Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not Standing Alone Anymore

Bullies suck. 

Creative people often say things like, "I was picked on as a kid, but it made me who I am! I went more inside myself, but that turned out to be a blessing, because now I'm a writer." And there's a benefit to looking on the 'bright side,' I guess...but I don't think any bully makes us who we are. Being bullied is not a blessing in disguise. It pisses me off, actually, when people say stuff like that. I know it's an attempt to find meaning in the senseless way we were treated. But we have to talk about how it SUCKED, how bad it hurt- we have to admit that we watch movies where a kid is beaten down, wrung out, shunned and made to feel like a nobody and we CRY, we ache, we go right back to that mental space where we, too, felt like a nobody. We have to sit with it. We can't just stuff it under the couch cushion and sit on it and hit the fast forward button.

I love to think of the kids who bullied me as ugly, twisted, unhappy people. Their lives are a mess. They have no friends. They think about the way they treated weaker kids, and they weep in remorse- but it's too late for them. They will die alone.

Dramatic? Yes. It was also dramatic being shoved against lockers, having things thrown at me when the teacher wasn't looking, being threatened with physical harm, being told I was so ugly no one would ever want to date me. It was dramatic having my stuff snatched and passed around in a mean game of keep-away so the girls could laugh at my flailing limbs and pleas to stop. It was dramatic when one of the popular girls took a photo of small-breasted me in my bra in the locker room, and everyone laughed, and she said she couldn't wait to develop the film. It was dramatic being chosen last for teams, on purpose, while girls rolled their eyes and made disgusted noises and stepped pointedly away from me as I joined them. It was dramatic when one of the boys sat next to me behind the high-backed seat on the bus, put his arm around me and told me how beautiful I was, how he wanted to ask me out, while all his friends leaned over the seats and watched and laughed at me. It was dramatic how my face burned, how the tears streamed down no matter how hard I tried to keep them in. I was a crybaby, a loser, a nobody.

So I indulge in imagining them all as crybabies, losers, nobodies. Sometimes.

Sometimes I also imagine them reaching a state of enlightenment, feeling sorry for what they did, trying to make up for it in the way they treat others now. If only they had my contact information, they'd apologize and ask for forgiveness.

The truth of their lives is somewhere in the middle. Some of them are surely struggling- but some are great successes. Some are unhappy, some are very happy. Some of them may have moments of regret...maybe they have kids who are on the receiving end of serious unkindness. But...

Who they are is not defined by how they treated me.

Who I am is not defined by how they treated me.

What I hope for is moments in their lives and moments in mine where we come to an understanding. We all do things we're not proud of. We all look back and wish some things were different. We can't change the past- but we should not bury it, sugarcoat it, or try to make it inevitable. They did not need to bully to become powerful. We did not need to be bullied in order to become the creative people we are today.

Being bullied DID make me hyper-aware of any injustice in this world, no matter how small. Loving myself and having the support of my friends has empowered me to stand up and defend and protect those who need it. I became my powerful, creative self through the growth of my own soul, and I use my vivid memories of being bullied to fuel my compassion and action. Being bullied did make me acutely aware of what it feels like to be alone. I try to make sure that no one I know, and no one I encounter, feels alone. It's the worst feeling in the world.

In my creative writing, one of my goals- the biggest one- is to help kids feel less alone. To be a voice that joins theirs and admits the hurts, all the ugly stuff, and cries with them. And then takes them by the hand as they stand up and move forward. In truth and trust.

And never alone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Feeding and Dreaming, Dreaming and Feeding

At the nursing home dinner table sit three senior ladies. Two of them are Darla and Louise. The third is Mary Ann, and her son and daughter-in-law are helping her eat.

"I'm confused!" yells Darla, smiling. "Do they serve meals in here?"

"Yes," says the daughter-in-law, very patient. "Every night. Your dinner's coming soon."

Darla smiles and nods. The son gives his mother a sip of gingerale from the cup adapted so she won't choke.

"I like your braid," the daughter-in-law tells Louise. "I had a braid that long when I was a girl."

Louise smiles. "Thank you."

"Hey!" calls Darla. "I'm going to SNEEZE." She smiles, but doesn't sneeze.

The daughter-in-law arranges chicken nuggets on the mother's plate so she can grab them more easily. She wipes the crumbs from lips and chin. A Bobby Darin song plays on the radio. She moves from side to side a little.

Louise stares. "You got ants in your pants?"

"Yes, lots of them," the daughter-in-law says, exchanging an amused look with the son.

The mother says something. It's too soft-spoken. They can't understand her.

"What's that, Mom?" the son asks, bending as close as he can. She tries again. Her voice is too quiet these days; it's hard to make her needs known, when she can identify them. Sometimes she sees things others can't see. Sometimes she's half-asleep and dreaming. She sleeps a lot more. She's in her wheelchair all the time, a new one with even more support, because she's having great difficulty sitting up straight.

"Do they serve meals in here EVERY night?" asks Darla. The son nods. Darla smiles.

The daughter-in-law feeds the mother some corn. Four spoonfuls. Then some sherbet. She still loves any kind of ice cream or sherbet. The daughter-in-law rubs her back to awaken her more before each spoonful.

"I'm gonna SNEEZE!"announces Darla. She burps. Several times. She laughs and everyone joins in except the mother.

The nursing assistant feeds Louise and Darla. The mother says she's done, and her hand remains on the table, fingers grasping, grasping at nothing. Her arm muscles, and many other muscles, twitch often now and contract. Her limbs are stiff.

The son and daughter-in-law make eye contact many times, to say these things: I love you. I'm sorry. This is hard. I love you.

The mother is able to make eye contact when they are leaving. "We love you," they say. "We'll see you soon."

"Okay," she says. "Okay." 

She has always been a deep sleeper, and they know that soon she'll be in bed, hopefully dreaming of good times, good places, good people. Night is when they feel peaceful about her, because she's tucked in with her head on a soft pillow and her mind and body are at rest.

"Goodbye!" calls Darla. "Goodbye, goodbye!"

And Darla smiles another huge smile. That's what they miss most: the mother's smile. It's tucked somewhere deep inside.

Maybe she smiles in her dreams.

Don't we all?