies got worse, it was almost constant. I felt very isolated, very threatened, very worthless. I thought about killing myself more than once, which is a place no nine year old's mind should ever be. My grades fell from C's to D's.
It's painful even now to think back to that time. We're talking 35 years ago, and the wounds feel like yesterday.
At that time in my life, I felt I was a complete failure. I was an object of ridicule and abuse. I had very few friends. My grades were bad and the teachers were quite frustrated with me. I felt that I was a failure to my parents, to everybody.
I was picked on about my weight, which by that time had gotten to the point where I had a pot belly. I was eating too much because I spent most of my time stressed and depressed. They called me "chicken fat" on the playground, I can still hear them chanting it over and over.
And each time they said it, it did more and more damage to my psyche. Each time someone threatened me, said they would beat me up after school for no reason, it frightened me. I truly felt that I could not defend myself, that I was helplessly trapped. And in a very real way, I was.
Fifth grade was a nightmare.
Some of the D's slipped to F's. Parent teacher conferences were becoming a regular feature of my life. And the teasing and threats got nothing but worse and more insistent.
During class, the bullies would take rubber bands and shoot folded paper clips at me. That was the year 1970, and vests were in style. My mother had made me two vests, one out of velvet and the other out of "wet look" vinyl that was supposed to look like leather. I think that she thought I looked adorable in them. The bullies quickly found out that, if shot just right, the paper clips would make a resounding "pop" when they hit my vests, and sometimes stick in them.
I went for a new hairstyle that year too. Dad's idea was for me to have a "Glen Campbell" haircut. Glen Campbell had a TV show then, and he had hair parted on the side. I made the mistake of saying that I had a Glen Campbell haircut one day. Bad move. Now they had even more fodder for the teasing.
One day the teacher came to my desk after recess and asked me to hand over the rubber bands and paper clips. Well, I never had any, and told her so. She reached down and pulled a pile of them from under my desk that the bullies had stuck there during recess.
That was the first time I got paddled at school.
I don't remember much about sixth grade. That's probably a good thing.
I wanted to write more about this, but its too painful for me to do in one sitting I think. This seems like a good stopping place, and I'll pick up at junior high school next time.
Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.
Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592)