Declaration of Independence

This entry is a little long, so the short version is this: the people–especially the bullies–we encounter in our youth can greatly affect our confidence and our thinking years after we are free of them. I’ve had enough of that sort of foolishness, and this is my long-delayed,  Declaration of Independence: I’ve had enough of you, and you are no longer going to live rent-free in my head.

“I was ready to give up…but if I live through this, I’ve got you to thank for the rest of my life. And if I don’t live, I’ve accomplished things I never dreamed would have my name on them when we first met…You have the ship. Go ahead—crush it. You can’t kill the dream.”
–James T. Kirk, Best Destiny

Consider this an open letter to anyone who thought it was fun or funny to pick on the skinny kid with the big vocabulary, smart mouth (not gonna lie), and poor physical coordination. Your collective crimes made life terribly difficult while I was growing up.

  • You took direct action and beat the snot out of me.
  • You and your friends followed/chased me the full mile and a half from school to my home so I’d know you knew where I lived.
  • You heard that the Leahy kid cried easily, so you decided to test the matter.
  • You followed me down the hallways between classes just to intimidate me.
  • You broke into my locker and stole/damaged my textbooks so that I’d end up in the principal’s office.
  • You’d shout my name in class to make me jump and lose my concentration.
  • You joined in or stood by while other kids picked on me.
  • You crank called me, pretending to be someone else, and get me to say something compromising about another person.
  • You pretended to be friendly and got me to say something ignorant because I didn’t know the meaning of a curse word and then spread that all around school.
  • You decided to threaten me in the church schoolyard after confirmation so I’d get the message that I wasn’t safe anywhere.
  • You went to the same college I did and decided to tell everyone on your dorm floor that I was a loser so I’d face the same harassment outside of Lombard.
  • You played pranks on me just to get a rise out of me.
  • You’d block me from doing my job in a merchandise room, in Illinois or Florida.

If I took the time, I could probably remember the names–male and female–attached to each of those little incidents, scattered across 18ish years. But I’ve grown tired of it. I’m tired of relearning the lessons you people were really trying to teach me:

  • Don’t think you’re better than us in any way or we’ll find your weaknesses and destroy your reputation with them.
  • Don’t trust anyone.
  • Keep looking over your shoulder and stay scared; one of us will show up at any moment to knock you down a peg.
  • You’re nobody. You’re worthless. Nobody likes or respects you.
  • You will be alone forever.

Et cetera.

Now it’s entirely possible that some of the behaviors you exhibited were just meant in jest. You didn’t mean anything by them personally, they were just things you did as a kid, and what the hell was wrong with me for taking things so personally? You might look at this and think, “Bart who?” Still, you had 18 years to work on me, much to my misfortune, and you did your work well. The physical damage wasn’t permanent (I got my last physical beating in junior high), but the lack of self-confidence and trust you inspired pursued me for years.

Here’s the thing, though: when I got into the adult world and took on responsible positions in life, that behavior was no longer acceptable. Or it was forced to go underground. Or, God forbid, some of you were forced to grow up.

And here’s the part you’re not going to want to hear: you failed.

  • You’d steal the stories I wrote to escape the dismal reality you created for me, and I rewrote them anyway. And I kept writing.
  • You’d exile me to the geeks’ table and I’d get them involved in my latest story or project.
  • You’d try to destroy my social reputation, yet thinking individuals who took the time to talk with me discovered that I wasn’t such a dweeb but actually nice.
  • You’d make my school existence miserable, but I’d find work to do for the teachers, for the theater department, or for actual paying jobs, so that I could find places to be a responsible, respected human being.
  • I pursued the career and lifestyle I wanted. I went off and did the things I was plotting in school because I had my eyes set on the future. I realized that you were a temporary problem–something to be endured, not a permanent fixture in my life. I was preparing myself to be an adult, because I knew life would be better once I got free of you turkeys. And it has.

Anyhow, I’m done with the lot of you. I’m an adult now, and the perpetual fearful adolescence you jerks tried to freeze me into has lost its grip on me. The lessons you tried to inflict were wrong: Odds are, I am a better writer than you. I learned to trust the goodwill of honest people. I am not looking over my shoulder. I operate under the assumption that if you’re good to other people, they will treat you well, and among adults, that works. I am somebody. I am a respected professional and a human being liked or loved in quarters you could scarcely imagine. I am not alone.

To quote one of those science fiction books you used to laugh at me for reading, “Here I am, and here I remain.”

You failed. I am free of you.

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