So, I really don’t have much to talk about when it comes to my personal life at the moment. I’m 10 weeks into my relationship with my new partner, Sam, and I’m still living at Pete’s while we work something out. Other than that, I’ve been writing, a lot.
Memoirs are tricky things. Memories often blend and bleed into one another, and I’ve gotten 3000 words into a chapter before, just to realize I’ve merged two completely unrelated incidents from one life. Heck, I don’t know if half the incidents that occurred actually happened in the order I “think” they happened, but all I have to go off in my memory, and at least I know everything I’m talking about did happen—I just might be off by a few months.
Anyway, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again—
Writing a memoir is therapeutic. It IS therapy. And to further explain this, I’m going to leave a little excerpt from my upcoming memoir (That Time I… Survived My Teens) which helps describe why this memoir is so important to me. Then, I’ll be following that excerpt up with a lengthier one for your reading (dis)pleasure.
I’ve heard that our brains block out traumatic events to shield us from the pain those memories might bring. That we shroud our misery in fog, unable to recall the incidents that have hurt us so deeply, we’re forever changed…
I call bullshit.
For me, the pain that high school inflicted—specifically the third year—has shaped me. There isn’t a single day I don’t think about the suffering I was put through. I remember conversations as if they happened yesterday, and I play out entire scenes in my mind whenever I’m not distracting myself.
Anger is my default. Rage is always one toe-stub or undercooked meal away. I can flip out over the tiniest of accidents, and it’s because I spend every waking moment trapped in a cycle of replaying and rewinding my misery.
I have tried so hard to let this go. Believe me. I have tried. I have sought out professional help. I’ve seen social workers and I’m still in the process of finding the right therapist. But no one seems to get it. No one wants to get it.
They tell me that I “have” to move on. That I “have” to let it go. But I can’t. Horrible things happened to me, and nothing ever came of it. Because I was openly gay. Because I dressed differently. It was “expected” for me to be harassed. My outcries were the oddity, not the bullying. And, now that we live in a time where that type of abuse wouldn’t go unnoticed—it’s too late.
It happened. The damage is done. And I don’t know how to get past it. I don’t think I can. I don’t think I want to.
I wish more than anything I could go back, as confident with myself as I am today, and stand up for myself. I wish I could’ve recorded what teachers said to me behind closed doors. I wish I threw my fists around more. I wish I could make them pay.
But I can’t. Not like that. Not in the way I want.
What I can do, however, is write. I can write about what they put me through. About how the adults in my life let me down. About how they overlooked my anguish. About how my peers traumatized me. I can write about every minute detail, down to the exact words spoken by my headmaster when I pleaded with him to do something about the bullying. And maybe then, I can find some semblance of peace.
“Isn’t it funny how Billy, Bob and I all ended up being gay?” I blurted out on my journey home with Alice one evening. “What are the odds that all the guys in our group like dick? I just think it’s funny.”
Alice stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me, shock exploring her face. “What?!”
“You knew that,” I replied, slowly realizing what I’d done. “You knew… You must’ve known.”
“No!” she yelled. “I’d remember that. Oh my god. Who else knows?”
My heart was pounding so hard, I thought I’d crack a rib.
“Please don’t tell anyone. Please Alice. Please.” I stood in front of her, my hands on her shoulders, looking her right in the eyes as I begged. “Please. Please. Please. Don’t do it. Please.”
“As if I would!” she brushed me off and continued walking.
Cue the next day.
Everyone—and I mean everyone—in our school knew that Billy and Bob were gay. Only Billy and Bob. Not me.
Boys were coming up to them in droves, calling them “faggots” and teasing them. One guy slapped Billy over the back of the head with a shoe, the other took Bob’s backpack and chucked it in the trash, and that was before we’d even taken our seats in morning registration.
During lunch, Bob was threatened. During Dinner, gaggles of nosey girls, who wanted nothing more than gossip, verbally prodded both Billy and Bob for the truth—of which they vehemently denied. Then, when P.E. rolled around, I watched as one boy slipped into Billy’s jacket in the locker-room and stole a twenty, stating “fags can pay for fags,” before laughing down the hallway. (PSA: “fags” is slang for cigarettes in Britain)
It was so brash, so brutal, that any teacher walking in our direction that week simply turned the other way. Billy and Bob were both quiet, grade-A guys, and although I’d always considered my high school friends to be people I bound myself to in order to survive, I couldn’t sit back and watch it go on. Not when I’d been the cause.
The first thing I did was yell at Alice, who didn’t seem to think she’d done anything wrong as she wasn’t friends with either of them. By this point in our friendship, I knew I wasn’t going to win an argument with her, so I went back to Billy and Bob and confessed that I’d been the one to tell Alice, and that she was the one who told the whole school.
They disowned me on the spot, and I understood why. Even so, I told them to keep denying it and hoped it’d blow over, but by week two of the rumor circulating, Bob was looking to transfer.
I couldn’t let it go on.
Despite seeing how miserable it’d made them; despite already being a target due to my “alt” style, I updated my MSN tagline with a coming out message. A girl who had added me for a homework project the year before took a screenshot and sent it to her friends, thus, my coming out commenced.
It was hell.
At 5am, the morning after coming out, I ran downstairs and grabbed a packet of cookies, mixed them with a splash of milk, added a handful of diced carrots and took a shot of the concoction. I then proceeded to “vomit” the mixture all over the kitchen floor, complete with exaggerated retching sound effects.
Unfortunately, I’d pulled that stunt one too many times, as my mother had gotten to the point where my being “sick” was eyeroll worthy. She hit me with the “if you get sent home from school, I’ll take you to the doctors,” and I was sent on my way.
Like most things in my life around that time, I omitted my mother from what was really going on. Yes, she knew I’d had a boyfriend and was coming to terms with my sexuality, but she wasn’t at a place where she could properly process homophobia. It’s hard to explain, but trust me. The concept of people suddenly hating me, and actively seeking to make me miserable for my sexuality, was beyond her.
I dawdled the two miles to Cassie’s house; vigilant and tense. I was greeted with a hug at her door, and after making my way into her living room where Tessa resided, the three of us had a brief conversation about what school was going to entail from then onward.
“My parents told me I shouldn’t hang around with you anymore,” Tessa stated. “They think you’re too much of an attention-seeker.”
“Mine too,” Cassie added.
I sat in silence, saddened and angry. For whatever reason, parents had never liked me. I was always “too loud” whenever I went to their houses, or they thought I was “too weird” and insisted their children stop playing with me. But now I was being told I was too dangerous to be around—for existing. That my very visibility as a gay person was reason enough to disown me… And they were right.
I’d seen what Billy and Bob had been through. I knew what was coming the moment I stepped through the gates. How could I argue that being my friend wasn’t dangerous? It was. I was.
I begged for us to be late that day. I pleaded with both Tessa and Cassie to not leave the house until the streets were clear of students, but Tessa wasn’t one for tardiness, and I knew I’d only be adding more evidence onto the “don’t be friends with Craig” pile should her mother get one of those automated calls.
“It’ll be okay,” Cassie said, barely believing her own words as we stepped outside.
She didn’t reply.
The instant we were on the main road, I pulled aggro like a tank (and for all you non-gamers: I was being glowered at like an exposed pedophile). Everywhere I looked, I caught the eyes of someone whispering into a friend’s ear, then I’d watch that friend’s face slowly contort with disgust before they bellowed their disdain for me.
“Are you a bum boy?!”
Hundreds of slurs were hurled at me before we’d reached the shop between Cassie’s house and the school, and the school was barely a five-minute walk away. We decided not to stop and buy anything, for obvious reasons, and continued being pummeled with insults all the way to the gates.
Oh. And rocks, too. They threw rocks at us. Not stones. Not pebbles. Rocks. I distinctly recall a large one hitting Cassie’s messenger bag, to which she responded by spinning around and chasing the boy down the road, ready to rip his face off.
Those rocks would last until my fifth and final year at the school. Every. Single. Day.
Despite our rushing through the mobs, we still arrived at the school a little late, meaning the courtyard was sparse as everyone hurried to registration. Cassie headed off to her form room, which was at the other side of the building, while Tessa and I made our way to ours—Tessa was silent the entire time.
She was furious. We both were. But her fury, at least in part, was directed toward me. I could tell she was seriously considering doing as her parents suggested. Leaving me to face school alone.
By the way, we no longer had Mr. Man as our form teacher, and was instead given a brand new, fairly young teacher who we’ll call Miss Omission. That name seems very fitting. Miss Omission would see us through the next three years of school, all the way up to graduation, and as I’m sure you can tell, she wasn’t anymore interested in my safety than any other teacher at that hellhole. But let’s continue…
The first thing I heard when stepping into registration was—
“Craig, are you gay?!”
An especially loud-mouthed girl named Paige had shouted it from the back of class, rendering the room silent.
My eyes frantically searched for Billy and Bob, who both already looked as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. It was the first time in two-weeks neither of their pale faces looked sickly or housed reddened, baggy eyes. It was the first time in two-weeks I felt like I wasn’t a piece of shit for what I’d done.
“Yes,” I replied.
The entire classroom erupted with opinions.
Thankfully, Miss Omission stepped through the door by the time I’d walked to my seat. She apologized for being late and proceeded to take the register, but in-between every name, was interrupted by someone asking me an inappropriate, graphic question.
“So, does that mean you like it up the bum?” Jordon, a scrawny ginger boy who happened to be close friends with Steven (remember him?) giggled away.
I sighed. Registration continued.
“That’s disgusting,” a girl said loudly. “Why do you like that? Why would anyone like that?”
Miss Omission told the class to settle. Registration continued.
“Why would you ever tell anyone? What does your mom think? I’d beat my daughter if she turned out to be a lesbo. I couldn’t handle it,” Paige claimed.
Miss Omission asked loudly for everyone to settle. Registration continued.
“I’d beat my son if he was gay,” Jordon added. “I’d make him watch some top porn vids, too. How you gonna’ be gay after watching a nice pair of tits bounce?”
Miss Omission finished registration, and the class was dismissed…
Except for me.
As my peers spilled out into the corridor, Miss Omission asked me to stay behind and closed the classroom door. She stood in front of the whiteboard, a hint of pity sparkling in her eyes, and asked me what was going on.
“I’m gay,” I declared.
“Okay…” I could see her wracking her brain for what to say. Ours was her first teaching job, and I’m guessing her degree didn’t prepare her for my situation. “Is there someone you need to speak with?”
I shook my head. “No.”
We stood in uncomfortable silence for five minutes as her French class piled up behind the door.
“I’m going to talk to your head of year about this,” she said, boldly. “I’m going to see what I can do.”
While I’m generally not a fan of spoilers, I’m sure you can tell (especially seeing as I told you a few paragraphs ago), but nothing became of her “conversation” with my head of year. In fact, she never mentioned our talk again. Never acknowledged my sexuality again. And never got involved beyond telling other students to “quieten down” whenever they harassed me in her classroom.
If I had to venture a guess based on how every other teacher treated me—she was told to ignore it. She, a twenty-something professional, overlooked a fourteen-year-old’s misery.
As far as I’m concerned; she bullied me by omission.
If you liked what you just read and want, you can keep up with me at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/craigbarkerbooks/
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