Friday, February 15, 2013

Cruel intentions

We all have those standout moments in school, the kind that either make you are break you or put a carcass around your neck and toughen you up. I had so many, from first grade, right on up. Some felt like Olympic gold -- bases loaded, we're up by one, I've thrown two strikes and three balls...bam strike three; on to the tournament. Others felt like tuberculosis. They were those cruel moments where, as a kid, I couldn't breathe because of my lack of ability to handle the meanness of my peers. And they were f***ing mean. None of this anti-bullying campaign when I was growing up. It felt like kill or be killed, even in the cruddy confines of our tiny, run-down elementary school.

First, of course, were the teeth. I've always had big teeth. It's a family trait, supposedly they are charming now. But then, my god, a day didn't go by that somebody, usually the same somebody and his cronies, would make a nasty comment about my teeth. Of course, the first time it happened, I was floored. And hurt, and couldn't come up with a response. I had no idea that others found me ugly. My grandmother seemed to think I was pretty cute, my teachers never said anything about my teeth. It probably didn't help that I was taller than any other human being in class, skinny as a rail, and pretty smart.

By sixth grade, the teeth thing was nothing new. I just let it roll of my back, or worse yet, would say something more cutting. Something like "At least I can fix my teeth. There's no hope for your brain, SPED." Yeah, it was that low. The kid(s) who pricked at my confidence were the very same who were taken out of class for special help with reading and math. An eye for an eye, right? I had my tough skin now. And when the braces finally came off the first week of ninth grade, I thought for sure that I was totally fixed. That the taunting was over. I was golden, right?

Cruel illusions. Really. We had all melded into our unbroken groups by that point. I tried to mingle among the pods of "types." I had my athlete friends (I played three sports for awhile, then finally knocked it down to softball, lifting and a shitload of hiking); my theater friends (Shakespeare productions and a few high school musicals); my work friends who were older and taught me how to make a killer penne, play chess, and love good wine (and roll a joint behind the French cafe I worked at); my family friends. But no matter how many alliances there were, no matter how many bonfires and whiskey flasks surrounded us, there was always, at the most unsuspecting moments, some kind of useless cruelty that went along with the whole culture. Even my close friends, my "peeps", who had all pretty much outgrown me by a foot, called me "Shortround." I just learned to deal with it. It even made me laugh at some point. Sure, sure, Shortround. No problem. I just ploughed ahead, kept up with the grades, and the sports, and the jobs, and prayed that I'd make it out alive. Ugly, it seems, but alive.

Things went well. Sort of. Nobody minded me in college. In fact, it seemed that I drew quite a crowd (of mostly men) in my 20s. I had no idea why, what with the big teeth and all. Even after I had my daughter, there was no sudden drop off in dates and phone calls. On the eve of my wedding, I was teaching high school and the younger (like way younger) brother of a former nasty classmate of mine congratulated me.

"Yeah, I told my brother that you were getting married and he just couldn't believe it," he said, defensive on my behalf. "He couldn't believe that someone would marry YOU. I told him you were an awesome teacher," he blushed. "And really pretty."

"Thanks," I said, the wind knocked right out of my bridezilla sails.

But then I got to thinking. That mean, nasty boy. I remember him. He was a short little troll of misery that walked around berating everyone and everything, but we let him do it. A good student, sure. A star wrestler, yup. But, in the end he was a dick. And all I could think was, well, I'm glad I'm not marrying him.

I wonder if anyone every married that a**hole?

I'm not above it. None of us are. There's still a little bit of that terrified, beat up, awkward kid in me yet. It's a bitter solace I take in seeing some of the people from those days. Some of them are fat. Some of them are alone. Some have kids and jobs, some don't. Some drink, some have criminal records, some finally grew up, some didn't.

We all made it somehow, but just barely. It's an ugly business. The silver lining...success? Good looks? A solid marriage? Kids? I wish I could know for sure.

For the record, on the eve of my 36th birthday, I'm pretty thrilled about my big shiny teeth. The better to smile on my even shinier kids. Who will knock your kids right out of the water with their gorgeous brilliance.

Na, na, na--meanies.

1 comment:

  1. I think you have more company than you know. Thanks for the brutal honesty about how awful school could be, and that not only did you survive, but probably have a better life going than your tormenters deserve.