When I was in grade school, I passed under a Grand Trunk Railroad viaduct every day. This landmark meant I had covered 11 blocks and was home stretching. I could see my house as I emerged from its concrete arches. The gray walls that supported the trains were often embellished with chalked or painted evidence of young romances or rage. It was not the tagging era, but kids use the canvas they are presented.
One day as I scanned the walls for new angst, I spotted “Janet Joliat is a pirate’s treasure – a sunken chest.” Although I was alone, I immediately felt the scorched pain and humiliation that this message was intended to deliver….to me. What girl, in seventh or eighth grade has the self image to laugh at that moment? Not this girl.
The offenders were cool kids. I was not. Two of these boys were lolling on a neighbor’s front lawn, hoping to calibrate and celebrate my despair. I just put my head up and went home. It was better to pretend that I was oblivious than to present them with kindling for their celebratory bonfire.
Later that evening, my brothers obscured it. But I never forgot the words- which were ridiculous (though true enough). More than that, I spent a lot of time trying to unravel the “why” of it.
There is no “why” that is good enough. I was so off the cool kid track that there was no commerce to be had in humiliating me. No competing girl would have conspired to hurt me: I was the awkward geek with orthopedic shoes whose nose was generally in a book. No threat.
Now I know that people bully because they can. Just that. For some reason their empathy quotient is depressed. They may not have cruel intentions- perhaps their sense of humor is skewed- but they do cruel things. They have victims.
Some of the victims do not have loving families to buttress them. Some do not have enough serotonin to cast the hurt aside. Some really suffer. Some hurt themselves.
I was fine. I edited my need for acceptance. I realized that I was not cool. I made it a point to never, ever victimize classmates for the way they looked. Or smelled. Or spoke. Or danced. Or any of the other matrices that the bullies use to elevate themselves. I threw myself into every activity that high school proffered. I still received hate notes in my locker. The St. Joseph sisters tried to immunize me (and others) from the slings and arrows of the mean girls. It only backfired. As the smoking, drinking partying kids were redlined, and the “good kids” became the cheerleaders, homecoming court and musical leads, we were more laughed at. I looked like the most content high school kid, and I could not wait to leave.
That is why this Mitt Romney bullying mess gets to me.
I grew up 6 miles from Cranbrook, but millions of miles away in every way. It was where auto execs and society families sent their sons so they would have constancy despite their dad’s extensive travel. It was rigorous. The campus is noted for its priceless art and ivy league beauty. Uniforms were formal. Tuition was high. The local Bloomfield Hills public schools, which I later taught at, were top tier, and so attending this academy was indicative of great wealth, power and status. They imported scholarship students to broaden the demographics, and I imagine these kids had the hardest time.
Boarding campuses often have their “pranksters” and they have the cover of night to inflict their harm. Escape is difficult for the outsider. Those in “power” laugh off their incursions. There is a claque of supporters, desperate to stay in the cool orbit. The aggrieved party is invisible. His pain has to be subverted or there will be more bullying. I know that. I remember. But I was a block from home. Mom and cookies awaited. Brothers with a broom and a bucket. Not a bunk bed and 300 miles distance to home.
Oh, but Mitt apologized for his prank. This tone deaf explanation pivots on the assertion that he shaved the kid’s head because he hated the bleached hair, not because he was gay.
What? The “why” is not the key. Hateful victimization, with a cheering audience, should not be part of a 17 year old’s repertoire. There is no context which makes his actions less than violent and reprehensible.
This is not the biggest story of the campaign. For me, however, it reverberates. I am, after all, a pirate’s dream. I remember. I will withhold my vote from Mitt to honor John Lauber.
He may have forgiven these boys. I’ll bet he never forgot.
Mike P, Richard M and Patrick M- I never forgot, either.