That’s me. In school. Shorter than your average kid but with twice the sass. And the unshakeable belief that the sun rose from my ass. I was in an all boys boarding school. Yup. That comes with its own set of challenges. Most of which, they tell you, “build character”, “turn you into a real man”, “foster relationships which last a lifetime”. Well, yes. And no.
There wasn’t much you could do if a senior wanted your new sneakers. They’d just take them. You couldn’t say no if they wanted you to wash their dirty socks, everyday. Or eat your share of food.
I’ve always had a problem with authority. And initially, these little ego tussles always bothered me. Being physically dwarfed by most kids, it was almost impossible to protest. I remember vividly, wringing my hands together behind my back and clenching my teeth when I was being yelled at for something really stupid. The senior stopped yelling, walked behind me and seeing my hands, red and perspiring, he said “This is your problem. You have a very large ego. Don’t worry. We’ll break it.”
Eventually, most kids end up shedding who they really are and guard themselves the best way they can. Some become aggressive, some become introverts. The defense mechanisms, inevitably, always stay in place. Long after the attacks have stopped.
As time went by, I learnt to be shrewd. I learnt to pander to their ego so as to get away with I really wanted to do. It was a small compromise.
It surprises me now, after all these years how easily we got used to this way of life.
Sometimes though, someone would cross the line. And for me, it wasn’t an act of physical violence inflicted upon me. It was something seemingly harmless that has stayed with me all my life.
I was in the eight grade. I was called to the twelfth grade dorm for some random work. This senior of mine, probably bored in the afternoon, asks me to climb into his locker. I barely fit. It was the kind of space where you couldn’t stand, sit straight or straighten your limbs, even for a small kid like me. As soon as I got in, he locked me in.
I don’t know if I was in for a minute or longer but it felt like forever. I kept begging him to open, banging on the thin steel. Looking back, it would’ve made more sense to close my eyes, breathe slowly and wait but I was scared and uncomfortable.
Light and air rushed in when he finally opened the door. I had tears streaming down my face. He was laughing. When he saw me in distress, he masked his feeling of guilt with arrogance and asked me to not be such a wuss and to get out of his dorm.
People hate bullies because they torment the weak. But that’s not all they do. Bullies give birth to new bullies.
What my senior did that day was wrong in itself. But apart from the actual act of sadism, he did a grave disservice to me and those closest to me.
He unknowingly taught me how to hurt people.
My school made me a self defense bully. So petrified of being hurt or bullied, I learnt to act out in anticipation. And as I got stronger, unshackled by the burdens of school hierarchy, my verbal blows got swifter and more efficient. For any minor act of aggression against me, or even perceived betrayal, retribution would be swift. And merciless. I mastered the art of knowing what and how to say things that would cripple someone. And although, I’d have the last word, I felt my heart shrink, become darker with each episode. I learnt to prey on their weaknesses, in much the same way a few of my seniors preyed on mine.
This behavior affects all your relationships. The one you have with your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your best friends and unfortunately, even your children. And as affectionate as one may be, you’re still a bully.
There’s nothing about being a bully that one enjoys. One doesn’t enjoy the hurt caused to your loved ones. And the sense of power is a misplaced one. Remorse inevitably follows. You end up living your life with constant guilt. You miss the purity of the heart you used to have, buried under all the layers of hurt and unresolved issues.
We use our pasts, like I used mine, to justify all that is wrong with us. Till one day, you decide to let go of it. We need to accept that it’s a choice we make. When we have two wolves whispering in our ear, one guiding us to the light and the other dragging us back to our dark patterns, which wolf do we end up listening to? A wise friend once told me, “The one we feed”.
You’re not the scared boy in the locker anymore. And everyone’s not out to get you.
Feed the good wolf. Believe in the best of you. Recognize your patterns, acknowledge them and bid them a quiet goodbye.
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