Sunday, April 29, 2012

I'm Not Here. This Isn't Happening

Something happened to me recently, or rather something happened around me the other night that I can't shake. Maybe it is because my past of bullying, abuse and sexual assault is so much on my mind lately. Maybe it's because for the umpteenth time in my life I was fired from a job not for doing a bad job, but rather for being me. And the message the bullies beat in sinks deeper: you don't belong here and you never will. Just kill yourself already.

Yet this is worse, because by not acting last night, no matter the risk I avoided, I joined my abusers, as I did one other time in the past. You know the saying: those who do not act, when they see wrongdoing being perpetrated, may as well be doing it themselves.

I don't know. Maybe, but it's not so fucking simple as that.


I guess I should tell you what happened. I was on the subway i'm Philly on the way home from a science week event with my wife. And the two of us became aware of a group of boys in their teens bullying a girl who was sitting with her head in her hands. This was intense bullying. I'm not talking about a little name-calling. I'm talking about full-out depersonalization and hatred. They were calling her "IT" and saying things like "oh look, IT is crying. It thinks it has feelings! It's not even a person! Just wait til it sees what we do IT later..."

My wife interjected that they needed a new hobby but of course, after pausing and contemplating starting up with us, they just went back to it. As is often the case, there was a group of girls nearby who were giggling uncomfortably, half goading it on and half saying, "come on guys, that's enough."

I could feel the girl that was being bullied reaching a breaking point. It's a feeling in the air. You know it, just like I could tell when I was a kid when my moms girlfriend was going to launch a plate across the room or when the kids were about to jump me from behind. You get an adrenaline sense for this stuff but you lose the sense of safety. You lose the sense of safety forever. To this day I find myself sizing up every situation, calmly waiting for the weather to turn on a dime. It's often preferable to be alone because at least then you're not in a constant war with adrenaline.

But I did nothing. I did nothing. I had a bottle in my hand and was fighting with all my energy the feral urge to break it over one of their heads and user the sharp remaining head as a shiv right to the jugular of the other. But then I'd be a murderer, with a subway full of witnesses.

And as a bearer of life long rage, I have no middle ground on this. If I don't shove it all down, I become a murderer. I would not do well in prison. Plus let's be honest, do you think they would stop if I said "Hey you, stop!" Give me a break.

I also know how these things escalate. Pretty soon, the girl fled the cabin in tears and they followed her. I could tell this was no singular or isolated incident. She would be like me, if she wasn't already. She had been dehumanized by them and likely would be raped, if she hadn't already.

peter calleson
And still...I did nothing. Like the homeless on street that paw at you asking for money, like the desperate girls standing on the sidewalk corners willing to do anything for a bit of drugs or food or whatever their fix is, like the armless veteran-- after a while they all blend together and all you want is for them to leave you alone. We repeat the mantra: not my fucking problem. 

And I am quite sure that some of you, especially the city dwellers amongst you, are probably judging me right now as being weak or too thin-skinned.

Who knows, maybe you're right. Maybe we should all lose the capacity to have empathy for one another. It certainly would make life easier. But I apparently can't. I couldn't sleep most of that night. I cried all night. And yeah, a lot of that crying was about me, not her. I didn't know that girl, after all. She has a whole life to live, but to me, she was just a symbol and a flash on the screen. The brief intersection of our lives brought back to mind so many things that I had buried so far in the past that I thought they could never possibly resurface. Thinking about it now I just feel a hollow spot in my chest. This is what humans do to one another on a daily basis. This society is deeply sick. These cases are not the exception, they are the rule.

We talked about the related issues of sublimated violence, the shadow, of rape porn, and of the surrogate victim in the podcast I just ran which was recorded with no editing of a class we ran at SUNY binghamton. Listen to it, think about what I've said here, and ask yourself: what would you have done.

Before you get high and mighty remember that it is often young teens doing the killing in this city. By stepping in you run the risk of being stabbed or shot. I have had friends in their thirties beaten and mugged by groups of 14 year olds. I've seen kids that couldn't be over 15 riding around with MAC-10s. I don't have any solutions, but I feel awful to know some small part of what is in that girls future.

Well. Some of you know the work I'm doing with Beacon Initiative now, and some of that is to try to right this problem. And I'd like to think the work I do with my writing and here does too. But it's really preaching to the choir. It feels like a drop in the bucket, so to speak. I really don't know if I'm accomplishing anything at all. But I'm starting, at least, by trying to heal myself and hoping I can do that at a faster rate than I accumulate new damage.


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