Yesterday I came to an agreement with Smith, yep he's volunteered (more like took his own life in his hands) to be my editor. Like any good editor, we talked about how my voice is unique and where my strengths are as a writer. He says that I've got "the gift", so I've got to write. He also says I should believe in myself more, and I agree with him, but the truth is, I really don't know how, so I'll just play it as run and figure it out along the way.
However Smith, in his great writer's wisdom and Hephaestus-like wordsmithing skills, let me know that my strength is in my storytelling; how I can spin a yarn with how I phrase things. But, here's the kicker, I don't have nearly enough content to go through to widdle down into a volume of good things, so back to my keyboard I go. Smith also said one other thing that set me on edge: that I need to write about the tougher subjects, namely all of the pain and hurt I've been through. Here's the problem with that - I don't like wallowing in my past, I'm over it, I'm above it, I am not the guest of honor at my own personal pity party; but I can hear Smith in my head saying "You have to write about all of that stuff to give your humor context and give us a reason to cheer for you at the end."
That's the hard part, isn't it? It's reliving all of those horrible moments, the ones that will make you shake, cry and give the overwhelming urge to scream out, "WHY?" But it's the hard moments, the painful words and the situations of the past that make you just want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over your head and wish with all your heart you were someone else. Those painful things are why I have PTSD, why I struggle every day with arrested development and when the truth finally is told, why I am who I am and why I have my "unique voice" that my editor thinks is bestseller-worthy.
So today I sit at my keyboard knowing what I have to write about and wanting to turn around and run in the other direction. The nausea is overwhelming, but the whole reason for sitting down and doing anything like this is to make sure that someone else, who has been through the same things, knows that they're not all alone in the darkness, that the pain that they are feeling isn't just restricted solely to them and that someone else on this sometimes detestable rock understands where they are coming from. Smith and I agreed on one thing, the point of all of this is to remind everyone that no matter how beat down we are, we can all rise from the ashes with an incredible amount of nutritional value.
Doc Cat once told me that I'm far too lenient on the people who have hurt me, so today, oh yeah, those folks are going to get what's coming to them because personally, if I don't get to forget what they've done because I have to live through it day after day because of the PTSD and anxiety they so kindly gifted me with, they're most certainly don't get to be forgiven. On top of that, for all of the folks that are cheering for me, we're going to jerk pants down around ankles and I'm going to give you the honor of letting you break out your two by fours and go to town on them. Call it stress relief, or by all means call it justice, we're going to get up on our horse and run those suckers into the ground and put a hurt on the lot of them.
That's right folks, bullies are the topic of the day.
My first experience of getting bullied goes way back. Jeez, trying to remember the first time I was bullied is a feat in itself because I honestly don't remember a day from childhood where I wasn't. To be honest, I guess I was a target from the get go...pretty, smart, sharp as a tack...what bully doesn't hone in on things like that?
But let's dissect bullies for a moment: What is a bully?
The Mirram-Webster dictionary defines a bully as: a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.
I'm going to differ with Mr. Mirram on one point, bullies don't just target those who are weaker, they target people who they feel inferior to. Come on, admit it, how many attractive bullies have you ever seen? How many mental giants do you know that bully people? That's right, not many. Oh yes, Stephen Hawking is really going to get out of his wheelchair and really put the hurt on you. I truly believe that bullies are born from individuals who have massive and I mean MASSIVE inferiority complexes. It's not my fault someone feels stupid, that's their burden to carry, not mine. When someone who doubts their intelligence perceives someone is smarter than they are and they feel threatened, they lash out, doing anything and everything to beat the smarter person down. There are tons of reasons why bullies do what they do. Jealousy has got to be one of the biggest motivators. Tell me, how many ugly girls get together and beat on a pretty girl when the pretty girl is in the minority? Mmmhmmm, don't tell me nothing I don't know because I was the pretty girl getting the crap kicked out of her by a bunch of jealous cows.
But, as Smith would tell me, "Tell the story", so here we go.
I grew up in a little dirt-speck of a town, not anything as beautiful or cosmopolitan as say a city like Montreal or Las Vegas. Yep, I grew up just 22 miles north of San Antonio, a beautiful town called New Braunfels, which is nestled deep in the Texas Hill Country. Back in the day, the population was only about 22,000 people, so up against a city like Las Vegas with its millions of inhabitants, you can say it's a whole other world. The city itself is beautiful, rolling hills, the scent of Mountain Laurel wafting on the breeze, Bluebonnets lining the roadside and folks kind enough to give a wave when you passed them on the street. But, even if the town is beautiful, in the 70's and 80's, some of the kids I grew up with weren't beautiful, not by any stretch of the imagination. And I'm not talking about physical beauty for the most part, I'm talking about "immortal souls" here. Texas may produce Miss America seven times out of ten, but what's underneath that is a whole other story. At this point I can only say that there is a special place in hell reserved for some of the kids I grew up with.
From the moment I was born, my sister has showered me with gifts, for the most part the gifts she has given me over the last 40 years have been worth more than money could ever buy. The biggest gift she gave me is the gift of literacy. Because she's four years older, from the very beginning she made it her mission to share with me everything she had. She taught me how to read, and she taught me how to write, giving me her books to learn from so we learned at the same pace. I remember laying on my parent's bed with the flu when I was very little, no more than three years old, and her coming in with her writing books, giving me the dotted lines to trace, which resulted in me writing script and cursive by the time I was four and was able to crack open an encyclopedia and read from it and understand what the words meant. Nan really did forge the way for me to be so smart, what she learned, I learned at the exact same time. Without her, I would have developed much later.
I have to say, Nan was very fortunate to grow up in New Braunfels, she fit right in and everyone loved her. She was beautiful, popular and very well dressed. My sister back then was the sun, moon and stars to me (still is) and I was very fortunate, she took me everywhere with her. Where you wanted one, you got two because I was Nan's ever-constant shadow and little mascot. To be honest, I grew up with her. Her friends were my friends, they looked after me and I got to go do "big kid" things before all of the others. Nan really did put me way ahead of the game.
Nan could have never guessed that all of her good intentions, love and care would put me at odds with the rest of the kids my own age who didn't have sisters who were teaching them from the start. I have to say, all of the smarts I have are purely due to my sister making sure I was learning from birth. I remember sitting long hours at the kitchen table listening to Nan studying and doing her homework with my Mom. I learned by osmosis, they talked about it, I heard it then learned from it. That was the reason I was using the word "abundant" when I was 8-years-old; I heard it, I asked what it meant, got slugged by Nan for asking Dad what it meant (in which you know that my Dad is much like the dad in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, ask him the definition to a word and you get a 30-minute dissertation), and finally ended up with a dictionary in my lap and finding out what it meant. But, no one ever bothers to tell you that if you hear it at home, you're not supposed to repeat it at school. While other kids were bringing curse words to school from home, I was bringing a much larger vocabulary, I started using the big words I heard at home in casual conversation at school. While the other kids were swearing their heads off, I was saying their swearing had become "abundant". It was quite enough. (In my head I was thinking, "You're smarter than that, use better words!) You know what is coming...you have to.
When you go to primary and secondary schools and junior high with children who have parents who are blue collar, farm-hands, ranchers and so on, and those kids hang out with the not-so-educated ranch hands instead of being parented by highly intelligent folks, their vocabularies aren't going to be filled early on with words that make future word-smiths. It stays about eighth grade reading level (which I am convinced it has remained for the entirety of their lives) and that's the best you can hope for; before that, they're mono-syllabic, and if you get into more complex words, well, their minds just, for lack of a better term, lock up. Since they couldn't comprehend it, it automatically became a threat. Yeah, I'm serious, that's how their small minds worked. Honestly, I have a lot of trouble with people who don't stop to ask "What does that mean?" Human curiosity and the ability to ask questions to expand knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we are ever given and I have never in my life ever been afraid to stop and ask for clarification about what I don't understand.
No no, I didn't get, "Hey Sheri, what does that mean?" Instead, I got made fun of and bullied because my advanced vocabulary unintentionally made them feel stupid. I got looked at like I was from the moon, the kids stopped talking to me and treated me like I was dirt under their shoes. I was exiled early on because when I spoke, words they didn't understand came pouring from my mouth. I might as well have been speaking Greek for the pushes, shoves, whispers, rumors, screamed insults, innuendo, pointed fingers, snubs and humliation I received.
The phrase "audience appropriate" hadn't been introduced to me yet, I didn't know that I had to actually (and I hate, hate, hate that I have to say it like this...) talk down to them so they could understand me. If someone had told me, "Hey, remember, they don't know the words you do, so speak their language," I might have fared better, but at 8-years-old, what do you do when your education is actually four years ahead? There is nothing you can do except be at the mercy of ignorant fops, and oh did I pay for being smart. The teachers understood me just fine, but at that point you could honestly say I was doomed.
The next ten years would be no different. Think about that for a minute. Ten YEARS. Imagine what you were doing on this exact day in 2002, now imagine being bullied the ENTIRE time, from that exact moment ten years ago to today. Don't limit it to just one place either. Imagine walking into more of it when you got home from being bullied all day from where ever you were. Imagine that it did not stop from the moment you woke up to the moment you went to sleep. Brings you to your knees, doesn't it? Personally, it brings tears to my eyes and makes me want to throw up. But you're just getting a taste of it. Imagine having to live it like I did, every single day, no protector, no guardian. It's you taking it full force, every single day, blow upon blow, hateful word upon hateful word. Try just for a moment to imagine standing up against that. You can't. I got hammered into the ground to the point where I would watch the kids down on the playground through the window of a third-floor secluded classroom, high and far away from everyone else just so I could eat my brown-bag lunch every day in a moment of fleeting peace. Going to the school cafeteria would be an exercise in futility, getting food and insults thrown my way. It felt like I couldn't even breathe without getting ridiculed in one form or another.
After about five years of it, my parents finally started seeing what was going on. They went to the school, they talked to the teachers, they went to the other parents and it only got worse. The more the kids got disciplined for bullying me, the worse it got.
In a situation like that, no one is to blame. Who are you going to crucify? Me for listening, learning and having, according to the bullies, the audacity to learn beyond my years? Was I so horrible for being that advanced? Did that make me a bad person, detestable to the human eye for just wanting one moment of acceptance? Was I so bad that no one wanted me around just because I was pretty and smart? Did I deserve all of the name-calling, the rumor mill that churned out endless lies and the persecution and hell that was walking down a school hallway just to get to class?
I do have to give a few kids a break here, I did have some friends, but they were in passing and only held up long enough until the peer pressure got too much for them.
But then that was just getting through to junior high and into high school.
I'll give you a break for a moment so you can go get sick or whatever you need to do. Enraged is how you should feel around now, if you were me. That I was trapped in a world where there wasn't much to hold onto, it's not surprising that I took solace in my room at home with my computer and my video games.
A few of the kids who bullied me will stand up right around now and try to excuse their actions by saying I brought what happened onto myself, because something inside of me snapped, I was ready to sell my soul for one moment of their acceptance. That would be true. No one bothered to tell me back then that I didn't need their acceptance, that the only thing I really needed to do was go to class, get good grades and just get through it so I can be where I am now. But, that would have been of absolutely no use when I was sitting in the middle of it with no end in sight.
There were other things outside of school that just added to the cycle. Being told you are worthless every day on the way to school doesn't help, that being pretty on the outside just meant that I was ugly on the inside... I was being programmed to fail, programmed to sit and take the endless waves of abuse piled upon me, so much so that my personal growth, coping mechanisms and human survival instincts would be worn down to non-existence. (And people wonder why I don't believe in myself. Put bluntly, no one else ever did during those long hard years, so why should I?)
High school was no better, it started off with some twit thinking that sexism was ok when he decided to put "Perky" on the band member recognition flier taped to my locker. All band members got one, but mine just had to have a sexist remark because he thought it was ok to further humiliate me. As you can guess, he was referring to my breasts. Why some teacher didn't beat the snot out of him for that, I'll never know, but as you can guess, my freshman-year breasts were a hot topic to all of the band section leaders and thereby the entire student body of over a thousand students, resulting in a nickname they called me openly without any adult intervention. To the guy who did that, you owe me a huge apology, you not only fueled the bullies and further the belief that made them think all the crap they did was acceptable, you made things a hundred times worse. This is where I grab you painfully by the ear and say, "That's not okay."
There are other stories about me getting bullied that I'm not ready to write about yet. Sorry Smith, I'm done for today. We'll have to cover the Anti-Christ himself another day, the one kid who did the most damage and his compliment of cohorts that made every day worse than the one before. I just don't have the heart to get to him yet because going through that humiliation once was enough, going through it again will take having someone hold my hand while we tackle it along with a mountain of Kleenex. I'm short of breath and reaching for my anxiety meds just thinking about it. Oh, and don't even get twisted, I'm pissed. He'll get his day, oh boy is he going to get it. But we'll tackle him in our own good time. He'll get his day because I want the whole world to look at him and for the rest of his life I want his name to be synonymous with the not-so-kind phrases he alone has helped me hear every day for the last 27 years. Oh, that SOB is going to get his pants jerked down around his ankles, then I'm going to let all of my good friends, supporters and my legions of Sophomores loose on him. Yep, I don't think he ever figured that eventually my friends and readers, who would do anything to protect me, would literally cover the entire planet. Hell, even my editor wants to take a baseball bat to him. To him we only have one thing to say: Sucker, you messed with the wrong girl.
I really have a lot of unexpressed anger about what happened to me. I would love to be able to let all of the bullies who made my life such hell for so long have a taste of what it is like to go through what they put me through. I would love nothing more for them to lose as many nights sleep as I did over it. I would love for them to experience someone hammering them into the ground over a nickname; I would love to see them even try to live with the anxiety I do and fully understanding that their ignorant and unforgivable actions damaged someone for the rest of their life. I sure as to hell hope they're proud of themselves. I only wish I could give them the gift of living with my PTSD for a single day so they understand how their actions will be with me for the rest of my life. See, that's the thing about arrested development, you can't let things go even if you try every day for the rest of your life...they stay with you FOREVER and as much as you'd like to put them behind you, you can't. On a typical day for me I can still physically hear the taunts and the insults.
At the end of the day, I can only look at the people that bullied me with disgust, disdain and pity and say, "Way to go dude. Grats for being such a f-up." Oh look at the big bad bully, oh they're so threatening with their ignorance...forgive me for being rude, but you'll have to forgive me for laughing at you and your pathetic excuse for claiming superiority. Geez, I just feel so bad that I actually care about someone else's feelings and that I'm not only in the top 10% of brilliant individuals but make sure I lift up everyone around me and think of myself last, always giving more than I take. I know, that just makes me worth calling me all of those names! It's so hard to look in the mirror and see all of your shortcomings, isn't it? Forgive my cynicism...I'm over the fact that I had a group of malicious a-holes make my life a living hell for so long.
Now we're at the point where I get to say it is time to dispense some poetic justice. They were right to fear and be jealous of me because now I'm pissed and I'm coming for them full force, blazing intellect and school of hard knocks education right alongside me. No no, I'm not that beat down kid anymore. I'm Phi Kappa Phi, I'm Dean's List Honors and I'm invited to Kappa Tau Alpha, the Journalism Honors society. And you know what that means? I'm a writer, but I'm not just that. I'm a bad-ass that is now in a position and has the weaponry to truly bring the pain. No no, they've not seen pain until I take my vengeance out on them on a global scale. I'm beautiful, I'm brilliant and I'm the hottest thing on two feet with a literary property just waiting to cut loose. They were right to be afraid because now I'm able, along with my legion of supporters, to beat the ever lovin' shit out of them for very justified reasons. There is something to be said for being smart. Had those bullies been smart enough to leave well enough alone, we wouldn't be having this conversation...but they weren't very smart, were they? The proof is in the pudding and the one thing I've learned is that every dog has its day... and this one, well she's got long, sharp teeth and a very voracious appetite just waiting to chow down. *giggle*
I've always been a nerd and I love being one. I love being able to handle lines of code on a computer screen and produce a technological miracle. I love being able to solve problems quickly and I most certainly love the fact that I'm smarter than the average bear. There's nothing wrong with being thrilled that I can solve problems quickly and efficiently for the people I love around me! That's sharing good, wholesome nutritional value and playing to my strengths, not fodder for some IQ-challenged moron who thinks that they have to put me down just because they decided to put themselves in a situation that made them regret not studying harder.
I may be a wise fool and I might be a lot of other things, but you know what, I have a voice. I have the gift of story telling. I am the voice of the bullied, and I will see justice done for every single one of us who have been put under a boot heel because some insignificant moron with a pitiful education and no common sense didn't make their words kind, gentle and tasteful... oh, to hell with kind, gentle and tasteful...the bullies had their day to have their say, now it's ours.
Put on your bibs bullies...it's time for you to step up to the table because the Sophomores of the world are about to make you eat every single last taunt, insult and injustice you ever visited on us. You should have thought twice before a single unkind, crass or bitter word escaped your lips, because now you're going to eat them. As I said, there is a special place in hell reserved just for you...
As Andy Garcia said in the film Ocean's Eleven, "Run and hide, asshole. Run and hide. [...] Because I want my people to find you, and when they do, rest assured we are not going to hand you over to the police. So my advice to you again is this: run and hide. That is all that I ask."
For all the bullies out there, this one goes to out to you...because we're coming. Pink Floyd's "Run."