As a kid, I couldn’t stand seeing other kids bullied. I was lucky (I see now) because I was an Alpha Boy. (Alpha Boy. How does that not scream Best Cartoon Ever?) I was athletic, handsomishy, and … generally functional. All my friends were Alpha Boys.
I loved Alpha Bits, too. But that’s a different story.
What I could never believe was how vulnerable were the kids who were most picked on. You give a kid thick glasses, and a dorky haircut, and make him small and skinny and shy, and you’ve got yourself one luring bully bait. Make him talk funny? He might as well be wearing a “kick me” sign. Give him something actually wrong with him—some variation of what we used to call retarded?
Then, for him, it’s on. Then he’s lucky if he doesn’t get killed. Except what fun would that be for the bullies? Better to keep him alive, like a cat does a mouse.
Right? So I always hated that. And it was very easy to make it stop. Bullies are the weakest humans on earth. You so much as suggest that bully might want to stop shaming himself as he does by picking on weaker people, and he fades away like a stain sprayed with that stuff you spray on stains.
I always became kind of intrigued with the boys I stopped other kids from bullying. I had no idea what it was like to exist so marginalized. I was popular; I had lots of friends; I was Joe Leader (because I was Joe Bored—but, again, another story). I didn’t know what it was to not even think that you might have someone to walk to or from school with. That anyone might ever actually want to hang around with you at recess. That after school you would ever have anyone to do anything fun with at all.
How does such a kid live? What does he do after school? What’s his home life like? What his whole life like?
How do the misfits live?
Inquiring minds needed to know. Besides, I already knew my friends. Nice guys! Funny. Smart. Exceptional athletes. All we did was play sports. That was our lives.
But I wanted more, man. I wanted me some geek life.
So I got some. I hung out with this misfit, this dork, this “loser.” I’m not proud to say it, but I kind of basically treated those kids like they were some kind of foreign life form I was studying. I’d just say, “Hey, can I come over to your house sometime?” And they’d be, like, “Um. Yes. But … why?”
I’d shrug. “I dunno. Just to get to know you a little.”
“Okay. I live this way.” And off we’d go.
The outcast boys always had (of course) much richer home lives than I had imagined. Especially the ones whose dorkiness was of the scientific bent. Those guys had stuff in their rooms. Models. Globes. Weird things under glass. Books. An actual desk where it looked like they must sometimes actually read.
We’re talking serious freakosity.
Sometimes I would say to such a kid, “You know, right now your life’s a little more difficult than some other kids’. That sucks. But it sure seems to me like we’re all going to grow up to become gas station attendants and used-furniture salesman. But guys like you are going to run the world.”
And sometimes they would answer, like, “Really? God, I hope so. That’s unimaginable. But thanks.” And other times they’d be, “Tell me something I don’t know. Isn’t there a rousing game of move that ball you’re supposed to be playing somewhere?”
I have no idea why I’m sharing any of this.
Well, I guess I do: because lately the word “bullying” keeps coming up, relative to this whole awful thing about gay kids committing suicide.
When I was in high school there was a boy whom I now understand was so flamingly gay I’m surprised he never just spontaneously combusted. He was a champion long distance runner. He did not register in my mind as a freak at all. I liked him. Being someone for whom being bored is like death means I tend to like flamboyant people. And this guy was definitely not boring. He made his own clothes, for goddsakes. I can’t sew on a button without being rushed to the hospital.
This guy giggled. When he laughed, he put his hand up to his mouth, and giggled. It always kind of made me want to giggle.
Not that I did, of course. I was, after all, in high school. My hormones were mainly telling me just to shut up and try not to get arrested for molesting a locker.
About four years after high school I learned that the giggling, clothes-designing, extremely disciplined long-distance runner—a kid that in high school I’d known a little, but not very much—had, maybe a year before, committed suicide.
The moment I was told he’d taken his own life, I had a memory of this boy.
When I was probably a junior in high school, I was in the kitchen of my house, washing dishes. I lived across the street from a public park. Along the edge of that park ran a packed dirt path leading away from the direction of my house. I saw the boy who later killed himself walking down that path, away from me. I was surprised to see him alone, because at school he was always surrounded by this very close-knit collection of girls, who clearly loved him dearly. And I thought how, duh, of course he spends a lot of time alone, because what else do long-distance runners do?
What struck me is how lonely he looked. And not just because he was alone. His whole body posture looked askew. I was used to seeing him confident, bold; he was good in his thin, muscular body; he very much used it as a means of animated expression. But here, I saw, he was walking with his head sort of down and to the side. He was clutching what I guessed were his school books tightly against his chest. His shoulders were hunched forward. And his usual loping, balanced gait was, now, a barely discernible, but nonetheless crooked, uneven movement.
Something was wrong. He was hurting. It wasn’t an emergency or anything, but his usual Happy Show was definitely on temporary hiatus.
And I stopped doing the dishes, and watched him make his way along the side of the park.
And I wondered what in the world could have made such a gregarious person so sad.
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