I’ve always been the type that showed little emotion. I pretended, often quite well, that nothing bothered me. But I was pretending. As much as we’ve all heard the old saying, words can hurt. Words aren’t just empty sounds floating through the air—they have power and meaning that become impressed in our minds and in our souls, sometimes for life.
When I was entering second grade, we moved to the other side of town, away from our friends and to a new school bus route. I became brunt of about 90% of the joking on that new bus—often by high school kids. Yes, I was 7 or 8, and they were 17 and 18. Life certainly isn’t fair, and I never expect it to be. But come on!?
The torment I endured on that bus certainly beat hardness onto my heart. (To this day, I won’t repeat some of the names, so don’t ask.) At that early age is when I started putting on a pretty good front, and by the age of 8, I knew I was always going to be the ugly kid, the fat kid, the awkward kid, the weirdo. I heard it every day, at school, on the bus, and sometimes at home. I kept up the hard front as much as I could, but as much as we’re told that if we stand our ground the bullshit will stop, it really isn’t always true. I played it tough and even made friends, but often they just fell in line with the others when they thought I couldn’t hear.
By the time I was in high school, the hardness was permanent. I did not make, nor want, many friends. The ones I had were almost accidental, and only one friend stuck around from childhood. And even they were kept at a distance. From my experience until then, friends betray you whenever it suits their interests. I had lived it more than once, so I stopped caring—or at least showing that I cared. I think I went through high school smiling just enough times to count without my shoes on. College didn’t change much.
I thought I found some happiness and self-esteem when I got to Delaware in 1990, but I hadn’t. Sure, I made a few friends and even dated a little. I was sometimes called “gorgeous” by a few folks I had never met. It was nice and made me feel good for a moment, but when I went home, I was still the ugly fat kid and figured they were just trying to make me (or my date) feel better. No matter the reality of it all, I was a hideous, foul tasting bit of something that the world wanted desperately to spit out. Sure, I had those days when things felt good, mostly when I explored the world and dabbled in photography. But at the root of it all, when I really had to think about who I was and where I was in the world, I was miserable inside. Not many people knew, but that little kid who was tormented on the bus and pushed aside in school had gone off to college, and he was floundering and dying inside.
Those words that I had endured 10 years earlier had stifled any potential I had inside, and I fell apart during my second year in college, dropping out after barely finishing my sophomore year. What saved me, ironically, was going home to disappear from the world a bit. No school, no crowds, no friends really. Just me, and work when I had it. It didn’t solve everything, but it kept me sane.
As I got older, I suppose looks mattered less, so I forgot about most of the ugliness. Most of the words and taunts left my memory. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it makes the scabs less prominent. I eventually found happiness in keeping myself busy and learning new things. Ironically, returning to college was a big help. I was too busy to feel down, and certainly too busy to care if I was ugly or fat, no matter how many pretty college kids I was around. But some things remain.
I still struggle with insecurity about my ideas, creations, and my writing. I could never proofread my own college papers, or I would never turn them in. I had to finish them the night before and submit them without even looking at them. My three readers here have NO idea how hard it is to even publish a blog. (I have quite a few unpublished “drafts” to prove it!) I still make lots of excuses and denigrate myself a little just in case something really does suck. (It rarely does.) But in some ways, I still feel the world is out to get me.
As much as I like to tell others “don’t give them the power anymore, just let it go,” I still struggle. Long ago, I absolutely and unconditionally forgave everyone who ever wronged me. That was something I had to do early on in college just to keep my sanity and to come to terms with family life. While I don’t hold grudges at all, I still don’t fully trust people. (Don’t take it personally.) There is just no denying that all those things I heard and endured still poke at my soul. Yes, they also made me the person I am, and that’s a blessing. But I am still fettered by those little scabs of doubt and hurt beaten onto my spirit.