Monday, January 10, 2011

Opening our hands, opening our hearts, stopping the violence.

I sit here, thinking about the link I just posted, about Bill Zeller, who recently committed suicide instead of facing the "darkness" as he called it. I sit here remembering a time, long ago, when I felt lost, when I wondered if it were easier to just stop. Just. Stop.

I lived though a long dark time. It wasn't sexual abuse, nothing that Bill had to endure. My own personal hell was one of continuous, brutal, unrelenting, physical abuse, both at the hands of my mother and, because of the victim that was born out of that, the hands of the various bullies that populated my life. She created, in me, a fearful, jumpy, shy, cringing little coward. From when I could remember, until I turned about 13, I gave up. I didn't fight back anymore. You see, when you are that small, you learn early that everyone is bigger and stronger than you and -- you cannot win.

First you lost to her anger, her brutality, her rationalization, the manifestation of her own history of physical abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father and sadistic brother. Your memories at five, six, seven and eight, are of constant beatings at the hands of an angry harpie, swooping down upon you for some transgression (manufactured or real), to deliver unto you some punishment for your crime.

Sometimes that crime was not being able to quiet down. A six year old boy being loud. Who would have thought of it?

I just noted here that the language I use said, "your crime" and "swooping down upon you." Odd that. It didn't happen to you.  It happened to me.  No, it was my crime that I owned and it was her swooping down upon me; and it changed me. Even when I tried to fight back and defend myself when cornered at school, in the third grade, at eight years of age, I was beaten for fighting when I got home.

And in the sixth grade, a girl, a girl, backs you (see I did it again -- not you, it was me) into a corner and takes my lunch money. She wasn't larger than me. She didn't even have to hit me. The coward that I was just handed over all the change I had and chose going hungry over what I imagined she would do to me if I didn't give her fifty cents.

I despised myself.

So I escaped into books, into getting off at the wrong bus stop, living with my heart in my throat at school bus stops in the mornings, hoping they wouldn't get bored and notice me; hoping for invisibility.

Then it I started thinking about it. I went down that road at about 11 years of age. I started feelings so worthless, so unloved, so much a target, with no alternatives, no one to really help me escape the bullying, that I started planning. I would walk in front of a speeding car. I would ride my bike off an overpass. Maybe I'd swim out farther than I could return? Would someone miss me then? Would someone love me then? Would she feel bad? I really wondered these things. I wondered if I'd show them, leave a note, and they would finally know what they did to me. I tried talking myself into it, into ending my torment. Obviously, I talked myself out of it instead; hence you are reading this.

I even turned towards a potential rapist during this time.  Ed was a family friend who took me on camping trips.  When everyone was beating the shit out of me, when I was friendless and alone, Ed was my friend.  We went to Gettysburg together, Washington D.C., camping in Pennsylvania, in the backwoods of New Jersey, and a host of other places.  I didn't know what Ed was doing until one night, alone camping in his truck he asked if I wanted a "hand" as it were.  He said many boys did it, when they were out camping.  It was a normal thing.   I turned him down.  Ed was supposed to feel safe for this 13 year old. I turned him down and he never spoke of it again.

He's now serving a 25 year prison term for raping multiple young boys.  Some of whom I knew back in 1973 or so.  And to think, to be driven into the arms of a rapist, just because I felt no one else loved me.  I dodged that bullet and continued my ordeal.

Then, one day, at 14, as I sat there on the floor of the junior high school hallway, after taking a shove or two, and a fist in the mouth, from one of the local bullies, someone chose to care. Someone chose to offer me a hand, offer me love, offer me an out. As Eric loomed over me, as I expected another beating, I was -- disappointed? All I saw were his shoes. I heard him saying something, something that, translated in my fear addled brain as anything other than what he said, "hey, are you ok?"

He had to repeat himself more than once, with me cringing through the tears, spitting the blood on my shirt, to finally notice his hand. His hand was open. It was open.

Shaking in fear, I took it. I don't know why, but I trusted it.

Helping me up, brushing me off, wiping the blood from my face he asked, "are you tired of this?"

"Y...yes," I stuttered. I stuttered a lot then.

"Come hang out with me in the library," he said. "It's safe there. I want to talk to you."

You see, at just 16 years old, Eric was a brown belt in Judo and, at six feet tall, wasn't a target for anything but respect from anyone.

So I sat with him, still afraid, but listening. I listened to him as he gave me another alternative to what I had been thinking. He gave me an alternative to killing myself with the 12 gauge shotgun I had gotten as a birthday present -- some of my family were hunters. He gave me his hand, his time, and his guidance. I spent weeks with him, learning, gaining confidence, gaining strength. I hid next to Eric, at lunch, in the halls, on the way home from school. He was my guardian and my friend.  He was my sensei.

Six months later, during a particularly brutal beating for some minor infraction, I stood up, took the belt from my enraged mothers hands, pulled my pants up, and said, "You aren't hitting me anymore." The only time I recall her looking smaller, more afraid, was a couple weeks before her death, as stood next to her in the hospital, my hand on her forehead, telling her I loved her.

Within a week, I was the target of a bully again. I heard the words, saw the fist coming, and executed a pretty effective shoulder throw, putting the bully against the lockers and onto his head. People started leaving me alone after that. When I moved to California at 14, no one bothered me at all. Maybe the only thing that needed to die, needed to walk into that traffic, was the coward within me.

My life has gone many places since that time. I carried various forms of that fear for decades, showing anger where it wasn't appropriate, fearing where it wasn't necessary, manifesting a host of behaviors that don't make a very good human being. It took decades to stop sabotaging myself, to let that scared little boy learn he didn't have to fear, not really, no really, you don't have to fear, anymore.

So when I read of the despair of someone like Bill Zeller, of not being able to escape the darkness, I wish that someone, somewhere had held out a hand to him that could have trusted. I wish he didn't have to make the choice he made, a choice that I tried to talk myself into and, thankfully, found a reason to talk myself out of. People won't have understood if I had taken that road. People won't understand why Bill did what he did. That doesn't change where I was, where Bill went.

We need to stop the violence in our society, be it physical violence, sexual violence, or violent rhetoric. We need to excise violence as a necessary thing, as an alternative, from our families, our society, our world.

Hands closed into fists need to be opened so people like Bill don't think that the choice they made is the only way out.

Thank you, Eric. For your open hand.


Feel free to comment on this blog but do not forget that I am the publisher in this space. Questions and respectful dialogue are encouraged. Typical net forum and blog behavior (lack of critical thought, unfounded assumptions, and deductions based on same) are not tolerated.