Bullying. I hate this word. And being a writer, there aren’t a lot of words that I hate in the English language, but this one…this one makes my blood kind of boil. Almost boil…rapidly simmering(?), I don’t know…Sadly, we’re all perpetrators to it in one form or another, be it good natured ribbing with friends, or on the receiving end of the shit-pile of whatever-at-the-time-seemed-funny-whimsical-fuckery that some grade school playground bully is throwing your way. And even more sadly, bullying goes into our adult lives; the douchebag with the overinflated sense of entitlement that sees you with two slices of pizza instead of one while he’s putting down six himself; you can imagine him smiling back, chomping at his food like a cow, saying, “Because I can and you can’t…” or, the hauty-tauty woman that would only give you the time of day because you paid her to tell you, and yes, even the gamer geeks that ridicule a “normie” because he/she doesn’t know who shot first, Han or Greedo, or asks, mistakenly, “Didn’t Gandalf die?” whilst watching Harry Potter and whatever it was that Harry Potter was looking for in that movie. The point is, bullying happens every day, and, it sucks. Even the most secure people are susceptible to bullying, and even these secure and overly confident people have cracks in their foundations that a passerby might not even notice, but, they are there. And when someone DOES see those cracks and begins to dig into them or point them out to others, that’s when things change and the “it’s all fun and games” turns sour.
“It’s not how others perceive you, but rather, how you perceive yourself, that matters” – this was something that I would talk about in my Weight Watchers meetings, and no one really seemed to get it, which, I honestly didn’t understand. If you see yourself as confident and a fun person to be around, if you project this, then, people will see it. It’s something that I had almost completely forgotten about until my friend, Juniper, made me remember one night while having a drink with her. I had fallen off my own mantra and quite by accident, I began bullying myself about it; which sucks because I was bullied as a kid growing up because I was overweight. Not because I looked funny or because I smelled funny (no, I wasn’t THAT kid; every class had one), or because I didn’t have new clothes at the onset of each school year…I was bullied for being “the fat kid”. Thankfully, I didn’t let it get to me in a deep psychological manner. I didn’t end up psychologically scarred in the sense that I would end up atop a church tower with a box of shells and a rifle checking names off a list as Steve Buscemi would have in “Billy Madison”. I sat in a corner and played chess against myself and delved into nearly any book I could read, and I wrote stories; I delved into my imagination, deeply, and stayed there. How I didn’t become an axe wielding maniacal fuck-head, ala Patrick Bateman is beyond me.
I abhor bullying and I can’t believe that some people go thru it and continue to go thru it in their adult life. Not just with being overweight, but, with anything considered “outside the norm”. It disgusts me.
I sometimes look for the “big meaning” behind some of my memories or thoughts, and to be honest, sometimes there’s nothing there. I think this might be why I don’t write on this subject as regularly as I should. God knows I have more than enough material to write about, filling pages of me rambling – going on and on and on, ad nauseum…I think anyone who is coming to terms with some aspect of their life, or something that they are trying to change CAN go on about relentlessly. Nietchize said, “Be careful when you stare into the abyss, for the abyss might stare back,” and I think this is very true. Not having the want or desire to sit down and talk with a therapist, or at least, establish a new relationship with a new therapist means that I get to write out my thoughts when the mood strikes. And you get the fortunate (or unfortunate) grace of being handed an electronic trashcan filled with words. It’s like being sick; the feeling comes on a few days prior, you try to brush it aside, there’s a mental build up and then, you find yourself trying to steel against admitting that you’re “sick”, in this case wanting to whine about growing up overweight; the big build up, and then, SPLAT! word vomit, right there in front of you. Only, thankfully, it’s not the green and yellow color of mucus or whatever you ate the night prior.
And believe me I was “sick” a lot growing up. And how I managed to get away with it most of the time, is beyond me. I guess I was overly good at giving the perception that I was sick; nevermind the fact that the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” seemed to take a page out of my own playbook of “How To Fake Being Sick, Convince Your Parents and Still Have an Awesome Day Without Even Trying”…trust me, I think I wrote the book on how to do this successfully.
Growing up, I didn’t really take well to the other kids around me. Sure, I painted a smile on my face and went out to play football in the street in the evening, or even “ditch’em” (if you don’t know what “ditch’em” is, it’s a team based game of hide and seek within a neighborhood at night. You find a place to hide and wait for the other team to find you….I was typically forgotten) but, I never felt like I fit in with any of them. I met the neighborhood kids every morning where my house made a “T” with the street directly in front. We would walk around the block and meet with a few others, and then walk the half mile (or however long of a walk it was) and meet another schoolmate, then walk up the canal to the bridge, and then the long walk into the backside of the schoolyard. The walk to the school was typically fun; we would laugh and joke – it was normally about a half dozen of us and the perception was that we were all best friends. And I wish I could say that we were, but, we weren’t. Even though I thought we were, most of the time, it was just a matter of me being in a form of denial.
Admittedly, two of those kids and I did become friends.
There was a bridge that spanned the width of the canal, and beyond that, a chain-link fence with a swinging gate that was locked at night that lead into the schoolyard. By kids’ standards, this playground was huge…going back as an adult, not so much; Funny how perceptions change over the years. Anyways, all of us, including every other kid from the neighborhood would congregate at the bridge and wait. For some then unknown (even now I don’t know) reason, the school wouldn’t allow the kids on the playground until 7:00 AM. There were two gnarly old men that stood guard over the chain link gate; mean old bastards like goblins guarding an old and forgotten keep, they stood there with skin like leather, stubble on their faces that looked as though it hadn’t been shaved in weeks; broken and yellowed teeth on display whenever one of them would cackle at an inside joke that none of us kids would understand, but would laugh reluctantly just because; and tattoos on their forearms -tattoos that had dulled in color over time so that now there was no trace of art but rather, a blue green sea of crisscrossing lines that made no sense at all, seemingly forgotten even to the wearer. They wore the bright orange construction worker vests and yelled at all of us; the now funny “Get off my lawn” kind of yelling that would hush the lot of us without so much of a whimper. And they would smoke. They smoked cigarettes like their last breaths on this planet depended on it. I would stand there, seemingly alone, staring at them and everyone else. I say “alone” because I noticed as a kid, or at least it was my thought as a kid, that my friends had suddenly deserted me. This desertion wasn’t brought about by the shouting or incoherent mutterings of the old men that stood guard on the bridge, but rather because we were now around other kids, more “normal” kids, more “average” kids. The hierarchy that dominates you from grade school, junior high and high-school (and that seems to be a necessity in growing up) had kicked in. Although we were friends every morning while walking to school and even after on the walk home, once we hit that gate, all bets were off. It was a silent form of bullying and one of the most intrusive. And I was “the fat kid”; Not Dusty or Dustin, but “Chunk”, “Heavy”, “Fatty”, and every other derogatory fat name a kid could think of. Believe me, kids can think of some doosies and can be more hurtful than adults.
“Dusty’s got a…a big butt, a big butt…Dusty’s got a…big butt, big, big butt…” Ryan Winklepeck would sing over and over again, while slapping my ass, “Hey, it wiggles like Jell-O!” he’d finish saying.
“Hey, Dusty, you got dunlaps disease…you’re so fat, it DUNLAPS over your belt!” Tommy Williamson would shout, followed by a chorus of laughter by everyone, including the girls in the class. Shockey, Martin, Hodgeson, Cooper, Gentry, Ricca…every one of them had their taunts directed towards me because I was “the fat kid”.
“Be careful, you might make him mad and he’ll sit on you, wait, that would mean he’s have to catch us first…like that’s going to happen,” another would say, which was followed up by, “If he ran, that would be a massive earthquake!” Incidentally, the huge earthquake in the late eighties in Southern California…it was whispered in class that I was the cause of it because someone watched me fall down on the playground.
How do you reply to verbal assaults like this? How does one reply when they come from your “friends”?
Anyways, at the end of the day, once we passed the other side of the bridge, we were all friends again. When the sidewalk took me to the front of my door, I would typically hear, “You know we were just playing around today, right?”
“Oh, I know…see you guys later!” I would shout back, as I unlocked the door, and threw my bag down onto the floor while Sasha, our dog looked up at me with seemingly eyes of understanding, and then proceeded to follow me to the kitchen where I would gorge myself on whatever was available from the fridge.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
And because of these moments in time, you grow up with the perception that you really ARE what these kids, your supposed peers and friends, say you are. This is the worst kind of bullying, in my opinion: allowing the projected insecurities of another person, albeit a kid, weigh you down like a loadstone. You want to lash out at some of these people, but, you were told to never throw the first punch; I don’t advocate playground fighting and I don’t advocate bullying in any way, but, what no one knew, then, was that it was a near every day fist fight with some of the kids that taunted me, just for being overweight – for being different than everyone else; In the bathroom, behind the bus, in gym class – usually in places where the eyes of a teacher were blind to.
Perceptions change and the open taunting can become much more subtle. Back then, it was simple notes and whispers; folded pieces of paper left in lockers or dropped in a backpack, “You’re fat – no one likes you” were the simplest of messages. The “You’re so fat…” lines were personal favorites, albeit not original, and the ever favorite group taunting during gym class when you’re required to strip down and clean up after running your ass off in the hot Arizona sun, was by far the most favorite of the time…Yet, in this world of instant messaging and technology driven media sites, it’s easy for a child to be bullied, at least, it’s faster for a child to be bullied by not one or two other kids and their handful of cronies, but an entire chorus of kids chiming in nano-second after nano-second throughout the entire day; A relentless never-ending cacophony of messages coming in on your phone or laptop, iPad or tablet hammering your head and heart, droning it into you until you believe it. Not unlike “Ender’s Game” when Ender was being taunted, the words marched around the screen like parading circus animals. Thanks to technology, the kid sitting next to you, who doesn’t like you for whatever reason, only has to find your Facebook page and message you – even while in class. And, as a kid, you fight back not knowing that fighting back only fuels that wretched beast of a bully. It’s only later in your adult life that you learn to just let things slide off of you, or even to say “Stop”
The opinion is that when we become adults the bullying or the weird comments will cease to exist, but, this doesn’t necessarily happen. You tend to wrap yourself in a “normal” cocoon, at least as much as you can. Normal and quiet, unassuming, almost forgettable, a simple face in the crowd – these are the things you seemingly strive for so that the spotlight of being taunted is taken off of you, for whatever reason. “My god, make them stop – maybe if I disappear…somehow…” In my case, going through school taunted and bullied the way I was for being overweight, I excelled at being normal and unassuming. And even today, some of those cocoons still wrap around me, even though I try to come out of them whenever I notice those warm folds engulfing me. And I did disappear; for three months in junior high and most of my freshman year, I was home. I did a home study program due to massive migraines. And I wasn’t even missed, seemingly. When I went back to finish my freshman year, I was placed into a completely different class structure, which meant new kids and not the kids I came up thru the grade school system with.
But, you grow up, you find your own path, seemingly, and you find those that are like you; the same interests, likes, dislikes…like finds like, geek finds geek, nerd finds nerd, and I’m thankful for this. I have a lot of great friends that I surround myself with that have varying levels of, well, everything, and I’m thankful each and every time that I hang out with them. Thankfully, as I became older I realized that most people, when they sling insults and become a bully, are just verbally manifesting their own trite insecurities, hoping that someone doesn’t notice that they are balding, or are short, or walk like a duck or a pigeon. It’s that psychological need to denigrate another person in order to be accepted by a group of peers that you want to be a part of, or, to simply be a douche.
“You don’t wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see, Gutter…” –Jeremy Piven, “PCU”
Basically, don’t be a douche. And don’t be a bully.
Perceptions can be a bitch.
I was recently reminded about perceptions and how others see you as a person; what it is you put before you and how those people react – good or bad, people see what they want to see, rather than what, and who you are at first. Like anything else, these moments of fluidity can spark old memories; some good, some bad, and some…somewhere in the middle. I began looking into what it was outwardly that people saw that would give them the impression of someone not wanting to change their ways; the impression of someone not trying to be healthy. What perception did I, as someone who was struggling with being overweight, give off to everyone I considered “normal” (see: thin).
My father is a mouth breather (I know that’s a hell of a segue, but, bear with me). He tells me that he’s been a mouth breather since he was a kid. School teachers even tried to get him to learn HOW to breathe through his nose autonomously, but, it just wouldn’t happen. If he thought about it long enough and hard enough, he could do it, but, eventually, he’d go back to being a mouth breather. Listening to him on the phone from time to time is like listening to…well, you get the idea. And he’s a big guy, so there’s a lot of heavy breathing to move that body and do everything he does, every day. I’m a nose breather; I’m insanely quiet when I breathe to the point of having past girlfriends wake me up in the middle of the night wondering if I had stopped breathing. When I sit and I’m at rest, so I’m told, it’s difficult to see my body move from breathing, let alone HEAR me breathe. When on the phone, and there’s a long pause, people ask, “Are you there?” because they don’t hear me breathing. The only time I AM a mouth breather is when A) I’m out of breath (obviously) and B) when I have a cold and CAN’T breathe through my nose (again, obviously).
About a month ago, I’m sitting at my bi-weekly “Geek Trivia” and I’m asked if I wanted to join a board game that was about to be played, mainly to pass the time before the event started. This group of people had asked me before, and I had waved them off because I had to check work issues, or even study, but, this time I had no excuse so I said “Sure,” and joined. As the game progressed, one of the guys sitting across from me, looked at me and asked, “How come I don’t hear you breathing?”
“I’m sorry?” I replied after a few moments of surprise at the question. Typically, this way of replying, for me, is my filtering point for not letting the douche-baggery asshole answer from coming out…I definitely heard the question, but, my knee-jerk answer isn’t something that the guy wanted to hear.
“Well, I noticed I didn’t hear you breathing,” he said, shuffling his cards for the next move.
“Um, ok? I don’t think I understand the question,” I replied.
“Well, you’re fat, like me, and being fat, I know I have problems breathing; I breathe loudly, everyone can hear it. How come I don’t hear you breathing?”
“I guess I’m just a quiet breather?” I said to him, brushing aside the assumption that because I’m, you know, fat, that I need to breathe through my mouth….and loudly at that.
Oh, hang on…it gets better…
“Do you find you sweat a lot?” he asked after the next round of game play. The woman that was there seemed to look at him in that, “Dude…what are you doing?” kind of way, but, he stared at me, expecting an answer.
“I don’t really know what you mean,” I say as I roll the dice on the board and move my pieces, followed by “What’s the next step?” as though I’m trying to change topics.
“Well, again, you and I are both overweight, so, you sweat a lot, right?”
This is where I understood the direction of where he was going – the perception that, being overweight equates to not being healthy, by any margin, which is a falsity. I explained that I work out regularly and MOST of the time, I shy away from fast food in most forms, that I limit my sugar intake and generally try to eat as healthy as I can. He gave me a look of surprise, mumbled something that most people that he knows are overweight are very out of shape and could care less about health matters. I explained to him that just because a person is overweight, this doesn’t mean that they are unhealthy…at the very least, there’s the thought that, even if you are overweight and wanting to change something about your eating habits, you will. It’s like anyone going through any form of addiction or any BIG CHANGE – When you want to make the change, you will. Short of that moment in time, you’re destined to sit there and just, well, wonder. The round of gameplay continued and the topic was refreshed by one of the players. A topic I don’t really remember now. Yet, the perception still lingered, heavy and palpable almost; looming over the horizon and there was a part of me that wanted to ask him about it more, to get into the ‘why’ of the matter behind his thinking more than what he had already said to me. In the long run, I realized that this would be a conversation that would have very differing points of view and my argument to his falsity would go unwanted and unheard.
“Never use a cannon to kill a fly.” – Confucius
So, I let him continue with his perception. This perception I also had to explain to the checkout girl at the store a few days later.
When I do my shopping, I typically buy in bulk; bulk rice, pasta, etc. My cart is typically filled with boneless / skinless chicken, white and brown rice, sometimes whole wheat pastas, low fat foods, lots of fruit, vegetables, potatoes, cans of tuna, and sometimes (not often) red meat. I’ll make my own bread when I have the time and desire, with my awesome bread maker. Don’t get it twisted though: there was a time when the cart was filled with boxed Mac & Cheese, mounds of processed foods, packaged foods, candy, and fatty, oh-so-glorious fatty foods. I find it interesting when I begin unloading my items onto the conveyor belt and I get that unexpected look from the cashier, because someone like me throwing healthy food on the belt is just pure nonsense, but this day was different.
“Going on a diet?” she brazenly asked as if we had known each other for years and we were meeting for drinks…as if, THIS is the first thing you would ask of a person that you’re meeting for drinks anyways. I meet with my friends a lot for drinks and I never begin the pleasantries with, “Say, uh, Rich…you’re pretty fat…but I see you’re drinking Diet Coke…are you going on a diet?”
Honestly, I was a little taken aback; “Excuse me?” my voice nearing that incredulous level of tone.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to embarrass you, I was just curious – “
I interrupted her, “Actually, I eat like this all the time, now.”
I left it at that as I could see that she was visibly apologetic and a little embarrassed as she looked down and then to the cash register while swiping items across that little red light while I grabbed my debit card. I looked at the woman behind me and she gave me an apologetic look, and then I noticed she looked at her food items and then at me; she LOOKED healthy; slender and fit with good muscle tone, and, by all rights, she probably was fit. Yet there the complete opposite kind of food in her cart…to which, I really didn’t care about.
“You have to understand,” the checkout girl began again, swiping my attention back to the here and now, “That most people like you that I see have their carts filled with microwaveable foods, candy, ramen and a bunch of other…stuff. You’re about the healthiest buyer I’ve seen all day, so, I just assumed, being…well, you were going on a diet.”
Her stammering was so much like that high school girl telling the jock that she liked him, and, I almost envisioned her kicking at the linoleum flooring hoping to kick a rock, that I pretty much forgot that the whole banter was mostly insulting. It simply came down to perceptions. She perceived, like the gamer guy, that because I am overweight, that I’m not healthy. Her perception is that all overweight people are not healthy, and this is not true. I’m healthier now than I have ever been in my entire life. My doctor says I have a healthier heart than most 20-25 year olds, and, I look younger than I really am. In the long run, I knew she wasn’t being malicious, so, I let the whole thing go. I half expected her to ask the woman behind me if she were looking to gain weight, what with the contents of her cart!
It’s the perception that if a person is overweight then they must be lazy sloths that just chomp at the bit until the next trough feeding, and, this isn’t true. I spent about 9 months in Phoenix (where I was raised) and dropped 60 lbs. When I came back to Portland, I put 20lbs back on because I went back to a desk job; I spent the better part of 8 months getting those 20 pounds off, in addition to losing about 4% body fat and building more lean muscle. Currently, I’m hovering around 298 lbs, and most people tell me that I look more like 230-240. I’m overweight, yes, and might even be considered obese by the numbers, but, I’m actually far from it, health wise. I work out nearly every day, sometimes even twice a day, and I maintain a calorie intake of 1900 calories / day – to place that number into a tangible image for you, a footlong “Spicy Italian” from SUBWAY is about 1200 calories, not including the chips and not including the sweet sweet sugary soda you might throw into it. There’s also the perception that being overweight means you, as a person, don’t have any social skills, that you are a forced introvert, and that you’d rather be left alone, plotting the demise of the thin world while living in a dank, moldy basement that smells like unwashed feet, or droppings from some fantastic creature. And this is also not true. Which, the reasoning behind this is interesting because, scientifically, Endomorphic (me, filled with the center-y goodness of a Mesomorph) people are seen as the lovers of relaxation, comfort and being around people, whereas Mesomorphs, typically center around assertiveness and love of action, while the remaining Ectomorph is truly the introvert steadfastly delving into his/her own privacy, restraint, and a highly developed sense of self-awareness.
While I wouldn’t mind plotting the demise of all the high metabolism fuckers out there that have never had to deal with being overweight, I’m not going to lump someone into a specific judgment based solely on their body type. Or, in what they eat.
Even with constant working out, I know that my metabolism isn’t going to rise much higher than that of a Polar Bear during the middle of winter. And I’m ok with this.
- Don’t be a douche.
- Mind what you say; not everyone is going to let things slide off their backs…you never know who might ACTUALLY be atop a church tower with a rifle because of the things you said or did way back in the days of yore.
- Don’t let your perceptions allow you to judge.
- Like Bill and Ted said, “Be excellent, to each other…”