Ghosts

What I’m about to write is difficult to the point of being agonizing, but I think it’s still important, even if only a few people read it. Maybe sharing my experiences as a kid will help me find some modicum of peace. It’ll be a hell of a lot easier to write than it will be to say it out loud, regardless of who I’m talking to. Believe me…I’m sitting here with a glass of single-malt scotch as I write.

The whole world saw a video this week that stunned them. The video was of four junior high school students brutally mocking their 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein. They were so vicious in their taunts that they brought her to tears – then made fun of the fact that she was crying. The kid who shot the ten-minute video wanted to submit it to a Comedy Central show because he thought it was funny.

I got exactly a minute and a half into it and couldn’t watch anymore.

Less than one minute into that video, I was in tears. The things those kids were saying to Karen were almost identical to the things that my classmates used to say to me on the bus. When I was at CD Landolt Elementary in Houston, I walked to school every day. Bullies would target me and a couple of other kids on that route. Kids at school would make fun of the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I sang (a small group of girls liked my singing but even some of them were absolutely cruel about everything else). They’d ask me why I pulled my socks up to my knees. They’d ask me why I acted like a boy. They’d joke that I was going to have a sex-change operation and gave me disgusting tips on how to do it. Those were the nicer things they did – I was frequently pushed around, beat up, even spit on. I was 12 when Jared Close announced to everyone that I was such a loser that I’d give free blow jobs just to have a friend, then pantomimed the act. I had to ask my teacher what a blow job was. When we all went on to Webster Intermediate (which has since been sold to a private alternative school), it only got worse.

PE was always a nightmare. I still remember the far corner between bays of lockers where a chunk of concrete was missing from the floor. I remember it because I was tossed into that corner on multiple occasions. I still don’t know why some of the kids at school hated me so much. I don’t understand why Theresa Baylott would call “big girl!” out to me from across the quad in a dragged-out falsetto voice and later scream just inches from my face that she was going to tear my effing head off.

I don’t understand why the kids on the bus, many of whom I didn’t really know, always targeted me. My parents would tell me to ignore them, but the more I ignored them the worse the abuse got. I once tried to put my head back and pretend to be asleep, but they all roared and started making fun of my nose – one kid even sneaked up to me and stuck a pen up my nose. And, just as the kids in New York did to Karen, they’d tell me I was fat. They’d “joke” that I took up the whole seat. I tried to sit in the only single-seat bench on the bus to avoid having to sit with the bullies (who loved to sit down next to me, then throw themselves into the aisle and yell at me for being too fat). The funny thing was that I really wasn’t very overweight back then. They convinced me that I was, though.

In high school, there was a running joke among most of my classmates that my nickname was “O.G.” I never knew what it stood for; they tried to tell me it stood for “original gangster” but I was never into rap and they always said it when I did or said something that appeared or sounded masculine. The more “manly” my actions, the more I’d hear, “1-2-3, this is O.G.!” Eventually someone told me that I was right – it was their inside way of making fun of me for being too butch. Someone started a rumor that I was a Satanist despite my heavy involvement in church.

Oh, church. I was bullied there, too. In Houston, my family went to Grace Community Church. The building they used to own now belongs to another congregation (most people on the East Side would immediately recognize the huge red-brick and white-pillar building with the ginormous steeple). One kid from our neighborhood also went to church with us, and he and his friends treated me like dirt. Nathan Scott Hutchison may never be forgiven in my mind for the things he did to me. His mother thought he did no wrong and no amount of challenging by other parents in the neighborhood ever convinced her that he really was a violent bully. He’d beat me to a pulp and then lie to my mother and tell her that I started it – when my mother would keep me home from church, he’d go and brag to everyone in our youth group that he’d beaten me up.

Church didn’t change until my family moved to Louisiana. Church in DeRidder didn’t change the fact that I was bullied at school, though. I just had actual friends for the first time in my life who I could stay close to so I didn’t get beaten up as often. Not that it stopped jocks in the hallway from picking me up and bodily throwing me into the lockers. Demopolis, Alabama was only marginally better, and I think only because everyone liked the fact that I could play guitar. There I had classmates calling me “church lady” after a character on Saturday Night Live. Pretty soon, though, they also started calling me “Pat”, also after a character on SNL. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show so I had no idea what it meant; someone told me it was a sketch about a character who never said if she was a man or a woman. Years later, when I finally did see a Pat sketch, I was horrified. I can’t watch anything on SNL now.

Seeing Karen Klein reduced to tears as the kids on that bus tormented her brought all of that rushing back as if it were yesterday. I’m one of those freaks who remembers every detail of everything; I can’t forget this crap no matter how hard I try. I can barely scratch the surface of the things that were said and done to me as a kid because most of it doesn’t bear repeating in polite company. There are a few facts that strike me, though, every time I go over this stuff in my head. First of all, not one of the kids who bullied me based their abuse on anything in the Bible. The kids who would walk up to me in the cafeteria and loudly ask, “are you a lesbian?” so everyone could hear didn’t go to church. They were just bullying me because I was different. When I was that age, even if you knew you were gay you did not admit it. Doing so invited disaster. The kids who bullied me at church weren’t Christians, they just had parents who either didn’t believe their kids were bullies or didn’t care. Not one of the punches, kicks, gobs of saliva or hurtful words I ever took was delivered by a person who believed it was their Christian duty to do it.

The bullying didn’t stop when I reached adulthood. I was working as a corrections officer for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections when I finally came to the realization that I was gay (something I staunchly denied all my life up until about age 24). I was just hitting that depression when my unit got a new lieutenant – a former sergeant named Paul Rivas. This guy had serious anger management issues, to the point that he would yell and throw things at the drop of a hat when things didn’t go his way. I was his target. When something went wrong, I was always to blame. One night, I was the only officer on my unit and I had been tasked with entering incident reports into the computer (never mind the fact that I still had to do rounds and make sure all the delinquents were sleeping and not attempting rape or suicide). The system was down, so I was never able to get it done. When he arrived the next morning to find the reports still sitting in the bin on his desk, he pulled me into his office and ripped me a new one at the top of his lungs. He didn’t want to hear about the system issues. After screaming at me for ten minutes about how completely inept I was, he told me that he would get rid of me the next time I failed. Trying to tell his boss, Lorene Petta, about the situation changed nothing.

It was Rivas’ bullying that pushed me over the edge. I was already in my own private hell over the dichotomy of being a lifelong Christian who was a lesbian. Rivas had me convinced that I was useless as an officer and that I was going to lose my career. I couldn’t handle the fact that, from childhood to age 24, I had been a complete loser; now, as a grown woman, I still couldn’t do anything right. One day in November of that year, I put my gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The round never discharged. I immediately told a couple of fellow officers who helped me check into a hospital. I never did tell them just how close I had come to killing myself. Dr. Petta, Lt. Rivas and the assistant director used their knowledge of what I’d been through (limited as it was, since it was another officer who told them) to fire me. I later went back to corrections with a very different perspective on things.

While I refuse to be a victim – I refuse to play the specialty card to get what I want – those experiences still haunt me. I’m still hurt by all of that. I’ve never revealed the details until now, but they have always been with me. Unless I live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s, they’ll always be with me. I still feel like a loser, even now. I hate that I feel that way, but I don’t know how else to feel. I still feel like that kid who wanted to be part of the in-crowd and is being humiliated in the attempt. It has kept going that way. After my parents divorced, I stayed with my mom to try to help her out but I had to move on at some point; in 2005, I moved out on my own. I met another lesbian who had bought a home and needed a roommate because she and her girlfriend were about to break up. She was a very attractive girl and we became very fast friends, but it didn’t last. When she eventually told me she didn’t want me in her life anymore, several years after I’d moved out of her house, the only reasons she was able to give me were very superficial – the way I dressed, the music I liked, the fact that I was too butch.

I rarely, if ever, let anyone new in now. I feel as though I have been useless my entire life. I’m no angel…a long time ago, I was an honest-to-god pious little jackass. I would never try to blame my actions on my childhood because no matter what I went through, I still knew right from wrong. I don’t think I ever deserved to feel the way I do now, though. I don’t deserve to fear that everyone around me is secretly thinking about how much they can’t stand me. I don’t deserve to be afraid to go out and meet people because I don’t believe I’ll ever feel worthy of being loved. I sure as hell don’t deserve to hope that I’ll get the chance to die in some heroic act so my life will make sense to somebody.

The kind of people who say that bullying is no big deal have never had to wake up with those ghosts.