One of the running themes with mass shootings is that the shooters were somehow “social outcasts.” Well, that was me when I was young, still really. The only way to state it is simply and plainly. School for me was hell. Hell for twelve years. It began on the first day…
The first day of the first grade I was afraid, but my fear quickly melted away as I met my teacher at Elm Street Elementary, Mrs. June Rutledge. She implored the students to call her “Miss June” so that’s what we did, she was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. When the time came to go outside for recess, the world took a different turn. I ran outside with all the other kids and straight to the huge double slide I had spied out on the playground. Standing in line for the slide I began to get an earful from my classmates about my size. I was, and have always been, fat. This was nothing new because I had two older brothers and an older sister that never let me forget it, but this was different somehow. These people didn’t know me, they didn’t have the right to say anything to me. There were other kids out there that were fat and I said nothing to them about their size, so why did they feel like it was ok to do this to me? Why was this little red headed kid with huge ears standing in front of me telling everyone around in line for the slide that I was the Pillsbury doughboy? What had I done to him? Why were these little six year old girls whispering to each other and pointing at me while they laughed? I left the line and sat under a tree until we were called to go back inside.
The school bus was no different, even worse on occasion. By the end of the first week I wanted nothing else to do with school. I hated it. Every day brought new sorrow to me. I heard the same remarks over and over. I would come home and cry, my mother would ask me what was wrong, I told her and she would say, “Just ignore them.” Summer vacation brought no relief because I discovered that now I was more sensitive to the remarks I heard at home because it seemed to me that they were saying the same things I heard at school, which made it hurt worse.
As the years passed no relief was to be found, it continued every day. Some years were better than others, but at some point during each and every day I would hear it. By the time I hit high school it was at a fevered pitch.
High school brought new terror to me because not only was I fat, I was awkward and had no fashion sense. I was the quintessential “last kid picked” for everything. I never had a girlfriend throughout school, girls would barely even speak to me. Physical education starting in sixth or seventh grade led to ungodly torture with having to dress out for class. “That guy needs a bra” was the statement of the hour, and that carried on all through high school.
It didn’t seem to matter where I was at or what the situation was, it was always there. Some memories stand out more than others. Having a barbecue at the fairgrounds to raise money for a new church bus was one of these. I was having a good day with two other kids in my Sunday school class, we were running around just acting silly when we ran into one of the barns on the fairgrounds and one of the boys made the comment that he was amazed that I could keep up with them because I was so fat. I found my mother and told her I wanted to go home, I spent the rest of the day sitting in the car waiting on them to get finished. I was playing soccer at Arnco Sargent elementary when the principal was Mr. Macmillan. He came out to watch the game. He was surrounded by a group of kids that hadn’t dressed out that day. After we had gotten back in and on to the next class, the people I hung around with were all laughing because the principal had made the statement to the kids around him that was a jelly belly, so jelly belly stuck with me for months. I didn’t want to be involved in anything at school and was nervous because I thought that everyone had to play on the school basketball team when they reached the seventh grade. I asked “coach Enns” if it would be ok if I didn’t want to be on the team. He laughed out loud in front of everybody and said that I wouldn’t have anything to worry about because you had to at least be able to see your toes to be on the team. In second grade a little girl named Amy came up to me on the playground and told me that I was too fat to ever have a girlfriend and she and her friends thought I should know that. People did things to make fun of me like pour pencil shavings in my hair from the sharpener, pull my chair away as I was sitting down, steal my things from my desk, never want to play with me or invite me to birthday parties… During my tenth grade year at Central High school I was walking back to my desk after turning in a paper when a kid named Alan, that was in my home room, spoke up as I walked by his desk yelling out, “my god that boy has big tits.” The class laughed out loud and the teacher told everyone to be quiet, she moved me to the front of the room the next day so I could reach her desk without getting up. I was threatened that same year by another kid in my homeroom named Brad. We were walking into a class and the girl in front of me stopped to talk to someone as we were going through the door. I stopped behind her and Brad ran into me. I had decided to attempt to grow a beard and hadn’t shaved in a long while, he pushed me forward violently, I almost fell, and did drop my books all over. He said if I ever did that again he would slap those nasty whiskers off my face and spent the rest of the class talking about me to all of his friends sitting around him. I heard most of the comments and all of the laughter. When I had taken enough, my junior year, I was walking up the steps of the auditorium at Newnan high school to go to the balcony for study hall when a kid named Jeff knocked all of my books from under my arm on the stairs, I could take no more and unloaded on the son of a bitch. I beat the living daylights out of the guy and got into a lot of trouble.
The comments never stopped. So I attempted to control my surroundings to have better days. When I started driving to school I would park as near to the school as I could and wait until the absolute last second until I left the car and made my way to homeroom. I skipped homeroom as much as I could because the people around me would be relentless. I was an art student and would hide down in the “dungeon” of the art classes as much as possible during the day. I was pretty good at some of the things, sculpting mainly, so that was one of the few avenues of relief I could depend on. I ate lunch the first day of ninth grade and never did it again for the remaining four years because a girl sat at the same table as me and made fun of me all through the thirty minute session from hell. So I would find a quiet place and do what had come natural to me to escape, I read. I carried more paperback fantasy novels in my book bag than I did text books. Hell… one of the most blatant things to happen to me was a depiction of myself that a kid in tenth grade art class put in a mural on the classroom door. His name was Trent, as an assignment he painted a mural of our class sitting in a stadium at a ball game. My likeness was a hugely fat guy with stink lines coming off of him eating popcorn while wearing a shirt that said ’I like food’ on it. I had to stare at that damn thing every day in that room. He assured me that it was a guy from another class, yeah, they thought I was stupid as well as fat. I was sitting in the pottery room one day when a kid named Chad took a sculpture of mine of an arm, I had made it from left over pottery clay and was turning it in to attempt to get a spot in a show in Savannah. It was a muscular arm with a clenched fist, it was done to show my prowess at doing fine detail. Chad decided it would be funny to unzip his pants, stick the arm through his fly and run around the room like it was his penis. He dropped it and broke it. He didn’t know I was sitting in the next room, and when someone in the class mentioned that I would be mad he said he didn’t care what that fat fuck said. I listened to him explain it to the teacher when she got back in the room and she made him apologize to me, I actually thanked him for the apology and said don’t worry about it. Yes, I thanked the guy…
That was the way it went for twelve years, day in and day out. The thing that bothered me about being around other people was that I would actually be having a good day and then someone would make a comment, or give me what I called ‘the look’ which was a general look of disgust, and it would ruin my day, so every day was ruined. My parents just kept telling me to toughen up and not to listen. When I was younger I dealt with it better, but over time it just wore me down. I could be talking to someone and hear a comment from a person walking by like, fat ass, and just lower my head and look for a place to hide. I never participated in anything at all, no extracurricular activities. That carried over into everything. My mother was always upset with me because I “didn’t do anything” just sat at home and watched tv or read. She talked me into playing church softball because I wasn’t half bad. I played one game, hit a line drive to right field, but it was picked off by the first baseman as it went by. He took his glove off and shook his hand because I had hit it hard and the smack it made as he caught it was heard all over the field. That was my only at bat, when I got back to the dugout a guy named Johnny made the comment that lardass made the last out and ruined the rally. The following week Edwin, the coach of the team, got very angry with me while I was watching the lady’s team play a game because I refused to go play and they had to forfeit because of not enough players. I really didn’t care at all. That was what happened to me, I became mean.
I was, what would be these days, a prime candidate for psychotropic drugs to improve my mood and expulsion if anyone looked at any of my folders in school. I had lists of names titled ’hit list’ all over them, I drew pictures of piles of bloody chunks of meat that were my classmates after I was finished slaughtering them. I wrote little poems in my books about using swords to kill everyone in class. I made jokes about climbing the bell tower of the courthouse with a 308 hunting rifle and picking people off during parades. I had these thoughts and fantasies during class as I sat listening to the people around me ridicule me for wearing “buddies” from kmart, or being fat, or having facial hair, or being so nervous I couldn’t speak out loud, or following me down the hall wondering out loud how many cows died to make the coat I was wearing. The older I got the less I would put up with it and the meaner I got, I wanted nothing to do with people at all. I would say things to people that were shocking just so they would leave me alone. The night of my graduation from high school was one of the saddest moments of my life. When the big moment came to throw your cap up in celebration, I tucked tail and left the stadium. I took off the cap and gown when I went through the gate, jumped in my car and hauled ass away from that place. I actually made it home two hours before my parents and little brother did. I remember the chuckle I got when I received an invitation to my ten year high school reunion… It was held at the local country club and cost a hundred bucks to get into… I didn’t stop laughing for days after I saw that.
All of these things carry on in my life today, they left deep scars. I still experience the huge let down whenever anything doesn’t go my way, I became overly sensitive to criticism. The smallest thing shatters any confidence I have built up over the years since leaving school. I am deathly afraid of people and large crowds. For the most part the classmates I see or talk to when I run into them are nice to me these days, indeed some of them seem to remember me fondly. So I’m sure I missed out on a lot of friendships and good times during school. I know that being a kid is tough and that children, teens specifically, are mean, but when you are dealing with it right then, knowing that doesn’t help. I’ve never really succeeded in anything in life, and get scared of everything new and different to the point of almost having panic attacks. I cant even work on anything around the house, I just fall to pieces. When I do speak to people I drive them away with over talking and not knowing when to stop. I developed no social skills. I didn’t go to college because of it. I had it set up to go to Savannah college of art and design, and fear made me walk away from it. Plain and simple fear. I couldn’t imagine living in a dorm room with other people, sleeping in a room with someone I didn’t know scared the hell out of me.
The talent I have is the ability to create, through sculpting and wood carving. This talent was developed because all through my life I was alone. I would sit away from people and draw, I would make things, huddled over a table manipulating wood to carve or modeling clay to make things, or a pottery wheel when I could get to it. I find comfort there because nobody is around to tell me what to do or criticize what I make. My finely tuned sarcastic cynicism has allowed me to be able to take a bad review of what I create these days, but back then it was awful. Indeed, it took years for me to be able to even let others see what I had made.
Through the love of my wife and children I have mellowed out a great deal over the years, I have my moments, as we all do, but its easier these days. Now, I will just talk your damn ears off… I think about what I would have been like at the height of this in school and right after I graduated when I was making my way through the maze of frustration that was my life if I had been diagnosed as depressed and put on psychotropics for years, drugs that tell you in warning labels up front that they can cause violent, psychotic, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. I may not be here now. I may have done what these other guys did, or may have simply taken my own life to end the bullshit and pain I faced every day because the chemicals in my brain were set to create an atmosphere conducive to that type of action, all designed to make me feel better. No thanks, I am glad I had to work it out myself..