Friday, July 18, 2014

Hey, bulldog

When I think of bullying two images come to mind: an atomic wedgie in some locker room in Texas and the collective groan of my former teacher colleagues at yet another staff meeting on said subject. Bullying has some new creative pseudonyms thanks to today's wild social network dictionary. Slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, mean girls, you name it -- it's bullying. I always thought that getting pushed around was a rite of passage that, once you cleared high school, would be over. Once we scaled the awkward hurdle of youth, we would no longer have to defend our every eclectic habit. Our every choice. Our every breath while mortar fire besieged the foxhole of our fragile existence.

I was, of course, wrong. Even big people get goaded and pushed around. Like a dry dog turd on the lawn that gets nudged with a sneaker, but never fully picked up and thrown. Cowards.

I've had a couple of bullying incidents recently that were so passive-aggressive they were laughable, hardly threatening, hardly bullying, right? Nobody got hurt, no wedgies were delivered. But the premise was there, lurking just beneath the civilized surface. Do this, no, do this, why don't you do this? Oh you're not going to do this -- you're the c**t then.

We were all finally seated, surrounded by a nice meal of a fresh salad from the garden. My gentleman friend had grilled up a nice steak. It was a perfect night. We served ourselves. I doled myself a healthy portion of salad and just got my first bite in my mouth. The avocado practically melted. It was so good...

"Hey, aren't you gonna have steak?" My soon-to-be-in-law #1 asked.

I fucking hate it when people ask me questions right when I'm diving in to my dinner.

"Um" Hand up to mouth, chew quick, avoid getting said avocado stuck in throat. Crunch. Chew. "Um, no. All set."

"It's really good steak," said in-law number two. "You should try it."

"I'm good with salad. I love it." Charging steady into my second bite.

"So what, you're not eating meat. Jesus Christ, is it because it's not organic?"

I really just wanted to eat my salad and talk about...NOTHIING...

"No, it's just that I stopped eating meat at Lent and really haven't..." I let the sentence trail off while I deliberately chewed with my mouth open and full of salad. I didn't put my hand in front of my mouth. Just chewed, talked, had to explain myself. The vicious, saber-tooth creature inside me wanted to turn the conversation around--for all different reasons. Why are YOU eating red meat, of all people? Ya know, this salad is a little different because it's comprised of more than just iceberg lettuce, so...

But that would be bullying, wouldn't it?

I remember this time, it was a Friday in winter. I had put a roast in the crockpot with the intention of taking it to my then brother-in-law's house for dinner. The weather started to get dicey by noon, and by 5 p.m., just as I was supposed to head out and meet everybody at the little house in Hillsdale (with dinner in tow) it was down right stupid to be on the roads. I called my then-husband, who had a 4wd Nissan and who had picked our daughter up from daycare.

"I don't think I can make it. The driveway is barely passable. The road isn't even plowed. And Route 23 is a mess."

"Well, I'm almost there. And you've got the dinner, so...just drive slow."

"But I don't think it's safe. Honestly, the driveway like an oil slick."

"Why do you have to put up a fight about everything? Everybody's relying on you to bring the roast. Just drive slow."

I risked my life and limb to bring those drunks a goddamn roast that night. I piled the crockpot, the dog and most of my anger in my tiny 4-cylander Hyandai (before the changeover) and slid backwards down the driveway, nearly over the embankment on the other side of the road. The kind neighbor saw that I was stuck in the snowbank across the road and pulled me out with his plow truck. I drove for 1.5 hours, white knuckling it the whole way. The dog whining in my ear as the tiny car fishtailed and slid its way to the brightly lit house, where, of course, no path had been shoveled. Beef juice dripped into the snow from the crockpot and I remember thinking, "shit, I nearly just died. I'm an idiot for driving here."

Of course, it was agreed that I should leave the car there that night, because it was just too dangerous to drive it in such weather. Yet no one objected to me driving it there...

It's a matter of convenience, this bullying thing among the big people. Because we let ourselves be pushed around, or we push other people around for different reasons. Maybe we think it's for their own good. We're just trying to help. To be "show" them "the right way." We do this a lot with the older folks in our lives.

"Ma, the speed limit's 55 you can..."

"Don't tell me how to drive, Jesus, I've been doing this longer than you have."

"You may wanna stop for this guy in the crosswalk. Ma, Ma, blinking lights!"

"I see them!"

Should I be telling my mother how to drive? Absolutely not. Can I help it? Absolutely not. Is it bullying? Probably...

It's bullying when another adult, friend or foe, tells you you need to quit smoking. No shit. Like that's not completely obvious. But if you fire back with, "yes, I do. And you need to quit feeding your ass and hitting the tanning bed every 10 minutes and crying like a 1930s silent film star" guess who wins the asshole contest. You got it.

On a self-righteous side note here, I have, with a few lapses in sanity and judgment, said goodbye to cigarettes. This is the first week in four months where I have not had a single craving for one. It's been hell. And whoever says you can replace cigarettes with food is a total jerk liar. There is no substitute for a best friend.

The line is fine because we think we've reached civility. We're not giving anyone an atomic wedgie or a bloody nose, so it's acceptable to not accept, to push the last buttons, to poke the bear--if that's what you really want to do. My daughter tried that once, on the sidelines of my son's football game.

"Ma, you're cheering too loud. People can hear you. Shush..."

"You didn't just shush me. I'm cheering for my son. On game day. I know you didn't just shush me."

"Yeah, but you get too into it. And you laugh too loud, too." She uncrossed her legs and gnawed on a Skittle. I pasted my hands to my thighs.

"Do you think I got this far because I let people tell me how to be?" She shifted uncomfortably. My voice started to rise and rise...

"Ma, I'm just saying..."

"You just saying what? That I laugh too loud. I cheer too loud. You kiddin' me? You can't tell me how to be. Bigger men have tried. Don't ever think you can. I don't tell you how to smile or how to cry or what to laugh. You're a crazy fool. Go take a lap around the field. Get rid of some of that attitude. You're lucky I'm laughing right now."

I watched her saunter-huff to the concessions stand for more junk food. The father sitting next to me was chuckling to himself.

"They can't tell us what to do," he laughed. "And it's getting to the point where we can't tell them what to do."

I can't wait.