Nobody likes me and everyone is better than me. That’s been my default setting for most of my life. It’s a defence mechanism I’ve created to cut ‘them’ off at the pass and highlight my own inadequacies before ‘they’ can grab me by the hair and expose my frightened face to the reality of myself as it brazenly stares back at me, a melancholy mirror of brutal teenage experiences that have carried over into my adult life, the most unwelcome of historic hangovers.
I say brutal but I’m being melodramatic. My teenage years were comfortable enough, nothing compared to the horrors many have to navigate on their way to adulthood. I wasn’t abused, didn’t live on the breadline, didn’t really want for anything. There were many happy moments. But then there were the moments that weren’t so happy and these are the ones I seem to have brought along for the ride, a rotting albatross of dark, unwanted memories.
They live with me now, slick jagged rocks just below the glassy surface, waiting to rip me open on a whim. When I’m least expecting them they rise to gut me like a fish flopping on the deck of a boat. Striking me down, reducing me to the shy, fragile boy who was no good at sport in a school where sport was everything. Bullied by students and teachers alike. Some physical, yes, sly punches and knuckles rapped against the head. More shocking than painful.
Those wounds healed within days. The mental ones I still carry, unseen but ever present, just beneath my thick/thin skin. The words, the taunts, the ridicule. I will carry them to my grave, weighing me down with each faltering step. The teachers were the worst. Old men now, harmless, yet what harm they wreaked in their prime. I read their obituaries now, pillars of the community or so they would have you believe. But I know the truth of their reigns of terror.
One of them, the worst of them, came to my father’s funeral. I wasn’t even aware of the connection between them. He stood in line to shake my hand, oblivious as to who I was or the impact he’d had on my life. He never lifted a hand to me, instead preferring public humiliation in front of the class, a gibbering wreck who wilted beneath the heat of his glare and miserably dropped out of his class. A subject I was excelling at before I entered his torture chamber of a classroom.
He’s dead now and teachers wouldn’t be allowed to ‘get away with that’ these days. And yet he did, leaving me to pick up the pieces whenever that small, frightened voice inside me soars and I succumb to the demons uncoiling within. I will always carry them, waiting to pounce and bring the man to his boyish knees. I shook his hand that day, stiff upper lip and all that, not wanting to cause a scene, to let the family down. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing, no recognition, shame or guilt. I was but one of many.