Saturday, October 13, 2018

I Am an Animal

I am consumed with trepidation as the school day comes to a close. I do not utter a word for the rest of the day. Not to Mrs. Hyde or my classmates, not to anyone. My mind is too busy talking to itself about the fate that awaits me at home. I look at the kids who so mercilessly picked on me, and I look at Mrs. Hyde who not only didn’t protect me, but became one of them. I hate them. Every one of them. I hate myself for my lack of control. I hate myself for not knowing how to stop them. I just hate. Everyone and everything at this moment.

I can feel the acid burn through my stomach lining as I walk home. I feel the lump in my throat, and I am unsure whether its tears or vomit.  I realize it’s both as I stop along Oakwood Avenue, and I puke and cry and beg God to help me simultaneously.  I contemplate not going home, but I know that I would have nowhere to go permanently. I’d have to go home eventually and the beating would be tenfold because his anger would be increased.

I get to the corner of Frear and Oakwood Avenues and I can see the yellow Corolla that Dad ‘borrowed’ from Uncle Chuck over a year ago parked in front of the house. My heartbeat is deafening in my head and painful in my chest. My limbs go numb. I feel dreamlike force my body up each step onto the front porch. I reach the outer door and I inhale as much air as my lungs will hold. I keep it captive in there until my head swoons, then I let it out and I open the outer door. I stop between the outer and inner door, gather the little bit of courage I have, stand up tall, and enter the inner door into my nightmare.

Dad is in the living room waiting for me, belt in hand. There is rage splashed all over his hate-filled face. I stand and stare at him with a dumb look—my mind has gone blank and all courage and stature has disappeared.

“You want to behave like an animal in school, Puke?”

“No”, I answer, and I see his jaws clench.

“You obviously think you’re an animal, so you will be treated like an animal. Do you understand, Animal?”

“Yes”, is the only way I know to answer this question.

I am immediately knocked to the floor with a punch to the center of my body. Before I can get up, he kicks me back down to ensure I am unable to do so. “Animals belong on the floor, Puke. From now on you will walk on all fours.” I answer, “Yes”, to which he replies, “And animals don’t talk. If you want something you will bark like the animal that you are. Do you understand, Animal?” I bark in response, and I remain on the floor waiting to be kicked again. Like the animal that I am. It is taking every bit of will power in my arsenal not to cry because I am more humiliated than I have ever been in my short life. I hurt physically, but I hurt more in my heart than anything.

“Get out of my sight, Puke Animal”.

I climb the stairs to my room on all fours and I am filled with more hatred than I ever knew it was possible for one person to feel. I sit on the floor of my bedroom because I assume that’s where an animal would be, and I want to punch something. I want to punch and scream. Instead, I sit on my floor and I cry. I try to cry out all of the hatred that has welled inside of me for the kids at school, for teachers, for dad, for this life that I have been given to live.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Struggling in My Cocoon

My happiness returns bit by bit as I finish fourth grade and head into fifth.  It returns as I spend summer afternoons with Kim, Karen, Tricia, Patty, and Sue—my Frear Ave friends. Sometimes we create whirlpools by swimming circles or we play Marco Polo in Kim or Patty’s backyard pool. Sometimes we play with Tricia’s antique tiny Barbie dolls. Some days we play kick ball in the center of the road on our little dead end street. We use whatever we can find for bases: old boxes, someone’s jacket, or even a rock. Kick ball days are my favorite because we have to round up more neighborhood friends who we don’t normally play with—brothers, sisters, kids from neighboring streets. Neither age nor gender is an issue for any of us. We are boys and girls, children, adolescents, and teenagers, and we never fight nor is there ever a power struggle. We play happily until the sun is replaced by stars. It is these days that refill my heart with the happiness it has been missing. It is these friends who remind me that people are good and that life is good.

So I happily enter my fifth grade year at Public School #2. Gretchen is not in my class this year—I assume someone of importance made the wise decision to separate us. My new teacher is Mrs. Fran Hyde. She is new to our school. She is clearly green and every child in the class knows it. The teachers as School 2 are gritty and tough. They are tired and sarcastic. Mrs. Hyde is kind. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She is emotional. She shows that she cares. We eat her alive. Our class is pure chaos.

Most girls enter a cocoon of change around the fifth grade. It is the point where boys begin to notice them as more than peers, and so the teasing begins when one develops an interest in another. It begins innocently for me with a boy calling me “spaghetti head” because of my long, straight hair. This teasing spurred other boys to begin using this nickname for me.  Still, it doesn’t bother me because I like my long hair and I understand that they do to. Unfortunately, my body is also changing now, and Mom notices. She lets me know that it’s time to go bra shopping. The timing for this could not be worse with me already being on everyone’s radar.

I return to school lifted and pronounced, and it is quickly noticed and pounced upon. The kids, boys and girls, begin to call me “tissue tits”. The more red-faced I become, the more I am taunted. The more I explain, the guiltier I look. So I go into the hallway with Arshea Phillips, the alpha female in our class. I actually lift my shirt in the hallway and expose myself to her, hoping she will then tell everyone that I am not stuffing a bra to appear to have something that I do not. It is humiliating, but completely worth it to stop the constant barrage of accusations hurled at me. Arshea decides to keep my proof to herself. The taunts intensify in frequency and vulgarity.

The next day I open the lid to my desk and there is a Charmin wrapper. The class erupts in laughter and I shrink and my face burns. I quietly allow this behavior for over a week, hoping that the kids will forget me or move onto some other not-so-hurtful interest to occupy their small minds. They do not. I'm too easy a target for them.

I finally have enough, I swallow my pride, and I quietly tell Mrs. Hyde what has been happening. Mrs. Hyde responds flippantly by telling me that I have been encouraging them to say these things to me. I have encouraged them to dub me “tissue tits” and to leave tissue wrappers in my desk? I assume she is saying this either because she, too, believes that I am stuffing my bra with tissue or because I have not fought back. My heart begins to beat very hard. My temples are thumping so loudly that I cannot hear anything else that is being said. The blood in my body has risen from the pit of my stomach and now covers my entire chest and face so that my skin resembles a hot tamale candy. I completely lose control of my tightly held emotions. David Banner has morphed into the Hulk. I pick up a desk and I throw it at Mrs. Hyde while I curse her very existence.

I feel utterly defeated--more betrayed than I have ever felt. How could she, as a teacher and a woman, not understand this? How could she blame me? I realize on this day that no one will ever understand me. I am different than everyone else in this world, no matter how much I think we have in common, I have been cut from some crazy mold that I shattered upon exit.  

Mrs. Hyde dramatically runs from our classroom. I quickly realize where she is going and fear immediately turns me back into David Banner, then from David Banner to the terrified 11 year old girl that I am.

I will receive the worst punishment of my life for this lack of ability to control my emotions. I still struggle to pass the boulders placed in my brook by my “animal behavior” at school. This is the only musical composition of my life, that if I could choose, I would remove. OK, this and Punishing Gary.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Fighting a Friend

I am filled with anger, sadness, disappointment, and resentment as I return to school. I have become mopey and withdrawn. My wit and goofiness have been replaced with trite comments and silence. No more laughter. No smiles. I am simply a shell housing emptiness.

Gretchen doesn’t like this new version of me, and so she thinks that she can fight it out of me. I feel sorry for her because I know that I am the only happiness in her life, and my happiness has been drained from my soul. I cannot get it back, not even for her. The first opportunity she finds with no adult in the classroom, she pushes me. It hurts my heart, but after feeling Dad’s push that knocks me off of my feet, her tiny 10 year old hands could never hurt my body. When I refuse to push her back, she increases in anger and determination, and she takes a swing as if to punch me. I grab her wrist. With her other hand she attempts another punch, so I grab that wrist with my other hand. She tries to kick me. My only thought is to keep her away from me because I know that if I am provoked into hitting her back, I might hurt her because I am much bigger and stronger than she is.
She has always been very small, and behaves much like a Chihuahua who thinks he is more powerful than he is because he’s never felt the bite of a large dog.

I begin turning circles while holding her wrists, much like a mother would do when playing with her young child.
This is my feeble attempt to avoid causing pain to my friend. She attempts several more hits when I stop spinning in circles, but I block them until she feels she has won. She will remind me forever that I didn’t know how to fight, so she won. She doesn’t know that Dad has been teaching me self-defense since I was old enough to make a fist, and Dad’s lessons taught me how to permanently remove any threat. She doesn’t know that if I fought back the way I had been taught, she would feel more pain than she knew was possible.
Gretchen has never had to the feel the physical pain that I endure, and there is no reason for her to ever feel that as far as I am concerned. So I eat crow. I allow her to feel powerful over me because I understand that she desperately needs it, and I’m okay with that.
I may occasionally feel sadness or disappointment, but one feeling that I never feel is powerlessness. Even with the powers that control my life right now, I always remain in touch with the immense power with which I was born as well as that with which I am constantly surrounded through the protection of my God. I have always felt His presence, and I know that He stays with me during my dark times. He always hears me, and He always responds to me. I am thankful for Him because He is both my brook and the rocks that make its music.

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