Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sticks and Stones...

I've been overweight my entire life.  Ever since I can remember, I've been "husky" or "chunky", it was just something I always lived with.  I didn't even realize there was anything wrong with it until around 5th grade.  Up until then, I was either a "cute, chubby kid" or a "healthy, husky boy" to all my parent's friends and my family members.  I thought that it was a good thing to be heavy set, that it meant I was eating well and "healthy".  I used to rub my belly and try to push it out further to make it look even bigger and rounder.  When I was a little boy, I went to primary school in my hometown of Riverdale, a small rural town near Fresno with a population that hovers perpetually around 2,000-2,500 people.  In the 2nd grade, we moved to Coalinga, about 45 minutes away and I made new friends and all that good stuff.  Then, the summer after my 4th grade year, we moved back to Riverdale.

When I started 5th grade, something had changed.  The aspect of my physical appearance that I had always been comfortable - almost proud - of had become a liability.  Kids who never paid any attention to my appearance before began to tease me about my weight.  I wasn't a "cute, chubby kid" or a "healthy, husky boy" anymore, I was fat.  I got teased pretty much non-stop from 5th grade until... well, basically the rest of my life, because of my weight.  It wasn't just my weight, though.  My dad worked hard, he was a postman and he earned a decent living, but we weren't rich by any means.  In fact, we were on the lower end of middle-class.  This meant I couldn't get the cool shoes and the popular brands of clothes for school.  Instead, I was stuck with K-Mart specials.  So, I got teased for being fat and for dressing like a dork.

Pretty soon, every little thing about my appearance that could be made fun of was made fun of by someone I went to school with.  Whether it was my goofy haircuts, my crooked teeth, or just the way I happened to be walking on any particular day.  The teasing and insults weren't just confined to me, either.  My dad also struggled with being obese, it's where I inherited my weight issues.  Kids would tease me by making fun of my dad as well.  Many, many days I would endure basically being surrounded by bigger kids and subjected to a round robin of insults about any and every negative thing they could think of to tease me about.

At some point, the insults began to be accompanied by physical bullying.  I would get shoved into people, usually girls, who would react in horror to coming into physical contact with me while my assailants howled with laughter and I scurried away in shame and embarrassment.  I would get punched, slapped and kicked.  I would have my books knocked out of my hands, gum stuck in my hair, signs taped to my back that said things like "feed me" or "wide load".  By the time I was in 7th grade, the girls started really joining in on the insulting.  I had girls pretend to set me up with a "friend" of theirs so they could watch me get excited at the thought of meeting a girl who hadn't heard all the bad stuff the kids at school said about me, who didn't know that I was a victim of constant harassment and belittlement and who might actually like me for who I was rather than be disgusted by me right off the bat because I had been labeled a loser.  Of course, there was no "friend" and the minute I showed any indication that I believed their story, the girls would laugh mockingly and within the hour it would be all over school... fresh bait for more insults and bullying.

In the 8th grade, I went on a ski trip with the high school ski club.  This was a big deal because the offer was extended to 8th graders as long as they could afford the costs and it was an opportunity to hang out with high school kids and I was beyond excited to go.  Of course, I'm me and that means nothing ever went the way I imagined it would, usually in the worst possible way.  Halfway to the slopes, I started getting carsick.  When I realized I wasn't going to be able to talk myself out of being sick, I tried to get up and go to the bathroom, but a senior girl cut in front of me at the last minute, much to the amusement of the rest of the bus.  I walked slowly back to my seat, sat down and promptly vomited all over myself.  I spent the entire ski trip and ride home with dried vomit caked on my shirt and pants and my new nickname was "barf boy".  Before I was ever a freshman in high school, I had a new, fucked-up nickname for people to tease me with...

Of course, then came my freshman year.  I was awkward, in the midst of puberty and my hormones, my body and my emotions were in total chaos.  I wanted so badly to start fresh in high school, leave my old reputation behind and try to find acceptance with new people who had come from other elementary schools and hadn't heard about what a dork I was.  Unfortunately, along with all the new kids came all the old kids who had been teasing me like a habit for the last 4 years.  It didn't take long for me to get relegated back to my status as the big fat loser that everyone shit on for chuckles.  At this point, my frustration was turning to anger.  Not just normal anger, deep-seeded hate and resentment.  I constantly fantasized about coming to school with a shotgun and wasting the shit out of everyone who ever fucked with me.  I dreamed about shooting, stabbing, burning, beating and choking the life out of every single one of those assholes.  If I had a magic lamp back then, it would have been the worst unexplained mass death in Riverdale's history.  This was years before Columbine.  I remember when I first saw the live news reports about the Columbine shooting, thinking to myself "Hell, if I had access to that kind of firepower back in high school, that would have been me..."

Sophomore year was slightly better.  It marked a gradual upswing in my social status that wouldn't really peak, ironically, until a few years after I graduated.  However, some things happened during my sophomore year that helped boost my self-esteem tremendously.

For starters, I got a girlfriend.  A real girlfriend.  Not "real" as opposed to a blow-up doll, "real" as in she kissed me and held my hand and took my virginity.  I thought I was in love, mostly because this was the first girl who liked me as something more than a friend and who didn't express visible disdain at the sight of me naked.  Naturally, she turned out to be a total slut and ended up breaking up with me because I wouldn't get her pregnant so she could run away from home and live in a shelter for unwed mothers.  In hindsight, I am glad that I was wise enough to let my brain overrule my penis and reacted the way any halfway intelligent 16 year old should react to the idea of becoming a father, even if it did cost me my relationship.  Although, she was a liar and a tramp, so really it worked out all the way around.  Regardless, my self-esteem was boosted significantly by the knowledge that if there was one girl out there willing to be with me there had to be at least one more somewhere.

Another thing that happened during my second year of high school is that I started responding to my bullies.  When they would insult me for whatever reason, I already had a comeback waiting.  This was mainly due to the fact that I had heard different variations of the same insults for basically the last 5 years straight, so there was nothing anyone could say to me anymore that I hadn't already heard and thought long and hard about how I would respond the next time someone used that line on me.  On the one hand, this caused me to give a few of my would-be tormentors pause when I would flip their insults back on them and make them look even more stupid than they had tried to make me look, but it came with a price.  Giving shit back to bullies who are used to dishing it out without rebuttal earned me a lot of ass kickings.  It caused the physical bullying to ramp way up because I might have been able to out-shit talk them, but I couldn't out punch them.  At the end of the day, an upperclassmen bully could always pull out the "I'm just gonna whip your ass" card and that pretty much trumped any snappy comeback I had.

The other negative aspect of me getting some backbone against bullies was that it caused me to become a bully too.  Behind every bully is a bigger bully that they can't beat up and that's why they're picking on you.  I discovered that myself when I began to pick on the scrawny freshman.  I found myself doing the same messed-up shit to them that had been done to me, but I couldn't help myself.  I had so much pent up frustration and anger that I had to expend it somewhere and since I couldn't beat up the seniors who were fucking with me, I turned it on the freshmen instead.  By the time I realized what I was doing, I had already done some horrible things to other kids that I will never be able to apologize for enough.

Soon, I was entering my senior year.  By this time, things had changed dramatically for me from where they were just 3 years earlier.  I had a lot of good, close friends.  I was playing in a band, which did wonders not just for my self-esteem, but it kind of made me popular and liked by people I didn't even know that well, which was a completely new and awesome feeling.  I also had a lot of girl-friends.  Didn't have a girlfriend, but I got to hang out with all the cute girls and it wasn't bad at all.  I know people bag on being in the "friend zone", but if you know how to play your cards, the friend zone can be kind of kick ass.  For example, when you're in the friend zone, girls start to treat you like a "gay friend", because it's not like you're ever going to get a chance to hook up with them, so what's the big deal about changing their clothes in front of you?  Hey, I'll take it!  That shit went right into the spank bank.  Of course, it was frustrating being able to hang out and flirt with and see all these cute girls in various stages of undress and not be able to actually do anything with them, but considering where my social standing was at the start of high school, I really couldn't complain that much.

Then came graduation and a bunch of post-graduation decisions that ranged from bad to absolutely terrible to pretty good.  The more time I spent out of high school, the less things like "rep" and popularity mattered.  Girls who wouldn't even look at me in school would see me out and about and be downright friendly to me.  It was about a year or so after I graduated that I met Shannon and fell in love with her and we spent almost 17 years of unwedded bliss together before finally getting married last March. 

Looking back, my life today seems like a complete 180 from my life up to graduation day.  As you know, I've recently made a huge life change to finally correct 35 years of bad habits, which has resulted in me losing 60 lbs in just under 10 weeks.  I'm feeling better, both physically and mentally, than I have literally in decades.  I feel like my life is on a major upswing and I have a sense of positivity and optimism that I don't think I've ever felt this strongly before.  To have ever imagined, when I was a sad, broken, miserable 13 year old, that I would have lived the life that I've lived, experienced the things I've seen and done and accomplished even the modest things I've achieved at this point would have been like a dream.  I never thought I would have a beautiful girl in my life who loved me as much as I loved her.  I could only have dreamed that I would get to play on a real stage in front of a crowd of people, let alone 30,000 people opening for Smashmouth.  I've seen and done so many amazing things that I can't help but actually feel grateful for the assholes who made my life a living hell for so many years.

I mean, think about it.  If those guys wouldn't have constantly fucked with me, if they wouldn't have constantly attacked me physically and mentally, would I have as thick of a skin as I do today?  Would I be as quick with the comebacks?  Would I be as funny and self-deprecating?  Would I appreciate true friends as much as I do if I didn't know what fake friendship felt like?  Would I value those who treat me with respect as much if I hadn't felt so much disrespect in my life?  Would I treasure the love of a good woman if I hadn't felt the stinging pain of being mocked by total cunts?

I don't know.  Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn't.  I still wish I could lock all those shit heads up in a windowless van and push them into a lake.  I wish I could torture them in one of those Saw mazes.  I wish I could take from them everything that they took from me and make them dread getting out of bed in the morning, wondering what new embarrassment was going to befall them this time.

Bullies are the worst scumbags on the planet.  I hate them.  I hate the mindset that takes pleasure in causing misery, humiliation and pain to innocent people.  When I hear about kids getting bullied, it reminds me of the constant torment that I endured for so many years of my childhood.  I have all the sympathy in the world for kids who are bullied and I wish that I could do anything to let those kids know that it won't always be like this.  One day soon you'll be done with school, you'll be out in the real world and it won't matter if you dressed like a dork, if you were awkward with girls, if you threw up on yourself in front of a whole bus full of upperclassmen.  It won't matter what you did in school because school won't even matter anymore.  You'll meet people who never even heard of the town you grew up in, who could give a shit less about who the most popular kids there were and who only know the you that you are when you meet them.  One day you'll meet someone who loves you for exactly who you are and loves you so much that it lifts you up from the inside and carries you around on your own personal cloud.  One day you will feel all the warmth and beauty that you have kept locked inside your heart, coming from someone else who's unlocking their heart for the first time too.

One day you'll have a job, maybe you'll be lucky enough to have a job doing what you always wanted to do.  Maybe you will go to college, get a degree and pursue a lifelong goal.  Maybe you will run into the kid who used to call you fat ass all the time and laugh to yourself at how they really ballooned up after graduation.  Maybe you'll run into that cute, popular girl who treated you like shit, down at the Wal-Mart, with her 3 kids, looking like a reheated plate of dog barf poured into stained sweats.  Maybe you'll hear someone calling your name somewhere and turn around to see that dude who used to give you shit all the time and you'll really try to remember his name but you won't be able to and as he's coming up to shake your hand and be like "Hey man, good to see you!  How have you been!?"  You'll just have to reply "Hey... you!  Long time no see!"  And walk away just amazed at how little these assholes really mean to you anymore.

Nobody deserves to be bullied... well, besides bullies I suppose... but if life has taught me anything, it's that Karma has a soft spot for kids who get picked on.  I may not be rich.  I may not be particularly good-looking.  I might still be about 80 lbs away from not being a "husky, healthy boy" anymore, but I'm happy.  I'm really and truly happy.  I have an amazing wife, incredible friends and every day is a new adventure.  I'm living life and loving it and maybe I wouldn't appreciate all the good things in my life right now if I hadn't had it so bad as a kid, which if that's the case then awesome and in a weird sort of way maybe I owe a debt of gratitude to all the kids who picked on me and put me down when I was growing up, but I still hope they get asshole cancer.  Yeah, I know, but still, fuck em.

1 comment:

  1. I am reading this and I can't help but cry. If I knew that the innocents of what your father and I did to you would lead to the hell you went through in school, I really don't know how I would have saved you from it. I really cannot say I understand either, but I have never treated you like a Bad person. I love you and know you are a worthy person, worthy of the love Shannon gives You. You are such a warm and caring guy. I wish I could Punch out all the jerks who hurt you, including myself. I am grateful you are healing, that I do understand. I went through my own hell, but that is not what this is about. Take care of you, I love you So much......Mom