Lindsay’s mom was a prostitute on Social Street and everybody knew it. She used to show up at the playground in winter wearing neon spandex ‘dresses’ and spiked heels, yelling out her daughter’s name. She had the runny blue mascara and blonde hair that was dark underneath. Lindsay would always act cool and walk towards the chain-link fence with her tribe of slut-babies. Her mom would hand her a paper bag of random snacks and sometimes make-up. In 3rd grade I remember her and Tisha getting done up in the coat room with all these glitter powders and colored gels. There was also a random skein of cheap green yarn in the bag, which Tisha called ‘grveen’. Her skin was so thin you could see all her blue veins at the surface and her teeth were like ungrown kernels of off-white corn.They both glared at me like they were having this awesome time and I could never be a part of it. Bullies always have henchman. Tisha got to be good at something and Lindsay got to feel powerful.
At kickball they called me ‘princess’ and said I kicked like a ‘ballerina’. Maybe in other schools this was a compliment, but not here. In every direction was some kind of project, all different colors. I got beat up because my name wasn’t white-trash enough and even though my clothes were donations, they were mostly never the low-income version of whatever was the cool thing. My mom chaperoned field trips and that didn’t help. Everyone wanted to be in her group, so much so that sometimes she asked me to go with another parent so she could devote herself fully to ‘those kids who just have nothing’. I knew what she what meant and what would happen after field trip day. Teased all to hell for having a mom who shows up.
If I can put you down, I can raise myself up. ‘You think you’re so big, why don’t you come here an’ show me!’ Everything I ever needed to learn about human behavior I learned in 3rd grade. Girls were already discovering that little provocations got them special treatment from boys. They knew how to manipulate and control groups of people to gain admiration, followers, likes, approval and support, even if what they wanted sympathy for was something like getting caught stealing. One mean girl surrounded by a throng of anti-consciousness, “So unfair. Ugh! Wicked. Riiiieeeght?’ The level of volatility and premeditation was parallel to a grown up criminal; my guess is most criminals don’t evolve developmentally past the age of 7 and this makes perfect sense. Abitha was skinny with wiry hair and a light mustache. She smelled faintly of urine and wore an almost constant scowl. Earlier that week I got chosen to be a crossing guard, which was terrible since it came with too much positive recognition from teachers everyone liked and a neon orange sash. Abitha hissed from her chair. What is this special magic that bullies have of being completely invisible when they’re plotting to kill you with their eyes and no one else ever sees it? The first couple days of the week went fine. I stood in the middle of busy roads on the crosswalk holding the smooth flag pole wearing my stupid sash. No matter which crosswalk I got placed at, Abitha and the gang of slut-babies made it a point to walk wherever I was guarding and sprinkle me with muffled insults. The taunting was corrosive as it filled every nook and cranny of each day, pecking at the soft cheese of my self-worth. ‘Queer-bait. Forehead. Lizzie Lezzie. Miss priss has to play with the retard again, oh she’s so nice. Teacher’s pet! Miss Perrrrfect. She probably lives in a palace. I bet you have a canopy bed. She don’t talk cause she thinks she’s better than everybody. I’m gonna fuckin’ stomp you at recess bitch.’ And sometimes they did.
But the crosswalk thing was the most inventive. It was Friday and I got placed on the busiest street two blocks down a big hill from the school. For some reason all day I had that meat-on-a-hook feeling and my heart was pounding. Abitha’s face was a stone of concentration as she strode right up to me, grabbed the flag stick at my waist and jabbed it up into my rib cage sending me backwards onto and then under the car behind me. I passed out under the front bumper, smelling the street and feeling the hotness of the running car. I couldn’t breathe or move. It was Al, the big, quiet janitor who came and scooped me up. He wore the same distressed and faded Wranglers every day with a brown belt slung under his belly, attached to a jangle of keys. He had a blue, short-sleeved uniform shirt like a mechanic. I didn’t realize I was being carried until we were halfway up the hill. Al had a look of mild concern on his simple and rumpled face, asking me if I could breathe. Try to breathe. I wanted to fix my hair but his sub-roll arms contained me. He brought me straight to the lunch ladies since they were often the ones tasked with having me and the slut-babies talk things out, which never worked or lasted. I sat on a cafeteria bench and Pauline asked me what happened. I burst into tears. I told her I was done and couldn’t take it anymore, didn’t know how to fight back and was a dripping puddle of snot and defeat. Later my mom would come and pick me up. I’d try to qualify for her how bad it was knowing there was nothing anyone else could do. My principle at the time looked like an actual turtle and never made eye contact. Every kid made fun of him and even when I left this school in a year I knew there was only one middle school so I’d be with all the same kids. Eventually I’d learn that bullies didn’t end on playgrounds or cafeterias. They’re just people who decided they were going to protect themselves with violence.
I hated that I understood their sad story so early on and would watch it play out in every grade and then years later, every position I’d ever work. The big me’s, little ol’ me’s and the hurt persons. I noticed the patterns in my family and my mother’s friendships too. It made me feel bored with people, at least to some degree since I could quickly identify which category they were in, what would upset them or what they would decide was cool. I could see it when people were seeking attention or using their sobbing vodka voices to feign guilt about being a childhood-obliterating selfish, mess. I even saw it when I was playing the role too; obnoxiously correct, ego-fulfilling, sin absolving, parentified drivel pouring out of my own lying, terrified face; promptly and dutifully. Love me! Protect me! Like me! My sin had always been commission. I used to invite the slut-babies to my slumber parties, cause who else would I have put on the guest list? Me and my one, sometimes best friend who was only my best friend when the slut-babies had called her fat too much that week. She would flip flop and be in their club and make fun of me if they invited her to do something cool, then come crying to me declaring eternal best-friendery in the wake of their stinging words. And went along with it cause on our street it was either her, the one Russian immigrant kid who spoke no English or one of the 900 kids who lived in the red house with the actual, two-story diaper mountain outside it. Perceiving that we have limited options contributes to our desperation. I played the same roles for decades until I finally started digging away at the banyan tree sized root of a decade of sexual abuse which had convinced me I was powerless against big me’s and my own relentless, inner good-girl. She protected me by complying since this made things go much easier. When I notice her, my stomach feels like I just drank a gallon of Prell.
And anyway, I’m not her anymore. I’m this. Human, messy, fussy, neurotic, funny, anxious, depressed, creative, resilient, optimistic and compelled to love, be fascinated by and often avoidant of people. I also have a huge crooked nose with a dent in the tip and inherited that mole on my right cheek from my father; they’re identical and I love that since he was one of the big me’s, who is now just a him. I love that we’re all mirror images of each other, our scowls and smiles, our piss and flower fragrances, our hunger. We’re all the same, all scared of going through this unexplainable existence alone without mattering to anyone, ever being seen and therefore never being loved. Once you take the steps to courageously discover who you really are and love that person in spite of whatever it is you think you’re hiding, you’re free.
1 John 4:4 You belong to God. You’ve already won.
*Disclaimer: The language of this particular post is rough and discriminatory. I do not condone human trafficking and believe that no one chooses such a path in life. I have personally been offered money for indiscretionary behavior which I’ve written about in my post entitled Richie Rich. The language I use in this post is cathartic and often spoken from the point of view of my 3rd grade self. I do not wish to censor the brutality of my past environments nor do I wish to support the endangerment or exploitation of any persons. Thank you.