Every high school has them: aggressive, belligerent, muscular, jocks who have little to no consideration for others, joyfully trampling upon us "lesser" folks. These clans of brutes, throughout middle and high schools, are relentlessly looking for ways to mark their territory.
Throughout my years of school-age turmoil and torment, fighting my own sexuality, those testosterone-maxed, attention-hungry teenage boys amped my anguish. They were savage in their demands as to why I was this and that -- all references to my yet-to-be-confirmed gayness.
As a recent college graduate, I've come far from letting homophobic remarks get under my skin -- especially from people for whom I have no base-line respect.
Just the other day though, I was mentally thrown back into the toxic vortex of my high school hallways. I learned that one of my own high school tormentors was gay himself, just recently having come out. Apparently, all the while I was in the closet, he was right there with me.
While this sort of situation has become an absurd cliché, especially with politicians on the grander scale, I was nonetheless shocked. I couldn't help but remember him strutting down the halls in his football jersey, high-fiving and fist-bumping his buddies, all of them bigger and stronger than everyone else.
Dazed as I was by this juicy news, my initial reaction was happiness. Not because I was so thrilled that he had finally felt at peace and could be his true self. Rather, something darker, something that only high school torture could bring out in someone. I was happy he had to struggle just as hard -- maybe even harder than me -- to hide his homosexuality for so long. He had to date the hot, promiscuous girls and play the part of the fat-handed jock who cared about nothing else except scoring some (female) action. Recalling his snappy, gay-hating remarks in the cafeteria, I now guess he was reeling on the inside.
I'm reminded of those movies we saw as children, where the parents tell their kids the only reason bullies are mean is because they themselves are struggling or are being bullied. While that was impossible for me to believe at the time, I realize now it has definite merit. (Listen up, kids!)
I can intellectually understand how this very well may be the case, that he had to put me and others down to protect himself. However, my heart is empty of that much-lauded value, forgiveness. Perhaps this means I haven't matured as much as I thought I had, breaking away from all the hurt I've carried since high school. Maybe I'm still pinned down by those miserable walks through the hallways, sideway glares in the lunchroom and malicious jeers in the locker room.
Even though I had friends, was respected and liked by my peers, the mind-jabbing remarks from those few who mattered the least, mattered the most.
I vividly remember walking down the football field during one of our high school homecoming games, having been a finalist for homecoming court. In what should have been a very happy moment, my only memory of that experience are the excruciating thoughts of what they were thinking of me, the bullies on the sidelines of the field, waiting to get back into the game.
With four years separating me from that time in my life, empathy for them is beyond me. Animosity percolates from my memories.
What surprises me about myself is my undeniable pity for him. While I have gone on to college and achieved other successes, the man in question has gone nowhere with his life (or so the rumor mill has told me). In that sense, I truly do feel bad for him and I wish he could have confided in someone. Perhaps if he had, he wouldn't be in his current situation.
I can only hope that in the next few weeks or months, as my mind -- and emotions -- catch up to speed with reality, I'll be able to let go of some of the hurt I still harbor from him and his other co-tormentors. That I'll be able to recognize how, in many cases, I had been the stronger one after all. Sure, I may not have been busting helmets on the gridiron, but I was stronger in the more difficult and important aspects.
I suppose the conventional wisdom may be right after all -- high school really never does end.