I’m crying and watching blood gush over my right eyebrow as I sit in my laundry room with my Dad. He is the nurse in the family. My mom has gone over to yell at the other teenage boy who punched me in the face and all I can think is, “I am such a wussy. Even my mom fights my battles for me…”
I am an awkward 15-year old who can’t seem to fit in with anyone at my high school. I weigh 120 pounds sopping wet and have long hair that makes me look like a girl. A few weeks ago, I used to hang out with the guys that rode skateboards, wore JNCO jeans, and smoked pot, but they kicked me out of their crew. Apparently I wasn’t cool enough. I still have no idea to this day how you get kicked out of a group of potheads for not being “cool enough”.
Recently I tried hanging out with my neighbor who is two years older, likes rap, basketball, and hangs out with a rough crowd known for “gang-banging”. He invited me over to play basketball. When I got there he punched me in the face and split my head open.
I didn’t mind getting punched really. I had been taking karate for a little while and was used to it. I even stumbled back and asked what he punched me for.
Then I saw all the blood.
And I panicked.
And called my mom and dad sobbing.
“Why didn’t you use some of the moves you learned in karate?” my Dad asks gently.
“I don’t….I don’t know….I just saw blood…please don’t make me go to school tomorrow….please…..…everyone is gonna know….”
The next day when I show up at school with stitches I lie.
“My brother and I were wrestling and I hit my head on the coffee table.”
But people already know. And I can hear them whispering and laughing.
“What a fag…”
“I thought he took karate or something? What a pussy.”
I get shoved into lockers and pushed through hallways. This is common though. I’d been bullied since the 6th grade. I didn’t realize how cruel kids were as I was raised to always make friends. So when middle school started and you’re a gentle, artistic boy people think you’re gay or weak. I was a natural target.
To encourage me, my parents would always tell me how high school is like Disneyland. It didn’t really exist. It was a place you went and visited, but in the end it was fake and didn’t define your life or what people said about you.
I hated high school. And even though I found some really fantastic friends that liked me for me, I was tired of being a nobody. I didn’t want to be picked on or hurt the way I did. So I dug a grave in my heart and buried the scared little boy in a shallow coffin and dove head first into what I thought would make people respect, like, and fear me.
I began lifting weights to get bigger.
I started competing in martial arts tournaments that were bare-fisted full contact and winning.
When I lost a wrestling match to my roommate in college I took Brazilian ju-jitsu.
I joined the military and went to war.
Always running from the little boy banging on the lid of the shallow coffin in my heart.
When I finally returned to my hometown after the wars and college, ready to prove who I was to all who had made fun of me, I discovered I really had nothing to prove. What I found was a sad cliché in every sappy movie about high school you’ve ever seen.
High school didn’t matter. College didn’t matter. How cool you were didn’t matter. The all-star football player who picked on you ended up chasing a NFL pipe-dream only to blow his knee out. Now he works at the local gas station at a job he hates so he can pay child support to the girl he knocked up in college who left him the minute his injury stole his career prospects. He’ll invite you out for a beer to lament the “good ‘ol days” but you’ll decline and wonder why he wants to relive his “glory years”. The homecoming queen that every guy wanted smokes like a chimney and the years haven’t been kind. She chased down a modeling career, only to become bulimic, and even though her career was short lived, she’s still addicted to the lifestyle and bulimia. Other people you know will have chased money and done well for themselves. They’ll appear popular at local clubs where you have to be on a list to get in. They’ll toss money around and buy girls drinks or turn the heads of young men at tables. But behind their money, good looks, and party lifestyle you can see the empty, vapid look that tells their soul has been drained of all joy and they have sucked out all the marrow and are chewing on bone. Others you meet will just be living day to day. Making a paycheck. Buying a house. Having kids. Building a 401K so they can retire and then ultimately die. Each person grasping at holding onto sand.
And the years I spent becoming what I thought other people would like and respect, I discovered is nothing more than vanity and chasing the wind.
I am just now, at age 32, opening the coffin and facing the scared little boy that is afraid of what people think of him. I so desperately wish I would have faced him earlier in life because now he’s grown and even more scared of his reputation.
I wish somebody had written to me to tell me to hold fast. That they believed in me and it was okay to be me and even okay to be a little scared in life. That we were all going to have really tough situations we were going to face in high school, but if we held fast, believed in ourselves, it got better. Sure, I heard it from my parents, but who really believes mom and dad half the time?
And so I know some of you reading this are going to go back to really hard situations. You get picked on in school for being awkward and weird. But you know what? God made you that way to be unique and be a joy with your uniqueness and odd sense of humor. Hold Fast. We believe in you. Some of you are getting name-called for reputations you may or may not have earned, but we don’t see you that way and neither does God. Hold Fast. We Believe in You. Some of you are hurting and just want the pain to end. We love you and so does God. Hold Fast. We Believe in You. Some of you are in college or a job and you don’t know what you want to do in life or if you even have purpose. You, like me, have bought into being what people have told you to be because you’re afraid. Face the fear and the storm that will follow and hold fast. We Believe in You.
My deep prayer is that you don’t end up like me. 32 years old and just realizing you’re a coward. That instead of facing down your fears, or difficult circumstance, you ran to an altar where you sacrificed the beautiful, vibrant person God made you to be for a fake that people “tolerate”.
If you’re willing to face the tempest now, then the payout will be worth it. And we’re in your corner….cheering you on and encouraging you to hold on for dear life.
Hold Fast. We Believe in You.