Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Grudge

I try to be an understanding and forgiving person, and I think, for the most part, I succeed. A large part of that is due to my mom, who would always meet my childhood rants and raves about those who had wronged me with insights into their lives, forcing me to always look beyond the surface into the root causes of behavior. In fact, she trained me so well that she later came to regret it, as she would become incensed on my behalf, questioning why I was still friends with so-and-so after they did such-and-such, only to have the "you have to understand where they're coming from" line thrown back at her. Because of this, few and far between were the instances in which I gave way to utter loathing for those who crossed me. One of the ones that did manage to stick started in Junior High, thanks to the 7th grade hazing process known as Initiation.

I don't know when I first started hearing the horror stories of Initiation, but I'm sure they were in full swing by the end of my 6th grade year. Being a painfully nerdy boy, I was understandably nervous about the prospect of being set upon by upperclassmen, fearful of the accompanying physical pain in the way that only those who've never experienced any such pain can be. But while there was a part of me that was fearful, I somehow managed to rise above it and not obsess over the possibilities. Honestly, it's truly amazing just how un-bullied I was a child, considering my nerdiness and fear of confrontation, and there was a part of me that thought I might be left off the hook since my mom was one of the more feared teachers at the school. No, I never played the "you know who my mom is" card, but on at least one occasion I know that a potential bully was stopped by one of his compatriots who invoked the name of Mrs. E. And so, as the first week or two of Junior High passed with no sign of a devastating Initiation on the horizon, I relaxed and forgot about it . . . until the day an 8th grader came up to me between classes and said "You're initiated" moments after punching me in the family jewels.

Now, this wasn't the first time I'd suffered trauma to the testicles, nor would it be the last; heck, it wasn't even the most painful. But it was the first and only time that said injury had been deliberate. My reaction is a bit of a blur; all I remember is making a bee-line for the restroom, in hopes of escaping the halls before the inevitable tears started flowing. Did I tear up a little or bawl like a baby? My recollection is the former, since I mainly felt shocked and numb, but I could be mistaken. Of course, I might not have had much of a chance to break down, since as soon as I made it into the restroom I was almost immediately surrounded by several upperclassmen who had witnessed the Initiation, and who weren't happy about it. Why weren’t they happy? Was it because I was such a beloved figure at the school that the very thought of someone assaulting me was enough to drive them into paroxysm of rage? Surprisingly enough, no, that wasn’t it at all. The real reason was simple: they were all Freshmen who had been raked over the coals the previous year after the initiated boys ran and told on them. So, seeing one of the previous year’s tattlers engaging in Initiation on the new generation . . . nosir, not happy campers at all.

Were there any consequences for the 8th grade ball puncher? Not that I'm aware of. I mean, yes, word did get back to some of the teachers, and one in particular did tear into the 8th graders about how ticked she was that they had gone and done to others what they had whined to her about having done unto them the previous year, but I never officially ratted out the offending party, and if anything happened to him at the hands of others, I was not privy to it. Regardless, that started my 5 year grudge against the red-headed racker.

Now, my biggest complaint against the guy wasn't that he had punched me in a highly sensitive area; I mean, yeah, I wasn't too happy about that, but I think I could have gotten over that relatively easily. No, what really griped me was that not a week before I had seen him just lightly punch one of my more popular classmates on the arm and say "That's it, you're initiated." Little bit of a difference there, no? It was that discrepancy that went all over me. For me, getting socked in the groin wasn't just a hazing ritual that applied to all of my classmates equally; no, it was a very clear message of where I stood in the grand scheme of things, a reminder that I was at the bottom of the social ladder and had little to no chance of climbing up. And so for years, a part of me hated him for that.

Oh, there was no really outward sign of that irrational loathing; sure, we had a few friends in common, but we didn't really run in the same social circles, and we never had a class together, so my contact with him was fairly limited. And my distaste of him demonstrated itself in the way it often does: my complete and total shutting down of any and all verbal activity in his presence. His voice grated on my nerves, his every word and deed seemed to me filled with the cockiness and arrogance that fueled the fires of my long-simmering anger, but all of that just stayed locked up inside me, repressed.

The full strength of my despising him wouldn't actually dissipate until the first time that I was around him for an extended period of time. It was at a TSA conference at NEO; I had been active in TSA for years at that point, but it was pretty much the only time the object of my ire had gone on a TSA trip. There was a pretty big gap in-between competitive events for a few of us, so we wound up sitting together in one of the lounges just talking. I think the fact that we were sort of on my turf might have helped a bit; I was more relaxed and acting like my real self than I usually did at school, and consequently actually had almost normal interaction with this person who had, up until that point, pretty much loomed in my mind as a total waste of space who held me in nothing but contempt. But the truth was that to this guy, I probably wasn't even a blip on the radar, and in all the time I'd spent directing negative vibes his way, he probably never gave me a second thought. And, after an hour or two of having normal human interaction with him, I felt years of built up bile fade away.

Of course, there was no sort of long-term bonding born of this. Outside of that one afternoon I doubt I ever spoke to him more than a couple of times in the following years, and at least one of those was when I ran into him at the Hastings in Stillwater my Junior year at OSU. But while we may not have become the best of buds, the whole experience did reinforce in me the futility of holding grudges. Which is not to say I never fell into that trap again; I have been known to irrationally harbor ill feeling towards a person or two. However, I don't think I've fallen into it quite as far or as hard. Yes, there are people I don't like, and people I try to avoid, and people who make me want to claw out my brains rather than have to deal with them, but on the whole those are based on long-standing and fundamental personality conflicts, and not predicated on a one-time burst of juvenile behavior.


Mrs. E said...

Dang it boy, you done inherited that grudge thing from your great-grandma Sutton. Your pa done got it too. It took him years to realize that the people he spent so much time hating had not thought of him at all. He is so glad he learned to get over the grudge thing.

Oh yes, I do remember you once telling me that you didn't care about the "kid's" home life or background or anything else; the guy or gal was a jerk and deserved whatever evil came along. I knew then that maybe I had gone overboard a little...okay probably a lot on this subject. Probably a tendency that I inherited.

Love you. Have a great day.

iamam said...

These days, whenever I think of the Bug-Eyed Lady, I want nothing but good things to happen for her. The situation is not quite the same, because she and I were actually friends at one time, but I spent a lot of energy wishing she'd get too fat to walk. At some point, I realized I wasn't mad any more. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I've referred to her as the Bug-Eyed Lady in about five years.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Glad to hear that the animosity towards BEL has faded away; I think these sort of grudges are even worse on you when they're held towards former friends.

cedric-the-destroyer said...

If the red-headed racker is who I think it is (Is his mother currently principal of our beloved alma mater?), I too, always felt he would have made a beautiful abortion.