It’s four in the morning, and I haven’t slept. That’s mania for you. That’s the other side of the Depression See-Saw. Only it’s not a happy mania, it’s torture. I’ve been writing this in my head for the last couple of hours, so I figured I’d get up and write the goddamned thing.
My earliest childhood memory is of cruelty.
I’m not even talking about being abused, but I’ll get to that later. I’m talking about the cruelty of strangers — of children, no less. I was a bright child, eager to learn. I’d learned to read the summer before I started kindergarten, and loved to read. I didn’t understand why some of the other kids couldn’t read, but I never teased them about it, or flaunted my ability to read. I just always had my head in a book, even at age 5. Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Curious George — not exactly literary masterpieces, I’ll give you that, but they were the foundation of a lifetime love of books.
One day, at recess, several other children — children, remember — found a word spray-painted on the wall, and decided to trick me into reading it. So I sounded it out — F… U… C… K… FUCK!
Guess who got in trouble for swearing?
I remember this clearly, because one of the people who pulled this little prank on me was the one friend that I had invited to my birthday party — I remember that. That was my first taste of betrayal, and it still stings, because it has forever shaped the way I think about people. Your friends are not your friends, people are, by nature, cruel and mean-spirited. This has been a lesson that has been reinforced over and over again over the last four decades.
Later that same year, in the winter, I would be sent home from school all wet and cold because some kids had tricked me into sitting down on the icy pond, and the ice under me broke. They’d promised me that if I did it, one of the kids would give me their bicycle. OH HOW THEY LAUGHED.
What they didn’t know is that when I went home, my dad stripped me naked and whipped me with his belt for being so stupid.
Why me? I asked constantly. Why did they target me? Was I the weak wildebeest in the herd? It’s a weird comparison, I know, because now that I’m older, and know all about Social Darwinism, I still don’t understand it. I’m not slow or stupid. Was it because I’ve been emotionally bleeding my entire life?
I have always been a champion of the bullied, because I never had a champion. In fact, to the best of my recollection, I can only remember one time when someone stood up for me and told the bullies to leave me alone, and that wasn’t until 9th grade. After that, I pretty much stood up for myself in the only language that bullies understand — violence. I remembered that word spray-painted on my elementary school back in kindergarten, and I used it to its full potential.
Now I am a father three times over, and my youngest hates school. She’s a bright, inquisitive little girl, full of wonder and questions, and eager to make people like her. She’s the kind of kid that will pick flowers on her way to school to give to her classmates.
Sweet, right? Yeah, she’s fucking amazing.
So of course the other kids laugh at her, tease her, and bully the shit out of her.
Why, Daddy? she’ll cry. Why are the other kids mean to me?
How do you look a little girl in the face and tell her that if there are 7 billion people on the planet, roughly about 3 billion of them are assholes. This is revised from my original estimation of 6 billion. I thought about it some more and realized that it really wasn’t fair, and maybe I needed to divvy up the pie a little more. Current estimation: 1 billion troubled human beings that just scream out to be bullied. They don’t even know it, or know why. Bullies just target them — and I’ve heard all the bullshit answers that don’t make it any better: “You’re the bright light that they are jealous of”, “Bullies are hurting, and they don’t know how to express themselves.” Look, I’m not talking about Nelson from the Simpsons. I’m talking about 9 out of 10 kids in any given classroom, picking on the tenth in varying degrees, whether it be laughing at the clothes they wear, excluding them from games, or outright beating on them. You may not have considered yourself a bully because you never hurt anyone, but think about it hard enough, and you’ll find yourself thinking of that one kid that you remember laughing at or teasing. Or, maybe you won’t, because we are easily forgettable.
Back to my estimation after that digression: 1 billion bullied kids, 3 billion of what I like to think of as harmless, but well-intentioned. These are the mostly safe people. They are generally indifferent, and essentially spineless. They actually make up just as many people as I would say are bullies. They are the people that you will call your friends, but as I have previously experienced, these are those who will gladly join in bullying you if the choice is between being on the winning side, or else joining you in being bullied.
Then you move on to the right assholes. These are the people who relish putting others down, and they are found in all walks of life. These people can be religious, and decide to demonize anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do. They can be patriotic nationalists who declare anyone who doesn’t spout the same rhetoric they do as the enemy. And what’s funny is, these people are generally very successful in life, because they will step over anyone and everyone to achieve their tasks. These are the political activists that are more interested in being right than achieving solidarity. These are the ad men who thrive on making you feel ugly, making you feel poor, making you feel OUTSIDE of what’s going on INSIDE the party.
The remaining 1 billion I reserve for the exceptional (of which I am not a member, so…) and this is for those people who are truly wonderful human beings. Or, truly horrible human beings. Think, a woman who devotes her life to hospice work, caring for those who truly need it. Then think, mass murderer.
But how do you tell this to a child? How do you answer a teary-eyed girl who only wants to know why the other kids don’t like her, because she has tried SO hard, and yet — they exclude her, they steal from her. She is so kind and generous, and often comes home missing toys because some kid asked her for it and she gave it to them. Because that’s what kind of kid she is. I’m not going to lie — every time she does, I want to go to her school and kick the shit out of every kid there — making me the bully, I get the irony, but this is what happens when you grow up angry.
I’m four decades and a little bit in, and I still don’t have an answer as to why people are so cruel. And the internet has provided a safe space for bullies — somewhere they can gang up on people and spread their cruelty without ever having to face them. It is the age of the Paper Tiger.
My favourite poet once wrote: “listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” It’s kind of my motto. Someday it will be tattooed on my flesh.
I have spent forty plus years crying. Weeping, in fact, whether from actual hurts, or just from the fact that I am terminally disappointed with humanity.
I have no friends.
There. It’s out there.
I have no friends of my own.
Sarah’s friends seem to like me, because, in the words of one of them “You are the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”
The person who said that may not know how much that meant to me, but it meant the world to me.
It likely all goes back to my early childhood lesson learned — that your friends are not your friends. They are just people who are nice to you when it’s just you and them, but when it’s the group — you are leprosy, you are AIDS, you are social suicide.
Of course, it’s gotten worse over the years, as my depression worsened, and turned into a sort of social anxiety where I just don’t even know how to people anymore. Because I’ve NEVER gotten the In-Crowd, and everywhere I go, I just see the same asshole children grown up into asshole adults.
It’s thoughts like this at 4 o’clock in the morning that make me wonder if it’s all worth it.
I have another daughter, and right now she’s struggling with paralyzing anxiety, to the point where she is thinking suicidal thoughts, and had to go to the hospital recently.
How do I tell her it gets better? How do I lie to her like that?
Is life all sour grapes? Of course not. In fact, I’ve carved out a nice little niche for myself, right here in the comfort of my — pardon me — fucking amazing home. I spend my time with the sweetest soul you’ll ever meet — her heart heard my heart’s call and beat back in time to the same drum. She gets me, so don’t fear, readers — I’m not alone. I’m never alone.
But I still carry around that profound disappointment with people. People who can’t even see the extent of their cruelty, wrapped up, instead, with self-righteous anger or purpose, when instead, they have become just as closed-minded as the people they are fighting against.
How do I teach my children how to cope in this world full of heinous fuckery and villainy in the face of people that will call you friend, when I haven’t figured it out?
Should I encourage them to be bullies? At least that way, they would succeed in this world. All it will cost them is that spark — that bright spark of untainted humanity that was there before it was ruined by the world. Some lose it right away due to abuse or tragedy. Others give it up slowly by the choices they make. We begin as human children, but most of us end up as hyenas dressed like people.
Humanity, I fucking hate you.