Growing up in suburban America in the 1980’s, life felt like a cliché. Except that clichés often have hints of truth in them. The Breakfast Club wasn’t far off the mark from the social strata that I remember. Today, to some, that ladder of acceptance feels antiquated. Perhaps, because the obviousness of the hierarchy has disappeared, we have a false sense of equity and acceptance among our young people. Children learn that bullying is bad…that their words hurt…
At least once a year, we have one tragic story of a young person who tried to be strong but who, ultimately, had no outlet other than desperation.
The problem is that even those who are not driven to desperate measures often find their worlds and responses to their worlds colored by the past. At moments when they least expect the response to be tainted by the past, they find it is. These lingering moments are the ones that haunt.
“But, you’re 36 now. That was 30 years ago. Don’t you think it’s time to let it go?”
Yes, I do think it’s time to let it go. Except that in different places and at different moments, the past comes pack to color the present. That present is a good one, happy. People don’t beat up on me or mock me anymore.
In the middle of a discussion about the causes of prejudice and the need to pick on a weaker group, I mention that it’s like bullying a kid. Someone thinks I’m discussing a class member’s paper. I have a full on mental flashback to being picked up, placed in a trash can in the high school cafeteria, unable to get myself out of the plastic garbage can. In the middle of a seemingly unrelated conversation, eighteen years from the original event, several towns away from my home town, I am transported back to that moment, the feeling of helplessness, the reliance on someone, anyone, else. However, it was eighteen years ago. This shouldn’t matter.
As an adult, raising my son, I look at him and, as do all parents, think about whether I’m making the right decisions for him. Every day, I look at my choices and watch him grow, in awe. Then, there are the moments when I say something and he cries. In those moments, I’m transported to my cousin having my dolls tell me that I’m a bad mommy and that they want to go home with her. That was thirty-one years ago. This shouldn’t matter.
Every Easter, I prepare for another holiday. I pack the Easter basket. We get in the car and head to Easter dinner. At least one moment during dinner, I hear my son playing in another room. I’m transported back to the Easter I spent with my cousins at their house. The one where I was little and annoying, maybe seven at most. The one where my cousin decided that the game would be tying me to a chair until I untied myself, found her and her other cousin, and then they would tie me up again. When I was called to the dinner table, I was tied to a white rocking chair. I couldn’t get up. I could only scream. I got in trouble for not responding. It’s been close to thirty years. Everyone has dispersed, and family gatherings don’t happen much these days. I haven’t seen my cousin in four years. My aunt sold that house seven years ago. It shouldn’t matter.
I’m a thirty-six year old woman living in an affluent community. I’ve achieved my life goals – I’m a mother, teacher, friend, wife. I’m the person I always wanted to be. The person I didn’t know I wanted to be. I have a tribe of my own. Thinking about this transports me back to the being in middle school and wanting nothing more than to have friends. To the moment when I was excited to play truth or dare on a sleep away field trip, having never heard of the game. To my choice of a dare because truth seemed scarier. To being dared to take off my bra. The bra that ended up being submerged in Sprite. The sticky bra that I had to wear because it was the only one I had. The shame I felt at having trusted people. All that happened more than twenty years ago. This shouldn’t matter.
I think about a little boy, who loves a cartoon. He’s 11 years old. He’s been teased about something he’s passionate about. He’s been teased so much that he tries to end his life. I’m transported back to the baths I used to take when I was around his age – when I imagined what it would be like to be in a bath tub full of water with just enough drops of red to turn it a deep pink. When I idly wondered whether it would hurt or just be like falling asleep. When I wondered what people would think if I wasn’t there anymore. When I would tell myself that everyone this age does this. Everyone imagines what death would be like. Everyone… everyone….
Age doesn’t matter to the And Yet. Time doesn’t diminish the And Yet. Those who are bullied live with that And Yet no matter their age or what they become. The And Yet is part of us. When I was growing up, bullying wasn’t A Thing.
Schools continue to blame the victimized children. Society continues to blame the victimized child. We tell these children to change, to leave a backpack at home, to stop watching a cartoon, to become like the others, to assimilate, to lose part of themselves. Even worse, we tell these children that their size or the things about them that they cannot change will never be good enough for our society. Schools have a responsibility to our children; however, the represent the communities in which they are located. We comprise those communities. We have a greater responsibility to our children. We have a responsibility as a society to change so that the schools represent the different, the underdog, the whole of society not just those someone, somewhere, deemed acceptable.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic may be a trend, a fad. It may be something that in a year or two fades into the background. When my son is 10, 15, or 20, he may not remember watching it with me. He may not remember the lessons of the importance of friendship and diversity. He may not remember the characters. He may not remember the bright pink My Little Pony shirt that he proudly picked out from the girls’ department at the store because none were available in the boys’ department. He may not remember that when I asked him why he didn’t wear his shirts anymore he told me that it was because he was “afraid that the kids at school would tease him the way they teased those other boys.” He may not remember saying that because it was in the context of us discussing recent incidents and how they were unfair. He may not remember my holding him, looking him in the eye, explaining to him that I would never let that happen and that he should never stop being who he is.
I have chosen not only to make My Little Pony permanent on my body but to place it somewhere people will see it. When someone asks about having a cartoon on my arm, I will be able to open the conversation. When people laugh at the idea being ridiculous or ask the slightly snarky, “And so WHAT is THAT?” I can tell them. I can tell them that it was because a little boy inspired a moment in time. I can explain that his struggles are his own but that he is not alone. I can explain maybe people viewed it as a bandwagon, as a “good deal”, as a momentary zeitgeist. I can explain that people treating people poorly to the point of desperation exists.
I could hide a tattoo. I could place it somewhere under clothing. I could place it somewhere no one else but my husband and I can see it. I could keep the physical representation of that part of myself hidden the way the emotional has been hidden. I could cover it up while it is still a part of me. I could pretend that it doesn’t exist with only the people I trust able to see it.
The “And Yet” needs to be changed. Because hiding something that has informed the person I am only makes me incomplete. Schools continue to blame the victimized children. Society continues to blame the victimized child. We tell these children to change, to become like the others, to assimilate, to lose part of themselves. Even worse, we tell these children that their size or the things about them that they cannot change will never be good enough for our society. Schools have a responsibility to our children; however, we have a greater one to them. Hiding the past that molded me is irresponsible to my child.
I allow others to feel alone.
I don’t admit to who I fully am.
I let my son feel as though feeling afraid or nervous is something that has to be hidden.
The And Yet has the power of the past controlling me. By owning that past, I can use it to change the future. Because then…I can look to the future and to the change I want to be.
I can change the And Yet to the Because Then.