Whether it was stealing stray Oreos from the pantry or sneaking spoonfuls of JIF in the bathroom, my childhood sweet tooth was insatiable.
I remember one specific photo -- a picture taken cerca 1998 at a family reunion in Newport, Oregon. In the center my great-grandparents sit in floral print armchairs, stony-faced with the characteristic stoicism of their generation, surrounded by a moat of uncles, aunts and cousins. I am hovering just above Great-Grandpa Larry's right shoulder: only 10 years old and already a Chris Farley doppelgänger.
This year 13 million kids in the United States will suffer some form of bullying. With the documentary Bully -- in limited release this Friday -- drawing national attention to the subject, it seems pertinent to reflect on my own limited experience.
To be clear, I was a happy child, never regularly tormented or distressed. But it seems worthwhile to note that bullying of even the smallest magnitude can have lasting consequences. What were likely just fleeting words for a few smart-ass peers still fester in my mind.
Three specific moments as lucid in my memory as the leftovers in my lunch:
As a third grader in Austin, Texas, I played on a Pee Wee Soccer team called The Camaros. Because I had trouble keeping up with the faster forwards -- I was not a big fan of so-called "running" -- Coach bestowed upon me the privilege of starting goalie. In our first game I must've blocked a dozen shots, catching and punting spotted balls in a fluorescent mesh jersey and white gloves. After the game one of my teammates, a defender named Michael, told me, "Coach only puts you in the goal because you block it without moving." Our next opponents scored three times because I kept scampering up to the ball, trying to showcase agility. After that I became a benchwarmer.
They called me The Flash. Though Fizzle might have been more appropriate. Coined by teammates on my 8th grade baseball team, the title was conceived in irony -- meant to mock the sorry speed with which I rounded the bases. On one particular occasion I smacked a ball into deep left field. Instead of zooming around the diamond like my namesake superhero, I wheezed my way to second at sloth-rivaling pace. For anyone else on the team it would've been an easy homerun. From the dugout my teammates chanted the nefarious nickname, their combined voices hammering at my pride with the vigor of a snare drum. We lost the game by one run.
Just before high school my family moved to a new city. Desperate to make friends, I strove to endear myself to the only person in our neighborhood who was my age -- an athletic, popular kid named Dean. Membership in his posse had certain conditions. Knighted his jester, I played the public fool, repeatedly belly flopping off the diving board or massaging stomach folds into a talking puppet face. It took two years before I made real friends and escaped the carnival act.
Not until college, after peaking at 230, did I finally shed the weight. As classmates fell victim to the 'freshman 15' I counted calories and developed an intimate relationship with the treadmill, and by summer my Volkswagen was hurtling home 50 pounds lighter. Though no longer obese, so much of my worldview was formed through that lens that I still find myself to be severely self-conscious.
Then I think about these moments from the past that have remained so substantial in my memory, and I honestly feel ashamed. I was not regularly bullied and was never a pariah. I had loyal friends and a solid home life. The little abuse I endured was not remotely as vehement as the visceral hate directed at openly gay students, victims of racial prejudice and numerous other outsiders, and for all purposes is truly incomparable.
If a few scattered instances remain so vivid in my memory, then I can only begin to comprehend how haunting real bullying -- the unrelenting, violent, life-destroying kind -- must be. Like the kind depicted in Bully.
This is an important film. Don't miss it.
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