Gads

Ninth grade. I was not popular. In fact, I was the opposite of popular. I was the butt of many school jokes. Popular kids plugged their noses when I walked by. They “sprayed” themselves with their finger if I accidentally touched them. I know I didn’t stink, but that didn’t matter. Mostly I walked through the halls of junior high invisibly, and I cultivated this. I went out of my way to avoid detection. I had enough of a temper that if pushed I would strike back, quick and mean, then retreat and hide. Mostly though, I just tried to avoid being noticed. I read books constantly, pretended I was riding my horse through the halls, and tried to operate under their radar. Sometimes though, I failed utterly and completely, in spite of my best efforts.

We all had to take Sex Ed in ninth grade. Good god, what the fuck were the administrators thinking? They so underestimate teenagers. I had a crush on Mike Darby. Mike was lanky and horse-faced, with tousley brown hair, but I thought he was adorable. Mike was popular. He was on the football team. Everyone knew who he was. He did not know who I was. I would fantasize that he would say hello to me. That was how silly and naive I was. I did not even consider hand-holding or kissing. At age thirteen, such conjectures were well without my realm of possibility. No. Saying hello was about as brave as I could get.

Because of my crush, I wrote “I like MD” on my palm. Why did I do that? Did some little part of me hope he would notice and fall instantly in love with me at the sight of his initials inscribed on my hand? Was I a fool? Come to think of it, I doubt I thought much of anything. I probably sat there in my teenage, hormone-addled state, reading something from the library. I read a lot in the library. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I had read every book in the junior high library by the end of eighth grade. I also won the library’s “Ghastly Riddle Contest” at Halloween. It was a sort of treasure hunt through haunted books whereby clues were given in the form of quotes. You went to the quote and it would lead you to another clue. It required some knowledge of the books involved to locate the original quotes. A weekly clue would be handed out to help you when you were stumped. I won a nice set of horse books, which I still have, actually. I think they knew that I would win since I spent every free moment in the library.

Anyway, I digress. Back to my lusting after Mike Darby by hoping he would say hello. I had taken the liberty of professing my love via ball point pen. I sat hiding in the far row of Sex Ed class. I do not recall the name of the teacher, but I remember what he looked like. He was one of the coaches. He was tall and stocky, with blonde hair shorn closely like in the military. Unlike some teachers, he was actually pretty kind to me. The head cheerleading coach acted like I was a virus she might catch if I asked her something about the pre-algebra that she taught. But Mr. Sex Ed was pleasant enough.

There I sat in Mr. Sex Ed’s class. It was a sunny afternoon and I remember sitting and staring lazily into the sunbeams. I had done the reading. Mr. Sex Ed was dozing up front. Most of the class was chatting and passing notes back and forth. Suddenly Kelly Dee, who sat behind me, leaned forward in her chair and peered over at me.

An aside about Kelly Dee. When my parents chose to move our family to “the country” because that is where I thought I wanted to live in order to have a horse, I was in the sixth grade. The little school in our town had one grade per class and each class had about twelve students. Kelly Dee was in my class. She immediately befriended me and nearly as immediately dumped me when she discovered that I did not smoke, drink, or swear, and that I rode horses and read books. She had perfectly feathered blonde hair. I did not have perfectly feathered blonde hair. Mine curled in all the wrong places and my mom cut it for me. How humiliating.

Kelly Dee wore San Franciscos and Sticky Fingers and had several colors of Nike swish shoes. I had one pair of Sticky Fingers, no San Franciscos, and no Nike swish shoes. I wore Keds and Keds were not popular. Kelly Dee knew that one was supposed to carry a large comb in one’s back pocket. Until meeting her, I was not privy to such inside information. Essentially, Kelly Dee had all the makings of a cool person while I had zero. By the end of ninth grade when this incident took place, we were in junior high and I did not exist. Kelly Dee was a cheerleader. She still had perfectly feathered hair. Mine still curled in the wrong places. I think I may have finally acquired a pair of Nike swish shoes and a comb, but they were clearly not noticed in the library where I spent all of my time.

I was not happy to have Kelly Dee peering over my shoulder. Kelly Dee did not involve herself with me except to make my life miserable. She had completely mastered the pretend to be friendly and suck me in while simultaneously concocting some nasty evil plot approach. She would say something that seemed kind. Weaving back and forth, back and forth, hypnotizing me, I would respond to the false kindness, believing for a moment that she might actually be friendly, whereupon she would suddenly expose her true nature, losing the lovely exterior, spitting in my eyes and becoming the cobra she truly was. Once she put gum in my hair without my notice. Usually she would say something really ugly and make her friends laugh. “Do you use butter grease to style your hair?” she would sneer. Her friends would erupt in laughter. Ha ha. Real funny. You’re so clever, why don’t you hit the comedy circuit?

Back in Sex Ed, she wanted to know, “Who is MD?” Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh. Fuck.

“Nobody you know.” My heart was pounding. Why couldn’t she just go away? Why did she have to torture me? Was I really such an obvious target? Apparently so because she did not go away. “So who is it?”

“No one you know. Someone from another school.” God, please don’t let her know. Mike Darby was in that class. If he found out. Oh crap.

“What’s his name? MD. MD. Is it Mike Darby?” What the….? How in the hell had she nailed that on the first try? Maybe she saw my hand and worked it out before saying anything.

“No. No, it’s not Mike Darby. It is not. No.” I stammered, obviously flustered. I must have seemed like a giant bullseye for her pointy cobra fangs.

“It’s Mike Darby isn’t it.” It wasn’t even a question. “You like Mike Darby. Wow.” She turned and told her friend, another Kelly who must not have been so evil because I do not remember her last name. “She likes Mike Darby. Can you believe it?” Kelly could not believe it. In fact, she was so shocked that she had to share it with the girl next to her.

Then Kelly Dee did the unthinkable. She called out to Mike Darby, “Hey Mike. Lara likes you.” Oh my dear God, please kill me now. I should be punished for having written those damn initials on my hand. Actually, I was being punished for having written those damn initials on my hand. Mike Darby turned and looked over in our direction. He may have been looking at me. I don’t know. I was staring at my desk and begging the gods to reach down and suck me from my chair. Anything, anything but this.

“Is this bad news true?” he asked. All the kids who had been paying attention laughed.

My pain was complete. Not only had I been fully humiliated by darling Kelly Dee, Mike Darby saw my liking him as bad news and he wasn’t afraid to say so. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I suffered through the remainder of the class, wishing I could disappear. Having ensured she had gotten a good and deep bite right into the side of my head, Kelly Dee was no longer interested in torturing me. She moved on to discussions of cheerleading routines and hairdos. My face burned and the room swam. I pretended to read my Sex Ed book. At least I could say the bad news was no longer true. I no longer liked Mike Darby and could not wait for class to end so I could go and wash my hand.

Once the bell rang, I shuffled through my belongings to take as long as possible to leave class and ensure I did not have to rise and move with the other students. After every one of them was gone I sat for a few more seconds. Alone in the room, I took a deep breath. It seemed like it had been long enough for the lot of them to clear out of the hallway.

I must have lacked some serious capacity to foretell possibilities because it had not been long enough for Mike Darby to clear out of the hallway. He was the only one left, digging through his locker that was just across the hall from the Sex Ed classroom. Mine was down past his, requiring that I pass him, completely humiliated. Thankfully, he did not look up as I shuffled quickly by. Perhaps part of his dismay at my liking him had been for show. Certainly his reaction had been. At least he left me alone. I went to my locker, deposited my books, and took the long way around to P.E. class because the direct route would have taken me past his locker again, and there was no way I was going there.

Junior high is certainly a breeding ground for mean people. Volumes have been written on the subject. Millions have been made in movies about the outcasts being tortured. Pleasure is taken in the geek who grows up and shows up to the high school reunion in a helicopter. I think we all assume that as adults this crap goes away. Unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking. Even if you grow into a swan and develop inner strength and confidence, there are those people who never move past being mean to you.

Lucky for me we moved away from that school after ninth grade, so Kelly and her friends were only able to harass me during those three years of junior high. I heard that she got pregnant her senior year in high school. A few years after graduation, I saw her at a discount store. She was extremely heavy and was dragging around four ruffian-looking children. A friend of mine who had finished school with her said they all had different fathers (not that this is a bad thing). I remembered her bragging in eighth grade about drinking and having sex. Maybe whatever made her so damn mean was also what made her gain a lot of weight and have lots of kids by the time she was 23. She’d clearly hit her prime in junior high. She was still mean though. At the store, she came up to me and sneered, “You think you’re really hot now, don’t you, Lara?”

I remember looking at her, not knowing who she was because she looked so wretched and different. When it was obvious I hadn’t a clue about her identity, she said, “I’m Kelly, Kelly Dee,” like I was retarded or something. Funny. I realize now what she said sounded like Forrest, Forrest Gump. I said hello and turned to continue walking with my mom.

This happened decades ago, but it still follows me around. There is a man I’m interested in. In a recent conversation, after he said something about himself that impressed me to no end, I let my interest be known (at least I think I did). I then began to babble. When I get nervous, I babble, and nothing makes me more nervous than liking someone and thinking I let him know. For hours after being around him, I felt horribly humiliated and embarrassed. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I say that? Why didn’t I just shut up!?!? I berated myself. Random pieces of the conversation kept coming back to me and I wanted to go hide under a rock. I still kinda do…

Today I told my best friend Debbie about this man I like, this conversation, what I said, and how I felt. I told her how utterly and completely stupid I feel every time I think about it, wishing and hoping I had just kept it all to myself, worrying about what he must think of me. She couldn’t believe this was my reaction. I always have this reaction when I am interested in someone and let them know, I told her. She couldn’t understand it. It led me back to remembering Mike Darby and Kelly Dee in Sex Ed class in ninth grade. Oh, the pure, devilish humiliation. It must be the origin stories for the feelings I have experienced for as long as I can remember when liking someone. I know there was a brief period during my sophomoric twenties when it wasn’t like this, but I’m pretty sure that in my twenties I was much cuter than I am now and boys were usually chasing me rather than the other way around. Since I have gotten older and less nubile, I don’t have hoards of men interested in me. Not just no hoards, I have none at all, so it’s usually me lusting in secret hoping to hell I don’t give myself away. I have no fear of public speaking. I can speak in front of crowds of people. Yet let me give it away to a man I might be interested and I’m 13 again, dying inside and praying he didn’t notice.

Gads.

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Bully Nation

Bully Nation  (Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission)
by By Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appropriately been called a bully. This has implications well beyond Christie. His calling out has the potential to shift the growing public conversation about bullying from a psychological narrative about abusive individuals to a new discourse on institutionalized bullying, carried out by ruling institutions and elites.

The current focus on bullying – like much of the discussion about guns and gun violence – has tended to focus on individuals and mental health. It is a therapeutic narrative. Bullying is seen primarily as a psychological problem of individuals. The victim needs therapy, better communication or adaptation skills. Bullies are characterologically flawed and need therapy or perhaps legal punishment.

But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home. Institutionalized bullying is endemic to a capitalist hegemonic nation like the United States and creates death and suffering on a far greater scale than personal, everyday bullying, as important and toxic as the latter might be.

Moreover, much of the everyday bullying that is the current media focus must be understood as the inevitable consequence of a militarized corporate system that requires a popular mind-set of bullying to produce profit and power. The individual bully is the creation of the bully nation.

The United States openly views itself as the world police force, a benign hegemon morally ordained to impose its interests and values on the rest of the world and justified in the name of freedom, human rights and antiterrorism to do to weaker countries what it wants. It spends more on weapons than its next 20 largest competitors combined. President Obama proclaimed “[S]o long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.” To peasants living in small countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia – where the United States has sent armed forces, used drones to bomb, and often overthrown the government – polls show that a majority of people see the United States as the greatest threat to their security, and fear it. Hegemony here seamlessly unfolds as morally sanctioned, institutionalized bullying.

America makes heroes of bomber pilots like John McCain and offers them as role models for children and adolescents to emulate. They see the media applaud the bullying behavior of their own government that dispatches police, soldiers, FBI and CIA agents into foreign nations to kill and wreak havoc – from Afghanistan to Somalia to Columbia. If you kill enough, whether in a just war or not, you may win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

If bullying brings esteem to a nation, then surely that is a behavior to strive for. Potential recruits for an aggressive military need to be immunized against scruples over violence and bullying. This becomes an implicit part of their education, whether or not it is ever publicly admitted. Accordingly, schools and adult authorities often turn a blind eye toward bullying. After two world wars, the Army lamented that a majority of combat soldiers never fired a weapon. They called for a change in the training of soldiers and the education and upbringing of children to correct that. By that measure, they have been successful. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of combat soldiers killed.

Sports has played a vital part in preparing children for institutionalized aggression, bullying and combat. In football, the goal is to attack the opponent and knock them down, a hard hit that keeps the opponent dazed on the ground is sometimes encouraged by coaches and cheered by the crowd. In schools and campuses, the athletes are often the popular heroes and also the bullies, involved too often in sexual violence or drinking binges in bars that lead to fights or crimes.

Only recently would they expect sanctions against bullying. Indeed, the more they bullied, the more popular they would be. Even before World War I, President Theodore Roosevelt insisted that elite universities like Harvard would have to enhance their football teams if America were to dominate the world. He declared: “We cannot afford to turn out college men who shrink from physical effort or a little physical pain.” For the nation needed men with “the courage that will fight valiantly against the foes of the soul and the foes of the body.”

The aggression and competitiveness of bullying pervades civilian life as well as military. As the beacon for the rest of the world to emulate, the culture the United States wishes to export is capitalism. Capitalism’s staunchest defenders proclaim competition to be its fundamental operating principle. The monopolistic corporations and the wealthiest 1% have been the most aggressive, bullying anyone who stood in their way by outsourcing their jobs, lowering wages, stripping away benefits and firing those seeking to organize unions.

The bully demonizes their victim. In American capitalism, elites have long defined the losers in the competitive struggle with the words used by Mitt Romney to defame the 47%: undeserving “moochers.” They are weak and lazy and don’t have the stuff to prevail. As victims, they deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. Those, like the wolves on Wall Street who bully their way to the top, should be there; those who couldn’t or don’t, belong where they are.

Bullying is the means through which the corporate empires were built. Carnegie and Rockefeller intimidated and threatened their rival capitalists to cede them an ever-larger share of the market. They brought in Pinkerton goons to beat striking workers into submission. Workers were forced to either sign “yellow dog” contracts and pledge not to join unions, or be thrown into the street. Similar bullying practices continue today. Corporations warn entire communities they will shut down factories and undermine the local economy if they do not accept low wages and minimal regulations. Banks entice consumers to borrow through predatory loans and then raise interest rates and threaten foreclosure. The corporations are clear they have the power and will not tolerate challenges from weaklings who fail to know their place.

Bullying enhances the ideology that the strong are strong and the weak are weak, and each deserves to be where they are. This attitude pervades America’s culture, government, military, corporations, media, schools, entertainment, athletics and everyday life. The first step to a solution is shifting the conversation to institutional bullying, moving beyond simply a therapeutic narrative to a political one aiming toward transformative social change. As long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts – abroad and at home – will persist as a major crisis.

It’s About Winning

This article has been published at the Huffington Post and can be seen here.

What I realized yesterday after I saw the cover of a newspaper filled with cheering American faces at the capture of the Boston suspect is that the reason these crimes are ignored and expanded is that Americans as a whole (for the most part, minus some small dissent) agree with the policies. Ours is a bloodthirsty, punitive, and judgmental nation. Full of hypocrisy, we pound our chests in glory at the murder of those we feel have sinned against us, while concurrently seeking to murder ourselves, using revenge as justification, regardless whether there is accuracy in those beliefs, and in spite of our own atrocities against other nations. Our leaders are simply symbols for all of us.

To keep reading, click here.

Black and White and Grey all Over

So the lady who wrote me about the girl who was mean to me in junior high and I had a little chat via email over a few days. I actually enjoyed chatting with her. She seems nice. Anyway, I kept thinking about that time in my life, maybe because my brother is living with me for the time being and I think about childhood, I don’t know. One thing I have thought a lot about was what kind of a kid I was back then, especially from about age 12 to age 14. Looking back, I still don’t think I like who I was. I know there are all these self-help growth books blah blah blah that tell us to go back and love our inner child and embrace that kid who felt so rotten about herself.

Whatever. I don’t mean to be dismissive when a person needs that, but for me, what a load of crap. I could perhaps feel some compassion for the kid who was picked on and whose stepfather had turned out to be mean instead of loving and possibly even for the big dork that I was as I tried to navigate through junior high, hormones, and popularity. But in some ways I was exactly like the mean girls, just trying to survive. Funny what humans will do when they think it will buy them some control.

I watch movies like Mean Girls, where the main characters come to the realization that they are selfish and shitty and shallow, and it’s great that this is how it comes to be for them. But in my life, I was not as enlightened. I decided not to be friends with Sandra Gordon based solely on the fact that the other girls I wanted to be friends with termed her a “scumbag.” I purposely pulled away from her for no other reason than that. I wanted to be included with more popular people and if that meant dumping Sandra, then I did it, even while the even more popular girls were picking on me.

And later I stopped being friends with Dee Roberts for the simple reason that I heard others thought we were gay, and I did not want anyone to think that. So stupid. So shallow. It was years before I grew any sort of personal backbone, years before I quit giving a shit what other people think and standing on my own. Luckily Dee and I have some friends in common so as adults we were able to reconnect.

I look back now and am amazed at my ability to cut my friendships off with such precision. Perhaps we would have grown apart anyway, but I will never know that because when I decided that I was not going to be friends with someone anymore, that was the end of the friendship. Thinking on it now, maybe some of that ability was just the age. I had friends who cut me off with the same sharp capacity when they saw me as a hindrance to their own popularity. Friends one minute, not friends the next.

I followed my friends Rae and Wendy around like a puppy, begging them to love me. Especially Rae. She was my best friend, in my eyes, but I wasn’t hers. I was there for her, but she wanted Shawna Peterson. And at some point Shawna Peterson decided that she hated me. So if Rae was hanging out with Shawna then she was not hanging out with me.  I guess I can hardly blame her.  In eighth grade all my friends had braces.  I had perfectly straight teeth.  So one day I wore tin foil to school.  I told Rae the dentist made me do it.  Seriously.  I did this.  Is it any wonder few people wanted me near them?

Rae never openly told me not to let anyone know I was her friend, but she did not hang out with me at school. I hung out with Sandra Gordon until Rae and Wendy told me I shouldn’t, then I didn’t hang out with anyone. Those years in junior high were utterly hopeless, utterly miserable. Then I went home and life there sucked too.

I wonder where the kids with a backbone get the backbone. In movies, the left out child that the others bully comes back with a vengeance, kicking ass and proving their inner strength. Often the bullies realize that they don’t have to be so mean either. In my real life, I did not have any such inner strength. I hated myself. I think I believed them.

Occasionally I would stand up for myself, but I was fucking scared to death of it. One time on the bus, a torture chamber if there ever was one, these girls put gum in my hair. They were perfect. They had perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect makeup. And they hated my guts, just because I wore the wrong clothes, the wrong hair, wore no makeup, and probably looked like I was waiting to be kicked. I told the bus driver. She told me to put gum in their hair the next day. I waited, planning to do so, but scared shitless to actually go through with it. I ended up just putting gum on the pants of the girl who instigated it all. I don’t think she even noticed.

Another time, the bus driver made me get off early and walk to my house. I was pissed. So I hid in the bushes in front of my house and when she drove by, I threw gravel at the bus. She pulled it over, brakes screeching. I hightailed it into the house and hid. My sister Melanie wouldn’t let her in. I think I got written up, but I don’t remember. Funny, that bus driver was a friend and an enemy. Mostly I did not like her. She let a lot happen on the bus that shouldn’t have.

It is also interesting that when I would stand up for myself and not chicken out, I was ruthless, kind of like with cutting off my friends. Where is that? Where does it come from, that ruthlessness? That ability to be so cold? I just don’t know. But I could do it. Maybe it’s that survival instinct, that belief in some control.

The main person able to incur my wrath without fear was Kim Dawson, Melanie’s friend. She hated me and I hated her. I don’t recall why. But she was constantly after me. The first time I fought back, I had gotten on the bus wearing purple cropped pants before they were in fashion. I think I just wore them because I liked them but had outgrown the length. As was typical in those days, I did not have a lot of clothes and my parents would not buy what was in fashion. My mom tried making me some pants like the other girls wore, but it didn’t make me popular. Nothing could have, I don’t think.

Anyway, Kim asked me if I was waiting for a flood. When she went to get off the bus, I stuck my foot out into the bus aisle as she walked by, smearing mud on her pants. She was pissed. She pulled my hair when I got off the bus. I pulled hers. The bus driver pulled us apart. We both got written up.

Then another time, the bus was really crowded. I sat in a seat near the front with a little boy. She was in the seat directly behind me. She leaned forward and made some comment about me and the little boy. I reached back and slapped her in the face. She grabbed my hair. I kept hitting her until she let go of my hair. I think we may have gotten written up then too.

Funny, I was written up three times in junior high, but all three times were so far apart that each time, the principal said since it was the only time I’d been written up, he’d let it go at that. Makes me laugh.

The final time I fought with Kim, I beat the crap out of her. I was twelve years old. She was at our house with my sister. The two were nagging me, picking at me, egging me on. Finally, Kim said something to me that I do not remember now. I jumped her. I sat on her and hit her. Melanie screamed. I finally got up and that was the last time Kim bugged me, but we hated each other to death.

Luckily for me, Rae hated Kim too, so we would order pizzas to her house and make hair appointments for her at salons in town. This was in the days before caller id and all that tracking. We knew her address and phone number so it was easy. Later, she got a boyfriend who was a really big dork, and Rae and Wendy would tease Kim about him. I just joined as a watcher. I loved it because I still hated Kim.

I can’t believe now that I got in hitting fights. Actually, my fights with Kim were the only fights I’ve ever had where hitting was involved. And mine wasn’t one of those situations where I saw open violence at home all the time or anything. Our home was filled with the stealthy kind of violence, like a gaseous poison that oozes through the walls; words laced with hate, looks of vile hatred, screaming matches between parents while children hid in their rooms, doors slammed. Except when I would get hit for doing something, which was somewhat infrequent, we didn’t witness hitting or slapping like some of my friends did. My fighting with Kim came from my own inner capacity to whack someone. I don’t know where she got hers.

Funny, I read back through this and it’s as though I’ve unintentionally continued the same theme that permeates all my posts lately: nothing is black and white, human behavior is mostly directed by an illusion of control or an attempt to garner control. Like I said, it has not been intentional. It just keeps coming up. Maybe there is some deep dark purpose behind this, but more likely it is just that these are central themes in human behavior and I happen to be noticing them in my attempt to reach a point. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been writing for a hour now and my daughter is irritated at me because she wants to go bike riding and she says I “always write” and she can’t understand it. She wants me to stop and focus on her. So that is what I will do. Maybe I’ll have to show her the scene at the end of the movie Stand By Me where the dad is writing and his son who has obviously been waiting and waiting comes in and asks him when they are finally going to leave and the dad says in a minute. Then the boy turns and tells his friend his dad gets like that when he writes. See Milla? I’m not the only one.