Being the person who stands by.

 

High school. So much to be said and yet it’s all the same isn’t it? We all had our traumas from it and our best moments from it, and we all look forward to the day when we’re no longer mortified by that one super embarrassing event we went through. Funny thing is: No one else remembers our high school experience as acutely as we do. They had their own story, their own soundtrack, and their own cast and crew. Needless to say, high school was a Motherfucker. Yes. I said it. It was an asshole. I left at 16 with the thought that I’d never ever want to go back. I’m still content with the course I chose. I tested out early, went to college early.

As I get older, though, I do look back sometimes and am in awe of how many life lessons I learned throughout my time there. We all hear about these bullying horror stories and a lot of us raise our hands and take the “I would NOT let that happen in front of me” stance. Sadly, that’s where it usually ends.

I had a lot of anger during my teen years. Oh god, the internal angst of a teen who did whatever she wanted! ARGH! I was actually really lucky in some ways (even if not in others, as previous posts can show). My parents knew that at the core I was a good kid so if I wanted to hang out until late, I got to. If I went to a friends house, they weren’t always nagging me. They knew I’d make logical choices based on the things I’d observed as consequences to friends and relatives who made BAD choices. That didn’t make me immune to the typical “I’m so misunderstood” phase of the teens. Sometimes, I wish I’d stepped out of my self-righteous rebellion and looked at the bigger picture.

See, I was not at all popular in High School. I had friends call me a social butterfly, but ask any of my previous schoolmates who I am, and they’d try to find me in the yearbook only to find “Picture Not Available.” because I skipped that day. Sue me, I hated yearbooks. Anyway, even without being popular, I wasn’t bothered much in my first high school. Until I started standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I don’t regret it, but I wonder if I should have handled it differently.

Whenever I hear a bullying story, I’m reminded of three different specific occasions in which the bullying at my first high school went to an extreme. The first time was the most heartwrenching for me. The next few weren’t as angering but they were still quite bad.

The very first time I witnessed bullying, I had just left my Art class and was headed towards my English class. Our school was separated by buildings and there were these sidewalk pathways leading to the doors of each one, with a sort of metal awning at the top. I had just gotten into the building where my English class was and walked in, when I saw these jocks, and I mean these BIG hulking guys, taunting a guy in a wheelchair. The guy in the wheelchair looked familiar, but since I usually hung out with the grunge and goth crowds, I didn’t know him by name. It did catch my attention that they were taking away his schoolbooks and backpack. It caught my attention that they were taunting a guy with no legs. A nice guy, by all appearances and few interactions with him. What happened next still makes me cry. They flipped his chair forward and threw it aside. In a panic to get away from them, this guy dragged himself by his hands out towards that rough sidewalk right outside, while someone laughing held the door open for him. The sidewalk scraped what was left of his legs and the entirety of his hands and arms, I later found out. The thing that to this day frustrates me, is that I let my rage take over. I was only like 5’2″ at the time and wasn’t fit, but when my anger took over, it raged out of control, and all I remember is repeatedly punching and clawing at some of these guys. I broke one of their noses. I only saw blood and kept wanting to hit him more. I wanted him to feel like everyone who had ever been hurt felt. Victimized. To this day, I wish I’d chosen to grab the wheelchair, find the hurt guy, and help HIM. I wish I had bothered to find out his name and be his friend instead of pummeling his enemies. Why? Because those jackasses, those assholes, wouldn’t remember any “lesson” I thought I was teaching them, but this guy might have remembered the kindness, and may have had just a little easier time in high school if I’d been wise enough to be a friend instead of a vigilante with a chip on her shoulder. The thing I regret most, is never finding out his name, never talking to him (because I didn’t see him again), and never extending a hand.

The second time, this sweet girl who I was sort of friends with was sobbing and came to me to tell me that the guy she had been dating told everyone he had slept with her and that she had an STD (which he hadn’t and she didn’t) to get back at her for not putting out. A ton of guys and even some girls were really laying into her, verbally abusing her, humiliating her. What made it worse was that she was this super quiet girl who never messed with anyone, and the people who were supposedly her friends weren’t even comforting her or sticking up for her. So I found the guy. He happened to be by a locker near mine. I asked him his side of the story and when he laughed and said she deserved it, I threw him against the locker and held him against it and made him confess the truth. Probably not so bad, until he told me that he’d do it again, in which case… well, I had a pair of jeans that I called my nosebleed jeans for a reason. I used to introduce my knee to peoples faces if they weren’t exactly kind. It’d be almost funny to joke that I was on a first name basis with some of my teachers and the principal of the school, except that it’s true, and it wasn’t as fun as it sounds. If it hadn’t of been for most of my grades, I probably would have been gone from the school long before that. Either way, the only thing that I really regret about that situation is that instead of helping her figure out how to stand up for herself in a way that worked for her and helped her take control of her own life, I took matters into my own hands and instead solved a temporary problem instead of helping her gain permanent strength.

As for the third time… well, I had a guy friend who was extremely effeminate and was always getting teased by the hicks in our school for being gay. He was this fluffy lovable guy who was way taller than me and was kinda chubby, but healthy for the most part and really kind at heart. On this day, I had the awesome idea to wear a really elaborate black dress, and went full on goth mode. It was great. I felt right in my own skin. These guys decided to shove my friend around a bit in front of me, calling him every unimaginative gay slur you can imagine. It was actually kind of pathetic considering our really great English program at that school. So I intervened, because my buddy was a more gentle and patient person than I was. Problem is, fighting anyone while wearing a dress is really messy, in spite of what they show you on tv. They slammed me against a vending machine and upon seeing a temporary tattoo I had above my breast area and near my shoulder, they decided to rip my top. Yep, right in the middle of the lunch area, they ripped my top and of course, most of my guy friends from English as a Second Language (which I had been in for 8th grade and 9th due to some messed up bigotry on behalf of our wonderful educators) got really mad and started over, which led to the hicks backing down, but not before making it clear they wouldn’t forget my “bravery”. That was when I learned that at times, throwing a fist is not as beneficial as using your wit. Had I not thrown a punch, and instead used some sarcasm, confused them a little bit, maybe made them feel a little dumb, they wouldn’t have ripped my top, hit me back, or later on caused problems for my Hispanic schoolmates (although that last one may have happened anyway. We will never know.). Point is, there’s always a bigger picture and a different alternative. There’s also a lot of different consequences.

While I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things I regret about how I handled those situations, I can certainly say one thing that I am never going to regret. I don’t regret that I stepped in. I don’t regret that I had good intentions. I don’t regret that I didn’t stay silent while someone else got hurt. I know a lot of people who regret standing by, though. I know many who still beat themselves up for not stepping up and helping someone who was on the verge of breaking. Those people who regret those things, sometimes can’t go back to say they’re sorry. Not even if they tried. Sometimes, when we don’t step in, the people getting hurt will do anything to stop that hurt, and that anything might just be the worst permanent thing you could never hope for.

In the end, consider your options, but most importantly, always ask yourself “What outcome can I live with for the rest of my life?” and base your choice on that. Can you really live, knowing you may have turned a blind eye to someone at the end of their rope?

I couldn’t.

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More than flesh and blood.

   I have been gone far too long. I realize that. Mainly, I realized it because of the effect it’s had on me. I go through bouts where I lose myself, lately. Then something amazing brings me back and I’m left in awe of the little things (and some big things) that can bring us back to life when we’ve begun to wither and lose our capability to move forward.

A few months ago, the ever awesome Wil Wheaton made a post on his blog that jarred me back to reality. At the time I was out to dinner with my husband and during a brief lull in our conversation, we checked up on the internet (to make sure it was behaving, obviously). I was stunned by the raw honesty in Wil’s post about his kids. The post can easily be found here

As I read it, my thoughts immediately jumped to my dad. My awesomely funny, abrasive, supportive dad. I immediately wanted to run home and write this post, but life and it’s many detours kept me away that night. As more days passed, I faced other obstacles which led to my feeling like, “why should I even post anything, really? I’m new at this. I’m not famous or anything. What on earth can anyone gain from anything I have to say? What right do I have to a soap box.” and I just sank. I stopped in mid-cycle and didn’t move forward for a while. So please forgive the tardiness but allow me to respond to Wil’s post with a post of my own.

Most people who see my parents walking down the street with me tend to assume that my dad is my birth father. They’re always shocked to find out he isn’t. My Aunt Pichy even found that he and I have identical “beauty marks” on the same exact spot of our right forearms. The truth is, though, my birth father is not my father. He never has been and never will be. I was fatherless until I was 5 years old. My mom struggled like crazy to provide me with shelter, safety, love, and food. My mom’s great. Flawed, like any human being, but so great. I honestly never thought I needed a dad. I had a ton of awesome aunts and grandparents, and this totally screwed up but sweet human being for a mother.

Then she met Luis, or Saso as everyone we know calls him. I can’t lie. To me, he was moms boyfriend so I can’t remember much about the time before he became “dad”. But I do remember a few things. This guy DID stuff. COOL stuff. He took me fishing, gave me piggy back rides, made donuts at home, and tucked me in. This guy came to school with my mom to enroll me. He walked me to the bus stop. And when my uber dumb cousin would pick on me, he’d say enough was enough. At the time, he was a total rockstar.

I still didn’t call him dad though. I think I didn’t know how to. I don’t even remember calling my birth father dad. What, between the constant belittling of my mother in front of me and the brilliant disregard he had for me as a little kid, it was amazing I even recognized the guy as a parent.

I don’t know what triggered it. I just remember the moment it happened. It was a slightly foggy day in Massachusetts and ‘Saso’ had walked me to the bus stop. I was wearing a yellow shirt and these blue jean overalls with flowers embroidered on the corner. As we waited for the bus to come and pick me up, he held my hand. Steady, firm, warm. He reminded me about my homework. He told me what he made for lunch for me that day. We got quiet. It was really early and the fog made for a pretty gloomy morning but as he held my hand, and as I looked at his hand holding my own, something stirred inside me and I very carefully, quietly, and with a shaky voice and tears in my eyes, I asked him: “Can I call you daddy?” and he looked at me at first with such worry, some sadness, and very kindly and quietly he squeezed my hand, and as his own eyes teared up he said “Yeah, you can call me that.”.

My dad is no saint. No one person really ever is. We all let someone down along the way. But he’s always been supportive and even when he was furious with me over something, I never once stopped being his kid.

Sadly, from the time I was 12 until I was around 23 or 24, I honestly felt like I had lost my place in my dads world. You see, I was sexually abused as a little girl by my cousins boyfriend (and later he became her husband). For years. When I finally spoke up about it, a lot of things were turned upside down and inside out in our lives. Suddenly, for whatever reason, I felt such a huge distance between my dad and I. I felt like I could do nothing right, except academia, and my anger, frustration, and depression was really screwing that up, too. I was desolate and desperate, angry, and hungry. I was so hungry for anyone to blame for so very many things that I think I pushed people away. Especially, because I felt like I could not speak up about how I felt. My family is awesome but for a long time we were a family full of silence. We didn’t discuss our pain or dialogue our needs, and it corroded us from the inside. My mom stopped doing creative projects. My dad started reaching outside of his family instead of within it. I wallowed and blamed. Everyone, including myself. I ripped my inner thighs to shreds with cuts. I burned myself with matches just to remember I existed.

After an explosive situation with my mom and dad, I realized that I was so exhausted from the sheer silence, that I spoke to my mom first. I explained that I needed to talk. I needed her to talk, too. I needed him to talk as well. Most of all, I needed them to remember I was there. She and I came to a serious understanding that night and now, even if she does get very excited or sometimes a little defensive, when I voice things, she does listen and she does reciprocate.

Dad took a little longer. I think, because of the fact that I’m not his blood-borne, I worried about disappointing him more so than I worried about disappointing my mom. After all, if the blood father could reject and throw me away, couldn’t he? Eventually, I overcame that worry. While Mom was over in Puerto Rico helping my grandmother out with my great grandmother, I took the chance to talk to Dad. We spoke of our regrets and our worries about how we’d handled our lives as a family. I stood in the doorway as he folded his uniforms for work, and I said, for the first time in my life since the abuse, “I thought you stopped hugging me because you thought I was dirty. I felt ashamed. I thought you didn’t think of me the same way anymore.” and he crumpled up his chefs shirt and held it close. He started to cry a little and said, “I never thought that. I was upset. No one told me anything specific, no one told me what was going on. I couldn’t do anything. I felt helpless.”.

After finally understanding some of my dads distance, I felt such a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. Better yet, lifted off of my chest. I had been drowning for so long that this conversation reminded me of just how true my father was. It reminded me that I may not be his own flesh and blood but I am so much damned more than that. I am of his soul.

So when reading Wil’s post, my instinct was to want to hug him. To tell him that even if his kids aren’t all flesh and blood of his, that they are of his soul. And that Anne is one hell of a mom for taking them out of a hurtful situation.

Wil, if you ever do read this, they are so much more than blood. They are of your soul.

Just as I am of mine.

Thank you for reminding me of that.