Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Day I Was The Hero

It was Grade 2, and it was winter time. I know it was winter time because we were surrounded by snow, and believe it or not, there are times up here that snow is absent. I know it was Grade 2, because some of the players involved in this tale didn't go to my school before or after that grade. I also know that memory is a funny thing, and even the events that you can still visualize, taste, smell and feel are likely distorted in some way thanks to the passage of time. I am not saying this is exactly how it happened. But it is how I remember it.

I was a small kid during the first few years of my elementary school experience. I was so small that I usually had to sit in the front row for picture day, which were the spots normally reserved for the petite and pretty girls. I also wasn't your 'typical' boy. Now, I hate the descriptions like typical or normal, because my experience shows they're about as real as a pink, dancing, farting, top hat wearing, singing block of cheese. But I know that I did not easily fit into certain people's definition of a normal boy. Those certain people happened to be my Grade 1 & 2 teachers and the bullies that started making picking on me a daily hobby.

Who were these bullies? Well, don't worry, because they're going to play an important part in this tale. I first want to focus a few sentences on what made me an atypical boy in the eyes of the teachers and bullies. First of all, I was a massive daydreamer. I was constantly coming up with stories or pretending I was in a magical world, while my teacher was trying to explain what happens when you take away three of the four apples -- I already knew what happened, you ate them because what else do you do with apples? I wasn't incredibly focused and definitely wasn't prepared to answered questions when called upon. We can spend hours going on about if my teachers handled me properly, and how this experience lead to some unfair labels that emblazoned themselves to me for far too long. The fact remains my lack of focus and propensity to daydream caused me to not earn my first degree black belt in school learning, and also allowed me to be directly targeted as the prime object of ridicule. This decreased to an extreme extent in Grade 3 because the teacher seemed to actually understand me much more, and used my imagination and daydreaming as a way to help me excel in school. But this isn't about how to properly teach a child who doesn't fit in to specific boxes (not that I endorse stuffing children in boxes, even though it makes them easier to keep track of), so I'll focus back on what it was that made me stand out in a rather detrimental way for elementary school social progression. The other major problem was that I was not athletic and I was uncoordinated (okay, I still can be described that way). You add that up with my bursting imagination, and while most boys spent the recess playing baseball, I was off on a life or death treasure hunt or trying to save the school yard from a horde of ogres. Now, I actually was able to drag in several kids to play with me, and on certain days, even the bullies wanted to join in on my adventures. The fact remained, I had been pegged as different, and so it only made sense in bully logic that I should get picked on.

So, this was my life for Grade 2. I was either being yelled at by the teacher or mocked by the meatheads. I'd usually gain my revenge by either writing little stories where they were swallowed by dragons, or I'd imagine a world where I was the most powerful super hero ever known. For the most part, I just took my abuse, because after it becomes a daily routine, you accept it as something that is just as common as brushing your teeth or hiding your peanut butter sandwich in a hole in the old tree (every does that, right?). Like I said, sometimes the cruel kids actually decided they liked me that day, and wanted to take part in the little world I created for recess. I just always hoped that each day would be the one where they decided I was fun and cool, and not a living and breathing punching bag.

On this winter day, I was not deemed to be someone worthy of playing with by the thugs of Grade 2. I am not sure why they chose this day to be cruel, but I never really knew to begin with. I remember they were being especially tough on me in the morning during classes. I was being called 'Pisstopher', and they threw out insults that included my family or my own appearance or numerous other things that are hurtful for a 8 year old boy to hear. It isn't that there abuse was new, but this day seemed like it had been overly aggressive and in abundance. I sometimes missed the first class of the morning, because I went to a special learning centre to try to figure out why I couldn't focus in class (25 years later and I have the answer -- the lessons were boring). I think the bullies were jealous I got to miss the first part of the day, and so they constantly ragged me for going to the 'Stupid Factory'. By the time lunch finally arrived, I was really hoping that a space ship would land in the field, and the aliens would willingly take me to their planet. I was done with Grade 2, and I had my fill of the verbal abuse.

It was during this time that my very best friend was not allowed to play with me, because his parents were too afraid that he'd turn into me (oh no, my child has an imagination!). So, I was especially down because not only was I being picked in tripled doses this day, but I didn't even have my fellow adventurer to join me on the noon journey. At recess I decided to retreat to the very far corner of the playground, and would play house with two girls from my class. These girls had also been deemed strange and different, and so they had set up a sanctuary in this corner of the field where they didn't need to fend off abuse from the lugs and bugs of the school.

It wasn't as exciting as finding treasure or risking your life against a army of monsters, but I was having enough fun playing house. Even though they wanted me to be the father, I was able to convince them it would be better if I was the dog. I was entertaining myself by leaping on all fours in and out of the snow dunes. It was during this time that my 'pick on me' tracking device was activated, and two of the cruelest from the bully clan decided to crash the house party.

I remember these bullies vividly. The one was a chattery parrot of a child that said and did whatever he felt the 'cool kids' would do. He squawked unintelligible insults more because he thought it would get others to like him rather than it being anything he believed. I also had the misfortune of him sitting directly behind me in class, so my ear had been assaulted all morning by shrieks of idiocy. The other boy was one who emotionally cut my heart and soul far deeper. My mom was working at the time, and so she needed someone to look after me until she could come pick me up. During this time, I was spending about 2 hours at this boy's house after school. We played and had a great time when it was just the two of us waiting for my mom to pick me up. When we were at school and he was surrounded by the clan of mean, then he was a real life monster of extreme hideousness. I am not sure if his words were especially cruel in themselves, or if it was the fact that I knew he could be nice to me, and felt betrayed every time he picked on me in front of the others. We had a lot of fun when the others weren't around, but when they were, it was his abuse that hurt the most.

At first, the jerks only hurled out the usual insults at me and the two girls. They made fun of me for playing with girls, because getting two girls makes you a loser when you're 8 years old (if only this happened in high school). The bullies wanted to give out equal helping of their venom, so the girls got cruel insults as well. So, we did what we were told by our teacher, and we ignored the cruelty, then took ourselves to a new part of the yard. Unfortunately, we all left our invisible cloaks at home, and so the meanies had a rather easy time following us to our new location.

It was during this time that one of the girls retreated to get help from the teacher. I hoped the teacher would be a rescuer and vanquish these evil minions. I imagined the teacher would send these demons back to the bowels of hell they came from. I remember seeing that girl return, and looking so defeated and deflated. She informed us that the teacher told us to stop being 'tattle tales.' If there is one major thing I remember about our Grade 2 teacher, she hated tattle tales. I think, it is mostly because she just hated to do her job. I am just glad she never decided to enter into the police force or become a part of police dispatch. "Oh stop your tattle tales about the 300 pound gorilla-man breaking into your house. Oh can you stop whining about him attacking your wife. Jeeze, play nice." It became clear the teacher was not to be the hero this day, and so we accepted the constant flurry of curse and insults.

After awhile, insulting someone is boring if they don't respond. This is part of the theory behind just ignoring the bullies. The hope is they would get bored and move on to running head first into brick walls. This isn't what happened. Instead, they suddenly realized they were surround by lots and lots of snow. It would be more fun to fling a barrage of snow along with the time tested insults. At first most of the snow balls and verbal assaults were directed at me. At this point, I just blocked out the world, and decided I was dancing on the moon with Lil' Orphan Annie. The advantage of an over active imagination is the ease you can tune out the world when you need to, and enter into a place that is far more comforting.

Even though I was securely off to another place, one of the girls was still very much firmly planted in reality. She decided it was time to give her opinion on this act of constant picking on me. It was one of the first times I ever remember somebody standing up for me (who didn't go by the name of mom). It was something directly out of one of those after school specials in the 80s, which was fitting because that happened to be the decade we were in.

"Will you just leave Chris alone!"

"No, we don't want to leave Pisstopher alone!"

"Why do you always pick on him?"

"Because he was made in the Stupid Factory."

"No way. You guys are stupid."

I'm not sure if that was the exact exchange, but my memory tells me it was really close to this. I do know that she stood up for me. I do know that she ended up calling them stupid for picking on me. I definitely know that they didn't like the insult, even if it was the same simple one they used on me. They showed their dislike by launching a hard, icy snowball right into her face. It was a very hard throw, and I remember the solid ball of ice and snow making a thud against her soft, delicate face. She fell to the ground and cried. The thugs thought it was pretty funny, and she deserved it for ever thinking she could use words like 'stupid' at them.

I don't know if was a constant diet of He-Man after school, and playing with super hero toys on weekends. It might have to do with being such a huge Star Wars fan, and really hoping that one day I could use the Force like Luke Skywalker. It could be glutton of movies I watched about heroes or the countless fairy tales that I forced my mom to tell me before bed. Whatever it was, at that very moment something clicked in me. The hero instinct came alive in me. I saw an innocent girl get abused for trying to help me. I saw something that was incredibly wrong and unfair. At that moment, I knew that justice needed to be done. These villains needed to pay, just like Skeletor or Darth Vader. So, I zapped off that moon, and left Orphan Annie to dance by herself. I had to spend some time in reality. I had a job to do. I had to be a hero.

I had never been in a fight in my life up to that point. I had been thrown to the ground, and spit on or kicked. I had been pushed and shoved many times. But I personally never engaged in a physical manner back to my attackers. I left the retribution to my imagination or if Batman ever decided to become real and protect me. I didn't really know how to properly fight or defend myself (though, I don't really want to know a 8 year old that does). I never really had a desire to be aggressive in real life. But when I saw the girl who tried to defend get a hard snow ball to the face, I had the sudden urge to protect her and to defeat what I saw as the real life villains.

It was something straight out of The Christmas Story; the bullies were laughing at their successful snow ball hit, while rage built up inside me. I remember running full steam ahead, or as full steam as an unathletic boy encased in heavy winter gear can go. I leapt into the air, and tackled the parrot boy into a large snow bank. I remember taking a handful of snow, and then shoving it into his face. It was at this moment that my after school friend/during school tormentor realized what had happened, and quickly came over to try to pull me off. Once he made it over, it was this moment that I threw my first ever punch. This punch found itself on the chin of the unsuspecting bully. I am not sure if was the adrenaline flowing through me or if it was the fact the bully wasn't suspecting it, but this one punch dropped him into the snow. It was at this moment that I did my best Incredible Hulk impersonation, and I grabbed bother their head and shoved them deep into the snow. It was at this moment the girls pulled me off, and asked me to let the vile villains go. Just like all the bad guys in the Saturday morning cartoons, the evil ones made a hasty retreat. I was left standing as the hero, and the girls showered me with their adoration.

Unfortunately, this wasn't a cartoon or action movie, and there wasn't a victory party waiting for me back at the classroom. Apparently, the teacher who hates 'tattle tales', decided to make an exception this time around. The defeated bullies alerted her to my vanquishing of them, but their version made me out as the bad guy. Since I was the strange kid, and since my rump was already used to several spankings the past two years (it was a private school that allowed spanking -- but usually reserved for those nasty daydreamers or imaginative types who couldn't focus enough to finish 50 addition/subtraction problems), it only made sense that my reward be another round of 'ping pong paddle meets my butt'. I hated being spanked, and usually I never really even understood why the teacher spanked me (that is the thing when you're in your own world, you don't notice what is happening in the real one). This time around, I hardly even cared. Sure, the bullies thought they won, because they caused my bum to get a little red. I am sure they saw it was them getting the last laugh. I knew the truth. The small and weak and strange boy got the better of two of them. I proved at that instant that I was stronger, and that I wouldn't take their crap. I knew that at that moment I was the hero and the good guy really did win in the end.

I don't remember being picked on much after that. Or at least, not picked on by those two particular boys. Shortly after, I know that my best friend was allowed to play with me again, and so I didn't need to be the dog during house anymore. I seem to remember that things started to get a lot better. I am sure it wasn't that one incident that changed everything for me. I do remember it as an incident that I was proud of as a kid. I remember it was the day that I was a hero.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:24 am

    Jude Martin via Facebook:

    I so remember you being a very sweet and gentle boy with an amazing imagination, who i am sure has turned into a fantastic gentleman. i am sorry for the painful childhood memories you have from grade 2, but i am really glad that you were able to level one of those mean-spirited bullies...it would have been great to see...kinda like in a movie. keep on writing...u r awesome!

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  2. Thank you for the kind words. And yes, I was an action hero straight out of a big budget movie, or at least straight to DVD -- or since it was the 80s, Beta.

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  3. Awesome post Christopher - and what makes it so powerful is that it's just so emotionally honest.

    It's interesting, because I can see parallels in my childhood.

    In general, I think children who are ostracized in some way tend to develop a stronger sense of justice, of wanting to help people and be the hero, as you say.

    Idealists might be few but are definitely needed in the world!

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  4. I wholeheartedly agree. Even though I don't look fondly upon the times I was bullied or looked down upon, I do think those experiences gave me an empathy and compassion that I may not have had as strongly otherwise. It has ingrained in me a sense of always rooting for the underdog and wanting to do my part in helping those who have been discriminated against or wronged in some way. It is cliche, but I do believe those rough times made me into a better person (not that I'd ever want it to happen to anyone else).

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  5. I know a bully I'd like to clock right now.
    *ahem* did i just say that outloud? lol.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

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