So, when I was in the eighth grade, I tried out for every sport our school had. Volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball--I was the third string in every team. No, in case you're asking. The school wasn't that big. We had a basketball team of nine girls--six in the first string, two in the second, and me. I was the third string.
I even got the best sportsmanship trophy at the end of the year. Go me.
My stepmom was in school this year, getting her nursing degree, and my dad worked as a respiratory therapist--he wouldn't get his nursing degree until I was in junior college. Together they managed to buy a house in what was about to be prime real estate--but they could barely afford it. They were smart though--do-it-yourself-ers, hard workers, resourceful, in ways I could never be and have forever envied.
They didn't really get the peer pressure thing, though--and that sort of sucked.
Because my grade school was in the town part of the area, so most of my peers had money.
So baseball season rolled around, and the school provided uniforms, but the team wanted to spend two dollars on stirrup socks--bright yellow. Two dollars doesn't sound like much, but it bought me lunch for a week back then, and my parents couldn't understand the expense for something that, to them, sounded like following the crowd.
My teachers recognized the problem though--I was awkward and ADHD and super smart but not great at homework and generally a big social pimple anyway. The reason for all the sports was that I was trying to find a peer group, right? My best friend had died in the seventh grade, and nobody else seemed to get the awkwardness that was me. Later, in high school, I'd discover band and drama and the things that really made me tick, but for that moment, third string with no stirrup socks was really the best I could hope for.
So game day came, and I was wearing little cotton ball socks--remember those? I picked out the yellow ones, since I couldn't do the stirrup ones the rest of the team had. And my coach pulled me aside and presented me with a pair of stirrup socks, saying with a wink that I couldn't tell anybody where they came from.
So when the girls got pissed off because my cotton-ball socks looked dumb with the bright yellow stirrups, and how could I be so stupid, and God couldn't I get something right for once, I told them--neck hot, sweat oozing out from my body in waves--that I'd forgotten. That's it. I was flaky, we all knew it--I'd forgotten. So they bitched at me for ruining their team photo and God how could I be so stupid and Jesus could the awkwardness just stop for sweet hell's sake and whatever.
And I fought tears and kept my mouth shut because you know what?
Because it was nobody's fucking business why I couldn't afford the fucking socks in the first place, and it was nobody's fucking business how I happened to get them when I was sure I couldn't afford them, and it was nobody's fucking business, period, and they could all go to hell.
The thing with bullies is, they want something from you that they have no right to ask for, and you definitely have the right not to give. And if I told them I couldn't afford the goddamned stirrup socks, they would have dished it out because we were poor. And if I told them the teacher had given me the stirrup socks, I would have betrayed a confidence--and they STILL would have dished it out because we were poor. And if I told them to go to hell, I wouldn't have gotten to play softball, and you know what? Whether I liked the spoiled little vipers on the fucking team or not, I had as much right to be on that fucking team as they did.
And the fact that my family couldn't afford the socks at that moment was nobody's business but mine.
I've been thinking about that a lot lately. About how bullies work, about how information is blood to them, about how any defense you want to make of yourself just chums up the waters some more.
Bullies haven't changed any since the 1980's. They still want something they have no right to ask for, blood currency of one sort or another.
I've changed though. My neck is no longer hot, I'm no longer sweating. I'm pretty okay with the ethical choices I've made in my life. Integrity means a lot to me--it's a currency I don't feel like trading away.
It's something I'm not sure bullies will ever understand.