I was about two hours old when I met my first bully. They say you never forget your first. They do say that.
My father was and is the meanest son of a bitch I ever met. He could explode at the drop of a hat over nothing. Or something. He was so unpredictable and violent that people just assumed he drank. Gods forgive me, I never told them differently. It was easier to have something-even a lie-to blame.
He hit with words: shouts and curses, and icy whispers. He hit with force: slaps, fists, grips that choked and tore. He hit with objects: dinners hurled across rooms, flung wrenches, car keys, radios. But he hit early and often.
I knew nothing of animals as a child, but I remember even as a very small kid, maybe three or four years old, that my first reflex relating to my father was to freeze silently. Like a rabbit when the shadow of a hawk passes over its small succulent body. I played silently from a very young age because my father didn’t like noise.
I do not know if my father hit my mother. Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe there is no comfort in any answer. Is it better is everyone in the house is hit by the father? Or is it preferable that only you are hit by the father? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care. I do know that my mother was as afraid of him as I was.
My mother’s parents bailed her out of everything, so I will never know why she didn’t run to Grammy and Poppy for help. Maybe because they had been strict and oppressive parents and she didn’t want to return to their home. Again, I don’t know.
My father and mother eventually divorced when I was in my early twenties, and he remarried one of my mother’s closest friends. Later he asked that my sister and I never contact him. I have complied with that request, albeit uneasily. I still feel disquieted to not send him a card for Christmas or his birthday-not out of love, but in fear that he will be angry if I don’t.
This is not a blog post about my daddy issues. It is a post about a pattern. And I’ve never seen anything written about the pattern I’m about to share, so maybe it is just me, or maybe I don’t read enough on the topic. Or maybe it isn’t real, after all I am supposed to be pretty crazy.
Long before I started school, I was in the habit of being bullied by my father. I was remarkably tolerant of screaming, of beatings, of having things thrown at me. I just shook and froze in silence. I believe now, and probably always will believe, that my silent, trapped response when my illness overwhelms me is rooted in that scared rabbit response as a young child.
If I ever cried easily, I don’t recall it now. It has always been a point of pride that I would not cry in front of my tormentors. It’s not that they couldn’t eventually break me down until I DID cry, I am human, and hurt hurts. But I made them fight for every tear every time.
School was an unexpected nightmare.
I was so excited to go to school! To have the opportunity to learn, to be free of that silent house that just waited for my father’s next outburst, to meet other boys and girls! I was expecting no less than Heaven. Of course, I found Hell. I was bullied in school from day one. I found myself the only bullied kindergartner. And here is the pattern. I believe that bullies can sense a victim.
My family moved often when I was growing up, and I never went to a new school where I was not bullied from the first minute.
The older I got, the weirder and more neurotic I became, so my behavior probably attracted bullies in my years of junior high and high school. But I don’t think I was particularly weird as a five or six year old. But they still could see me coming a mile away.
Over the years in school, I had my glasses broken countless times, gum put in my hair, again countless times, I have been kicked, hit, shoved, tripped, pushed down stairs, catcalled, mocked, ridiculed…you name it. My belongings were taken numerous times, As an older kid, I got used to finding used tampons, and excrement in my locker.
A low point in my school life was junior high and part of high school. I spent that time in a suburb of Spartanburg, South Carolina. There, a particularly sadistic and clever group of boys added outright sexual harassment to my daily dose of bullying. The school bus became a new Hell.
I know and you know goddam well that there were teachers who saw what was happening. It was not like it is now. They watched, and they let it happen. There was a guidance counselor who, I think, tried to help. Every once in a while, she would pull me into her office and tell me I didn’t look like I felt very well. She would ask if I wanted to go home. I always said yes, but in truth, home was the only place worse than school. But she tried, and I remember her kindly for it.
Believe it or not, my grades began to slip. This was not acceptable at home. Home being bad led to me being more neurotic, which led to me acting weirder at school, which led to more bullying, &c.
But at the lowest point, something happened. I was on the bus, the boys in the back were tugging my bookbag, my clarinet, my clothes, screaming “Pam, BABY!” and I was silently putting up with it, being pushed and prodded and dreaming of successful suicide when it suddenly all stopped.
There was no school bus, no boys, no clarinet…there was green grass under my feet, I could smell flowers, and I was surrounded by stone angels bearing books and swords. I thought my prayers had been answered, that Sweet Lord Jesus had sent his angels to take me safe to Heaven. I had no way of knowing that schizophrenia had arrived to take me to Hell and that those guardian angels would quickly become my jailers. I had no way of knowing that the Hell of schizophrenia is worse than the Hell of some precocious teenage boys.