Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On My Fences

Perhaps the biggest handicap in life is wanting everyone to like you. It fences you in and is a hard rail to climb over. It isn't logical and it borders on insanity.  It's a syndrome. It is self-suffocation.

And along the line The Kid caught this disease.

There was a period of forced isolation in his early childhood.  (See the posts in "Bends of the Brandywine" such as:  Swamp RatSnippet Scenes,   From the Snows of the Himalayas to the Rails of Glenloch and Real Nightmares or the short story Ground Dog Day in "Currents of the Whiskeyrye". [Click on the underlined titles if you care to read any.])

The Kid was born six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus like many of his generation separated from his dad in my infant years by war. He was isolated from fatherhood and his dad did not really impact The Kid’s life until age six, when dad returned from battle. Even then there remained separation for his dad became a long-distance trucker and was seldom home. In those first years of his return he moved the family to the solitude of a swamp.

Solitude, with its constant companion of loneliness, can be a bountiful garden for growing a child's imagination, even for fertilization of the developing intellect, but it is a desert of uncultivated social skills. The Kid’s social abilities were on the level of a cactus, too prickly and unlovely to encourage the embrace of others. When he finally moved back to the relative civilization of town life he may have been physically contemporary in age with other children, but they were hardly social peers. 

So after the isolation came the ostracization.

It began with verbal insults. He was constantly ridiculed about his clothes, his hair, his speech patterns and even his cap; that is if classmates or neighborhood kids even deigned to speak to him at all. The counterbalance to the mocking was ostracism. In other words, he was not allowed to join in the reindeer games, unless forced by authority; i.e., school teachers. When this was the circumstance and he could not be simply ignored, The Kid would be kept waiting until the end of choices before being picked.  He couldn't blame them; he had no experience with team sports.

It isn't that he didn't make friends, just that they came slowly with caution and most were also on the outside because they were also "different" somehow.  Many of his friends did not fit the mold of what was small town mainstream society. He was by definition a WASP, by heritage a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and a male, and although still too early for this to be recognized, a heterosexual. Many of his friends did not share in whole or part what he was born.

If The Kid was suffering the slings and arrows of unreasonable ridicule, his friends were on the receiving end of cultural prejudice. Whether any of them were ever further stigmatized by association with The Kid he did not know, but as he grew older he began to share the bigotry toward them. This was especially true as he crossed paths with more kids in junior high school.  Very nasty epithets were sometimes hurled his way. They usually came hyphenated, such as "friend-of-%$#&@" or "*%^$&#-lover".

Then came the bullying.

I suppose most people have been bullied sometime in their lives. If you never were or it happened very infrequently you need to understand how terrible it can become. There is an old cliché, "Bricks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you". Yeah, right, probably coined by someone who never suffered either.  The Kid reached a point where he feared to venture from his block and walk the streets of town alone. But sometimes he had to.

The Kid had a paper route. He avoided one street because when he rode his bike thought it objects, as well as words, were thrown at him. Twice older, bigger kids jumped him in the field next to his home. One time he managed to fight the kid off and escape; the other his dog broke free and chased the varmint away.

When ever he went into the next block up on his street it was carefully, with constant looking every which way and if necessary hiding behind trees, cars or shrubs, for on this block was a gang. Oh, they weren't gangs as we probably picture today. They were a half-dozen guys, all a year or two his senior in age, who lived on that block. For some reason only they know, it was their goal in life to torment The Kid, to threaten and to chase him. He lived in constant fear of meeting one or more of these guys anytime he was out and about.

The Kid also came to hate going to junior high school. It was often a game of dodging abuse and ridicule. One time a group of guys grabbed a friend and him, forcing them into the empty locker room behind the gym.

While a couple held his friend, the others took The Kid into a darkened changing room. One held his right arm and another held his left. He had no idea what they planned to do, but for some reason he began to joke about the situation. He was probably so scared he didn't know what he was doing, but he learned a lesson that day, which was humor could be a weapon or at least a defensive tool. After a while of not taking them seriously, they let him go. The Kid was pushed out of that space and his friend was brought in. The Kid didn't know exactly what they did, but whatever it left his friend trembling and crying.

There were times The Kid wished to die rather than face another day of such torments. Although I don't think he would have ever committed suicide, he certainly thought about it. More often he expressed to his mother or just to himself the wish of having never been born. Oddly, no guardian angel trying to win its wings ever showed up to show him how much he would have been missed.

You don't know the relief he felt when my parents moved out of that town.

Now there have been those who retreated into such self-pity they did end up killing themselves. There have been those who became embittered and so angry they inflicted pain and suffering on others as a form of revenge. The Kid never succumbed to deep self-pity or outrageous anger at the world. What saved him were those years of isolation. He had learned how to be by himself and survive in loneliness.

And yet beyond all of this and that, what The Kid really wanted was to be liked. He was catching that disease.

1 comment:

Ron Tipton said...

A very revealing portrait of your coming of age. As you pointed out, many of us have been bullied at one time or another in our lives. We have dealt with it differently. Like you, never at anytime did I feel like committing suicide to get away from the bullying. I think the suicide thoughts come from self loathing, something neither you nor I have ever felt. We both have felt loneliness though. I don't remember exactly when I met you (third grade I believe) but I do know we clicked immediately and you were my best friend from 3rd grade until 9th grade when your family moved out of the school district.
Your blog has inspired me to write a blog about loneliness.
By the way, I don't think anyone ever disliked you. There are those who will always bully those who they perceive to be weaker than themselves. Kind people usually are always bullied. You're a very kind person Lar. I think I am too but I do have my Moments.
Good posting.