I had just started a new high school. I was nervous of course. It was English class, quiet reading time - Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. I was sitting in the front row. A spitball landed right on my page. My heart stopped. Relax, that was a mistake. It wasn’t meant for you - you don’t even know anybody here. Two minutes pass. Another spitball lands on my page. No mistake - that was meant for you. Reluctantly and with a racing heart, I turn around, greeted by a scowling face in the back row that said, “Turn around, skinny!” Another chimed in, “Hey, why don’t you go hit him with those big arms of yours!” Chuckles heard throughout the room. There are things that can be known intellectually but not felt, not made part of one’s being. I knew that I was just as worthy as anyone else. I knew that there was nothing “wrong” with me. Yet I could not feel it. I knew that cruel people were perhaps the most destroyed of all, but it didn’t make the humiliation and bullying bearable. Maybe they had it rough at home. Sure, but I’ve got it rough here and now. No intellectualizing of the matter eased the fear I had of going to class every day that entire miserable year. I was already suffering from depression - and these unprovoked aggressions against me hurt me very deeply. (Years later, I wrote about this incident in “True”, singing, “What you don’t remember being done is so much of what I’ve become”. I wondered if they even remembered that day and those that followed. I sure did.)
So where do the hopeless find hope? There are always drugs and alcohol, which offer their temporary reprieve, until they themselves become their own hell. And there is time - a greatest friend and a worst enemy. For me, time eventually went from being a curse to a blessing. This did not happen quickly. I usually wanted to check out. Sometimes I wanted to check in. No choice made sense. Time was needed. Not wanted, but needed nonetheless. Time taught me to finally internalize the notion that it is a gift to be sensitive - that it is beautiful to be empathetic and have to learn to “toughen up”, rather than to be cold and have to learn to care. I knew these things, but it just didn’t make a difference until I came to accept them. And until I came to understand that accepting doesn’t mean “giving in”. It means living and not just thinking about living. You can read every book there is about how to drive a car, but until you are behind the wheel, it is just a concept. The more time I spent in the world I claimed to despise, the more I comprehended that there truly are hundreds of thousands of decent people in the world. “Good news doesn’t make the news”, but it is happening every moment. Don’t let the bullies rule just because they are louder. They might in fact be the minority. I accepted that there are some people - whether by nature, nurture, or a combination thereof - who are, for lack of a better word, simply bad. It is not my burden to bear. No matter who you are - no matter what you are about - some people will like you and some won’t. You will be disliked by someone somewhere regardless, so spare yourself the trouble of faking who you are and just be you. Lots of folks just might like that person.