They have a saying where I come from, “Hurt people, hurt people.”
It’s a play on words. You can say that it’s a perverted form of “Do unto others as others have done unto you.” In some ways, I’ve lived my life according to that code.
Things weren’t always so pretty in the McAllen household growing up. In fact, it was downright shameful at times. I was the first kid on my block to come from a broken home, a vile indignation that must have been the fodder for much dinner time gossip back in 1972. And with it came the inevitable financial difficulties. There’s poor, and then there’s dirt poor. We were somewhere in between. As a result, the clothes weren’t as nice, the sneakers had more than one hole, and invitations to events that cost money were always declined. I wore more than my share of hand-me-downs from other kids, a fact that did not go unnoticed or uncommented on.
And trust me, people noticed. And if parents talked about it, their kids overheard. And then they repeated it. Often.
I was mocked relentlessly for being poor. And for having divorced parents. Or for being skinny, or fat, depending on what age I was. Kids are merciless, and if they see a weakness, they will exploit it to the best of their abilities. I can’t even tell you the things I went through growing up. Name-calling, wedgies, physical threats, getting spit on, the list goes on. I took everything they could dish at me. I never once cried. I never once complained. I took everything the world could dish out, and I saved it. I became a writer.
By the time I was 14 though, I grew to 6 feet and weighed 150 pounds.
The bullying pretty much stopped.
And then, I became the bully.
I then took it upon myself to be the one to pass on these rites of passage, and I made sure that the next generation of kids knew that there were certain initiations that had to be endured in order to be accepted into the world of cool kids. There was lots of name calling, extra-hard shoves playing touch football, and of course, the worst tactic of all, the silent treatment. I hated when it happened to me, and I employed it like a sword when I was on the other side.
One particular individual tortured me growing up, simply because I was smarter than him. He was the brother of one of my classmates and he was unyielding. He verbally abused me every chance he got, and on one occasion, he spit out the window of a bus as I was on my way to a little league game. I wanted to chase the bus down and beat him to a pulp, but I didn’t possess that type of personality. I simply took it. I never cried. I never complained.
One Halloween night when I was about 15, or 16, there was a big commotion in my neck of the woods. It was a party/fight that spilled out into the street. Over a hundred kids of varying ages were milling about waiting for something to happen. From across the street, my nemesis and his buddy fired eggs in my direction. One missed, the other one bounced off my shoulder and splattered in the street drawing laughter from all corners. I decided that I had had enough. I took two steps towards them and they scampered away, hiding behind the older guys from their crew. I wanted desperately to keep walking, consequences be dammed, but the look on the faces of the older boys told me not to. They knew that I had a legit beef, but they couldn’t let two of their own go unprotected. Those two never bothered me again. In fact, they became downright nice to me from then on, but my resentment still raged.
A few years later, someone took it upon themselves to mete out justice. Instead of my little league baseball bat being the cause for his demise, someone bashed his skull in with a brick and left him dead in the local park. Everyone was so heart broken.
How could this happen?
I knew how it could happen. Karma. With a capital fucking K.
I never cried. I never said a word.
His buddy hung himself in a holding cell rather than face the big league bullying he was sure to face once he got to Rikers Island. I didn’t give a shit.
When I had graduated from the playground and decided to move up to the local street corner, there was the usual initiations that went with it. For the most part it was name-calling, but on occasion it was a little more vicious. One particular individual called me a dirtbag for the better part of a year, probably because I was always in grimy, torn up hand-me-downs, but that’s beside the point. One night we were playing football in the street, well past 10 o’clock, and loud enough for everyone to hear us. Buoyed by a six-pack, he decided to bark at us, telling me to keep quiet in his sightly inebriated voice.
“Make me”, I replied.
He accepted the challenge to his manhood, and approached me unsteadily. I got into my slap-boxing stance and we began circling each other. My only intention was to show that I was not afraid of him, but in that moment, I decided that maybe he needed to learn a little lesson. I feigned throwing a left hand, and when he moved away, I fired a right hand, just like my daddy taught me. It bounced off his temple with a thud. Everyone on the corner heard it and stopped to take notice. He backed up, his legs wobbling like a newborn colt, and held up both hands. He walked away without saying a word.
That ended the name-calling.
And my boxing career.
I hold no ill will towards the man. It turns out he was a really good guy. I still like him, but he was the youngest of 5 brothers, and I can only imagine what happened in his life prior to our crossing paths.
I see some of the same behavior towards my wife. She was shunned and tortured by her older sisters simply because she was the youngest.
And way hotter than her miserable sisters.
I kid you not.
I never cried about my fate, and I never said a word, but I never forgot either. Years later, I would exact my revenge in a much more vicious manner.
I slept with their girlfriends.
I write this, not to tell you about how wonderful it is to conquer your demons and chase them away, but to emphasize, that whenever there is a bullying incident, there are two people in pain, not just one.
We’ve all seen that youtube video where the skinny little kid turns the tables on his torturer and body slams the fat kid who has made his life miserable for god knows how long. We love when the little kid Oliver from the Bill Murray movie St. Vincent bashes that kid in his nose, but we ignore the underlying reality behind it. Something is going on inside those little tormentors that makes them want to strike out against the world.
I still live with the shame and disappointment over how I pushed around the younger kids. As an adult, I ran into two brothers at a party. It was great to see them, but as the night wore on, and the drinks kept flowing, you could see that they still resented me. One of them eventually broached the subject. I bowed my head in shame.
“I know I was a bully, but I was being bullied too.”
It was a piss poor excuse, but it was the truth. They both nodded their heads and we parted ways. I wish I possessed the courage to simply apologize rather than making excuses.
When I got older, I got the wonderful opportunity to mentor two young boys in their path to manhood. I always emphasized to both of them, protect the little guy. It was my way of saying, don’t be the coward that I was.
In recent years, the anti-bullying movement has gained a foothold in the national conversation, and I applaud their efforts, but some of those mouthpieces are the biggest bullies you could imagine.
On several occasions, I have been approached by people from my past and they have apologized for perceived slights from our childhood, my response has always been the same.
“I was an asshole as a kid. I was insecure, and the only way I knew how to lift myself up was to tear someone else down. How bout you?”
All three agreed and we shook hands and parted as comrades. I bear no ill will towards them. I have too much self-hatred to spare any anger on them.
My point here is that we all have kids now. Or nieces and nephews that are school age and going through the same things that we all went through. And with social media, it might actually be worse.
And truthfully, some rites of passage do build character. My old man was a relentless ball-breaker. He needled everyone in his circle, and they all loved him. I’d give anything to have him make fun of me right now. My wife has blessed me with two step-children. I hammer them on daily basis, and they give it right back. Hopefully, I’m not crossing the line, but the banter around the dinner table is the fodder for a reality show.
The fact of the matter is bullied kids become the bully. You need to look no further than talk radio:
Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, Levin, Francesa.
You think those guys weren’t picked on as kids? I’d bet my last dollar that they were. Now they are exacting their revenge on the world.
The bullies of the world rise to the highest corridors of power. Have you ever seen the depictions of how Steve Jobs treated people? He was abandoned as a child, and then he punished everyone who ever gave a shit about him.
The bullies of the world become out bosses, or our Senators.