How can you escape an abusive past—a victim of bullying where no one believes you—without having those moments define you? One man’s story.
Even as I start writing this I can’t help bawling my eyes out thinking about it. After 25 or more years these memories are still fresh in my mind, it is the one thing I can’t seem to ever get over. The memories are just two slice of life stories that have no heroes, just assholes and a victim. I haven’t got any words of wisdom, clichés or anything remotely helpful I learned. All I can say is that I survived. I don’t know why I am even writing this other then I think it’s time I got it off my chest.
I was at a swimming carnival one night early in the year (southern hemisphere so the seasons are different) and I was by myself under the bleachers hiding and waiting for one of my races. I was in grade 7 at this time. One of the bullies who normally picked on me found me down there and entered into the usual inane banter that bullies normally do. I think it is mostly to psych themselves up. I knew he was going to hit me minutes before I think he had even worked out what he was doing. This night I dodged to the side when it came. He hit the metal post just behind me and hurt his hand quite badly. He ran off at that point trying to hold back a tear or two.
About 15 minutes later his dad came stomping down to where I was. Without any word or warning his dad just right jabbed me straight in the nose, I still remember the crunch when he hit, it was like 2 or 3 small little cracks happening all at once. He said to me then while I was on the ground blood pouring out of my nose that if I ever picked on his son again he would kill me. I stayed under the bleachers then for another four hours waiting for my own dad to pick me up at 9pm. I was covered in blood and I struggled to stop the bleeding even four hours later.
My dad found me later and was furious, we spent close to another hour driving around trying find Mark’s place. I didn’t know where he lived, I thought it was quite pointless driving around but dad seemed to need to let off some steam so we drove. I don’t remember much more of that night except my parents arguing. I just know my nose hurt a lot when I was trying to get enough dried blood out of it so I could breathe properly.
The next day I hid in the library before school and at lunch, my nose was very swollen and sore and I didn’t particularly want to face anyone that day. I was called into the principal’s office at about 2.30pm. My dad, Mark and his dad were already there. I was told to apologize to Mark or I would be suspended and in addition to that I had to write 500 lines “I shall not hit people with metal bars”. No one seemed interested in my version of events, I found that most unfair.
I had to tell the above story first because I have been asked why I didn’t tell anyone about the next story. This was my life. It was the first time a parent had hit me but not the last. I had already started to distrust adults at this point. I wasn’t quick and nimble enough with my tongue to get my side of the story across. You see I was the slow giant. For years I had been told “You don’t know your own strength”, “You’re bigger than they are you should know better.” All these well-meaning teachers and parents had for years had been robbing me of the one means of defense that I had, my ability to hit the bullies back harder than they hit me. I digress though. I had many moments in the past where I have had to apologize to the bullies, no one ever believes the guy that is twice the size of the other kid. The bullies know this and used it unmercifully against me.
I was on a school holiday trip with the grade 7’s. We were travelling out in the country for about 10 days stopping in at various towns and school camps along the way. We were on our way home, I think it was about 7 days in, and I had had enough this day. I had been poked with sharp objects, spitballed and had my head whacked against the window so many times that whole day just seemed like and endless tour of hell. When we finally reached this Christian camp in the early afternoon I complained to the principal. I don’t remember what I said but it was probably whiney and I know he didn’t say much and I went back to setting up my bed. There was only one room free now, it had eight beds but the only kid in there was Cecil, another bully victim. I don’t remember what we did that evening but at some point we were all told to go to bed and lights out in 10 minutes.
The principal came round turning everyone’s lights out and as our room was the furthest away he did ours last. I was on the top bunk and he yanked me off on to the floor. He grabbed me by my throat and shoulder and lifted me off the floor about half a foot and onto the wall beside the bed. He had me so that I couldn’t catch a breath and he was talking to me at the same time. He was telling me if I wasn’t such a dickhead that the other kids would leave me alone. He was telling me that I had caused him no end of trouble and paperwork since he got to our school (six months earlier) and he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t kicked me out of school already.
I still couldn’t breathe and I was starting to panic. I was trying to pry his fingers off my throat, I wanted to ask him to stop but I couldn’t talk. All the time he kept saying stuff but I had stopped listening to him. I was struggling and thrashing but he was so strong, he just kept me up against the wall and my heels kept hitting the wooden wall. I wanted to breathe so badly it was a hurting burning ache and at the same time I could feel the blood pounding in my temples. I just had one focus, trying to breathe, but I couldn’t. My vision started to go strange; it was like someone had put dark shades on my eyes and just left a clear hole in the middle. That too went darker until I could only make out the light on the ceiling.
I was on my knees and hands gasping for air next. He said one last thing before he left “Now straighten yourself out, I don’t want to hear about any of this again” and he was gone and the light was out. I crawled over to my bunk and I’m not sure how but lifted myself into bed. I was bawling my eyes out, sobbing uncontrollably now and I couldn’t stop. Cecil, bless his heart, asked me if I was ok. I couldn’t stop crying long enough to answer him.
We got home 2 or 3 days later and when I saw mum I burst into tears. She thought I was home sick. To this day she doesn’t know any different.
That school principle took something from me that night and I don’t even know what it was. I do know I lost trust with pretty much everyone, I lost my faith that were decent kind people out in the world and worst of all I lost hope that things would ever be different or better. He broke me in a way that no one has ever come close to doing since then. He set a high water mark for emotional pain that nothing else has even come close to reaching, not even the death of family or good friends.
In a strange way that high water mark of pain has set the level of things I can survive. I know I survived that so for anything less I know life will go on. You could say it was one of my defining moments, but frankly the universe can take its defining moment and shove it up its ass. I don’t want to remember it anymore, I don’t want to cry when I do and I want it to stop hurting. I don’t want to be that person who took 10 years to stop thinking “But were you strangled” while listening to other people’s petty little problems, it makes it hard to connect with other people. I don’t want to be the person who looks at the news and see Iraq torture victims and thinks “well they only had to go through two years of it”. I don’t want to be that person who knows the pale pink color your piss turns when you have been punched too hard in the kidneys. I don’t want to know how to still my mind and slow my heartbeat so I can hold my breath underwater for 2min because that’s about how long I would be held down for before the bullies got scared. I don’t want to be that guy who knows absolutely that if I met a certain principle I wouldn’t stop hitting him until he is dead. I don’t want to be the guy who can take everything life can throw at him because the watermark was set so high; I want to break down sometimes. My heart’s on my sleeve where it has always been and yes it hurts when you stab it. I don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t cry out when someone stabs it because I know from experience there is much worse pain.
So I’m not that guy. I reject that defining moment because that one moment in time doesn’t define me. That’s not me, that’s some asshole f*&^%tard who decided for whatever reason that I needed to be strangled. It took me 5 years of school and probably another decade to iron out the knots and kinks he left behind and it hasn’t been easy. So defining moments, get f*&^%ed.
Photo: orinrobertjohn / flickr