Hope you enjoyed the mushy-gushiness that I left up on the blog for a couple days. Because shit’s about to get less mushy.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Manifesto entry, and this is kind of a different one because it’s something that I actually have a great deal of experience with. The Manifesto of the Uninformed just seemed to be where it fit best.
A quick aside before I begin: Don’t expect this out of me a lot. It’s kind of serious, but I’ll try to get some humor into it if I can. This is also something I’ve never told anyone (except a psychiatrist in high school), but here I am telling the internet. I’ve never been the writing-for-catharsis type or the tell-personal-things-over-the-web type. So, again, don’t expect this out of me a lot.
Why do it? Because maybe someone will read it and look for help. As if anyone reads this. . .
A Manifesto of the Uninformed
Part 4: Bullying
I’m pretty sure I’ll be proud of Squatch, no matter what. I think most parents are that way. But there are a few things that would probably make me feel disappointed and feel like I’ve failed. One of those would be if Squatch is a bully. To talk about why, I’ll have to tell my own story. This isn’t to make anyone feel sorry for me or some cry for attention. It’s a happy ending, I swear. But bear with me. Or skip it if you want, and come back when I’m funny again. Your call.
Last night, the school I work at had a speaker come to campus—Kirk Smalley, whose 11-year-old son was bullied constantly in school before finally retaliating one day and getting suspended from school, because the one who retaliates is the one who’s always caught and punished. He committed suicide that day, at 11 years old, in 2010.
Smalley goes around talking to groups now, and he does it to make people think about their classmates, or their kids, or themselves, and bullying. To make them aware. And sitting there, distracting the people around me with the noisy shutter-click of my camera (since I was there taking pictures for my wife’s office), I thought a lot about Squatch and the potential of what is currently a cantaloupe-sized fetus one day becoming a bully. And I can’t handle that. Because I was bullied.
See, Bloggy-verse, I wasn’t always this beefy, sasquatchian monster you know and love today. When we moved to Kansas, because of California’s later cut-off date for kindergarten enrollment, I became the youngest person in my class—by at least a few months and up to a year or more. Which means, in both sixth grade and ninth grade, I was also the youngest person in my entire school those years. Compound that with the fact that I was never really cool (usually at the opposite end of that spectrum), and you have a “Bully Me” sign on your back.
Last night, Smalley talked about how one in four kids will have not just thought about suicide, but also have a plan to carry it out. Twenty-five percent of the kids is pretty startling, but I didn’t find it all that unbelievable. Because as laid-back and happy as I am now, I was one of those kids.
I want to make something clear before going on, especially since my mom reads this blog—my parents had nothing to do with me being one of those kids. Looking back, I don’t think there was anything they could’ve done about that—I showed none of the outward signs, I refused to talk about the bad things at school, and I just didn’t want to disappoint my parents. My dad was a big guy, who I couldn’t imagine anyone picking on, and my mom is a strong woman with a strong personality, who I also didn’t think anyone would want to mess with. I loved them both, and I thought I’d let them both down if I talked about getting bullied at school. I know now that I should’ve talked to them more, but kids are idiots sometimes. I stayed silent.
Fourth grade was when I had a plan. Just before I turned nine. That was when the bullying got worse. I was in the gifted kids program, so I was a nerd. I was younger than everyone else, and smaller than most. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends. And on top of all that, my teacher was kind of a bully, too. I’m not going to talk about my plan, because this isn’t that kind of blog, and I don’t want to give anyone stupid ideas because this turned up on the wrong Google search. But nine is too young to have a plan to kill yourself.
Things got worse for me over the years, and I was overall a good kid. I was an angry kid, and a couple times I retaliated. Luckily, as a smart kid, I was able to pick the good times to retaliate—smaller incidents with a teacher close-by to break things up before I got pummeled. Those landed me an in-school suspension a couple times during the sixth grade, but for a moment, I was happy to have fought back. Before the guilt of disappointing my parents. When they asked me why, I just shrugged it off with one of those pubescent, non-committal sounds. I didn’t let them know.
A couple times I did tell them. Once, on the bus, a kid pinched me across the aisle so much and so hard on the way home that it left a large, purple welt on my side. I showed my mom and she took it to the principal of the school; the kid got suspended. In the eighth grade, four high school kids jumped a friend and me outside his apartment, beat us up and tried to steal any money we had. I ended up with bruised ribs and a concussion, and my glasses were broken. My mom pressed charges. Those were two major instances, big enough that my parents had to know. But I didn’t tell them about the other stuff—the day-to-day stuff. I kept silent.
When my mom got a job in Iowa, I was only too glad to leave Topeka behind and start high school in a brand new place. But I was still too wary and distrustful of people in school. It wasn’t till my junior year that I started making friends that I would talk to and hang out with at school. I had a couple friends that I knew in my apartment complex, but I would go entire days at school without uttering a word to anyone. Occasionally, a week at a time. Without saying a word at school. I still thought about it a lot, though. Killing myself.
We moved back to Topeka right before my senior year, and by that time I had grown a little. I started playing hockey, which helped me with confidence because when I was playing, nobody could bully me. I had a weapon. I started at Topeka High that year, and I liked the school. It was a great school. But seeing people I knew before I moved to Iowa, the people from middle school and grade school, I got so anxious and depressed that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. It didn’t have to be people that bullied me; it could be anyone. I couldn’t even be around people who were my friends in middle school without feeling panicked*.
*I don’t have any friends from before my senior year of high school for exactly this reason. Even when I was on Facebook, I wouldn’t accept friend requests from most of the people I knew in middle school or grade school. Seeing people I knew from that time around Topeka still momentarily makes it hard to breathe.
I had a girlfriend in Iowa, who I was still in a relationship with when we moved back to Topeka, and she became a convenient excuse for me to rely on. I’d get in a fight with her over the phone or the internet, then fight with my mom about it. Those fights became a way for me to vent my feelings without having to actually say why I was feeling that way. I was scared—not of losing my girlfriend, but of what I was thinking of doing to myself.
One day, I decided to follow through. I couldn’t take the panic and the fear and the depression anymore. I dropped my mom off at a volunteer thing she was doing for my brother’s ROTC group. We’d just fought again, and I felt pretty shitty about it. I drove away and told myself I’d follow the plan. Only I didn’t want to die. I knew I didn’t. So, instead, I made probably the dumbest decision I’d ever made.
I stole my mom’s car and drove back to Iowa. It caused a major rift in the relationship between me and my mom—we didn’t talk for three months, and it took us some time after that to get back to a real relationship—but that terrible decision probably kept me from doing something even dumber. I was headed on a crash course with stupid that day—a trek that started in the fourth grade—and luckily, I chose the smarter dumb choice. Though I’ve told people about my idiotic three-state trip, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone besides that shrink (who my dad made me see when I got back) the real reason I took it—not to go see my girlfriend, but to not kill myself.
After getting back, returning my mom’s car, then moving in with my dad, I switched schools. He lived in a different district, and I could’ve stayed at the same school, but I had to change. I ended up at a school I didn’t care for, but where I didn’t know anyone and could disappear into again. I went back to not saying anything all day and managed to graduate.
Somewhere in there, I managed to meet Karli, after breaking up with the Iowa girlfriend, and started spending a lot more time with her. I distanced myself from all the people I knew before and made new friends. I got better. Things got better. College was great because I got a chance to move beyond the bullying and the depression and the way things used to be. I made new friends who liked having a sasquatch around. I turned out relatively well-adjusted considering all the effort I made when I was younger to counter that.
The point? I have strong feelings about bullies. They ruined, and almost ended, my childhood. I honestly don’t know how I’ll react if I find out Squatch is being bullied. There will probably be a lot of yelling at school administrators, at teachers, at other parents, at the bullies themselves. And my bullying was pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone, pre-internet. I can’t say I know what I’ll do if my kid is a victim. I just hope they’ll be smarter than I was and actually be able to talk to me about it.
I do, however, know what I’ll do if Squatch is the bully. I’m not having that shit in my house. Not that I’m anticipating that to be a problem. Bullies tend to come from bullies, which neither Karli nor I are. But God help you if you get into that habit, Squatch. There will be some serious repurcussions, and if it’s a continuing problem, the little darling will probably be homeschooled before it can utter “atomic wedgie,” and will be lucky to have any social interaction whatsoever before it’s 27. I can guaran-damn-tee that.