How Did I Get Here?

“Is that all you got, you retard?!”

The man-child whose full body weight is against my chest is yelling like the ape that he is.

I am on my back. I am on the ground. I am 9, maybe 10 years old. I am getting the living shit kicked out of me. The bully is the most massive of fifth graders (12 years old, going on 20). I’m pretty sure he was sporting a mustache at the time of this beating. At any rate, blood is pouring from my nose, my eye is already starting to swell, and through it all I am serenely calm, almost lifeless underneath the raining blows from this early maturing monster of an elementary school man boy.

Fight back… Say something… These concepts come to mind in this moment. And yet, they float right into and out of focus like little fluffy clouds. Passing by as fleeting options. As if I ever thought they were options to begin with. Let me explain.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t fight back. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It was instead the strange acceptance in my mind, that perhaps I deserved it. Maybe this is what my life was meant to be. Maybe this was my role. Maybe my job was to be the one who took the beating in life.  It wasn’t the first time, it would not be the last. This was, by definition, the life of a young introvert.

I was teased relentlessly as a child. Elementary school was, by far and away, the very worst years of my life.  I am the oldest sibling in my family, so I didn’t have any role models to forge a path for me, to help me learn the ropes.  Instead, I ventured forth in the cutthroat world of grade school using only my wits, and my terrible sense of style to guide me.  And guide me into pummeling after pummeling it did.

The first year of middle school was a good one. I slowly gained some confidence, and the teasing ceased. It would seem that between grade school and middle school I had gone from standing out (for my looks and introversion) to completely invisible. And I loved every minute of it. To not be noticed was for anything was exactly what I had hoped for.  That is, until I started to like girls. Then I wanted to be noticed… but wasn’t.  Funny thing is, the instant I started to notice girls just happened to coincide with puberty, which just happened to gift me the most acne riddled face any young boy could hope for.  I felt the shame of my appearance. It was unspoken. No one mentioned the zits all over my face. But I knew they saw them. How could they not?

“You look fine! No one will notice. It’s not that bad. I only noticed because you pointed it out.”

My mother might as well have been a parrot with those lines. I have heard it thousands of times in my life. From my mother. From others. And not then, not now, not ever will I trust someone who tries to comfort me when I don’t like my appearance (be it for the occasional mid thirties exercising guy workout/stress breakout, or a cracked lip from too much sun exposure, or a bad sunburn from too much time outdoors). I know they are only trying to help. They are only trying to pacify me. Rationally, I know that. But, because I also know that I could stand in front of them with a huge booger hanging from my nose and they would say I’ve never looked better or more put together, that I will never trust what they say. It’s the vicious vanity cycle. If I have to ask if my face looks bad, you know what? It does! It’s the same thing when a girl asks if her butt looks big. Of course it does! If it didn’t, she wouldn’t ask. But, men are smart enough to lie the same as the women I ask to comment on my breakouts. And nothing good ever comes of it, does it?

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