I was never able to figure out how to tell my best friend that I didn’t feel like climbing that big spooky banyan tree at the end of the block because getting all worked up like that would draw out the emotions. “Nah, you go ahead. I’ll be down here identifying with the dead leaves on the ground.” The only way to achieve some semblance of normality was to put on a tough face and pretend I wasn’t falling apart.
This meant never declining an invite to participate in childlike fun. I’m down for a bike ride, just as long as I can linger in the rear of the pack, so I can really wallow in being the last-place loser I felt like. I was always down for a neighborhood-wide game of manhunt, since it offered solid crying-in-the-neighbor’s-bushes time. It gave me even more motivation to find a great hiding spot. You might be shocked to learn that no, these coping mechanisms did not work out in the long term.
Not Being Able To Talk About It Turned Me Into A Bully
Humans have a horrible tendency to deal with negative feelings by making others feel even worse. Some kids master this at an early age. At least, I did.
One afternoon on the school playground, a friend said something which, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have cared about one way or another. Since I was on a depressed quest for vengeance against no one in particular, I angrily told him that if he didn’t shut up, I was going to spit on him. I then said that all eight or nine of us standing around in a circle talking would also spit on him (none of them had actually agreed to that).
He didn’t speak for the rest of the day. He told his parents, and his towering father, who I remember thinking looked like a hippie lumberjack, pulled me aside one afternoon. Rather than scold me, he told me that what I had done to his son was “very uncool.” As a kid obsessed with trying to be cool, that was devastating. I had a sense that some adults knew more about what I was going through than I did. He was one of them.
Not that it made a difference. I got into a lot of fights. I lost most of them, and didn’t care — fighting felt good. It was a way to channel the anger while pretending I was a Power Ranger fighting another one of Rita Repulsa’s hapless bad guys (it’s important to keep picturing me as a small child through all of this). If anyone slighted me, no matter how insignificant the infraction, I would unleash every curse word I absorbed through the couple of R-rated movies I’d caught secretly on cable.
I became an expert at targeting my victims’ most closely guarded insecurities with deadly precision (cruel people get that way via practice). Once, I asked a girl in my after-school care program if my friends and I could play Connect Four when she was done with it. She told me to get lost and stuck her tongue out. My human vulnerability sensors detected that she walked with noticeable limp, so I called her a cripple. She burst into tears.