Dark Times at Alamosa High

Before I get into this section, I have to acknowledge that is has been almost six years since I wrote the last chapter. Wow. It is kind of funny that I tend to have spurts of when I feel I need to write a bit to get some things out, and then go silent for periods. I have a regular blog, but it seems that I only feel like updating it much during the bad or stressful periods of my life. For example, I posted our 2011 Christmas letter there, and then didn't make an entry until this week. Anyway, there was somethign on Facebook I saw today, and I decided to sign a cyber-petition to support a bunch of cos-players that a Florida TV station had made fun of on its site. Well they asked why I wanted to sign this, and then when I said to post the petition on Facebook, it posted my reason - which I really wasn't ready to openly share. However it is out now, so I guess I had take advantage of my own personal forum here to tell the whole story. Besides, 30 years should be long enough, shouldn't it?

That makes me feel old, having stories that are 30 years old. Back then, bullying was still thought of as no big deal, just kids being kids. Tough it out. Stand up to them. Today things are quite a bit different, but back then, in the late 70's and early 80's, you were on your own.

So I guess the place to start is the beginning. No, not back at chapter 1, but in Junior High. Back then we didn't have "Middle School", we had "Junior High" - 7th and 8th grades. My hometown had a separate 5th and 6th grade building as well. It kind of started there, because it was in 5th grade that you could choose to join band. I was going to get braces, so Mr. Warwick (the band director for the district) suggested I play Trombone. I have some good stories about being in band and a band geek - but that is for another chapter. This is not the good part of band, this is the living hell it made my life growing up.

So, getting back to Junior High. This is where they started mixing the grades - it wasn't two separate bands, it was one big one for the school. So it wasn't just me playing trombone; in 7th grade I was also playing with two 8th graders. From what I knew, EB and KS were friends outside of band, and had been for quite a while. I was skinny, not athletic, and basically a full fledged nerd with the exception that I did not need glasses. Straight A student, quiet, had a hard time making many friends. And these two buddies got to sit next to me for an hour a day, five days a week.

I'm not a psychologist. I haven't studied why people are bullies, what brings it about. Stronger kids picking on weaker ones, especially when there is no authority to stop them. But these two 8th graders decided that the lone 7th grader in their section needed to be picked on. I honestly don't even remember how it started. If it was jokes, or pushing, or what. It wasn't that big deal at first, even to me.

But then my real problems began. One of them, I think it was KS because he always seemed to hate me much more than EB did, but I honestly don't remember, but let's say it was KS, happened to be our paper boy. In my home town there were a couple of "big city" newspapers you could get in the morning, but the only local paper was a weekday evening newspaper - the Valley Courier (and I guess it is still being published). He delivered it on his bike five days a week. I was always home when he did, because we got out of school at the same time and he had to take his bundle of papers and fold or roll them every day, put them in his bag, and ride them around throwing them on the porches of his route. If I was outside at the time, he would aim for me. Annoying, but still not a big deal. Of course EB was with him as well, and would egg him on.

Well the aiming escalated after a few times - so that he/they started making a "special" paper just for me. I remember the first one - it was bound by like 20 rubber bands. I wasn't outside when it came, but picked it up, laughed it off, threw away all the rubber bands and thought nothing of it. KS didn't however, so the next day he did more. To this day, I don't know if he rolled the banana up inside of the paper, but there was a banana peel wrapped around the outside of the paper which was bulging weirdly, and again about 20 rubber bands, because otherwise this "special" paper wouldn't hold together - and where was the fun in that. Funny joke. Except when I got the paper that evening, my Dad was already home.

I tried to laugh this off, but he would have none of it. He was furious. I think even today I get my tempermant from him - pretty much calm and collected 99.9% of the time - but when he explodes watch out. And explode he did. Of course he asked me about it, and I mentioned the day before, and they were in my section in band and picked on me a little but is was all no big deal.

However to him it was - not the picking on me, but for the fact that he paid for the newspaper and the delivery service, and he by god was not going to be treated like that. He was immediately on the phone with the newspaper office, and within a half hour or less they had a new, pristine paper out to him with very sincere apologies. My dad of course gave them the banana peel covered paper (still unopened, so I still don't know if there was a banana in it or not). And he left.

I guess you would have to have the stupidity of an 8th grade boy to not know what was coming next. I wasn't there to see it, but I did know that KS was immediately fired - in fact the guy from the office may have even been at his house waiting for him as I think we were pretty early on the route. But either way, he lost his job. Now this is an adolescent boy who pulled a stupid prank and got punished for it. But did he see that it was a choice he had made - of course not. He saw it as me getting him fired.

I know things escallated with the bullying now - it went from them being bored or just having fun to KS hating me. He wasn't dumb enough to think he could overtly do anything, but pushing and pinching escalated.

There was one incident I remember though. This was during the early fall of my 7th grade year. One thing our Junior High band still did was march in a couple of parades, using the old high school uniforms. We actually used music holders that attached to our horns - I haven't seen one of those in years. In the band room was a big rack with metal cage doors on it to store your instruments. These had a space for locks, but most people did not lock their instruments. I kept finding my band folder removed from my locker and on top of the lockers, or thrown in a corner. Then one day I was running a bit late, and I opened my case, and everything was wet. There was a pungent smell as well, but I had no time to clean it, I was being yelled at to get my horn and get outside. I wiped off the mouthpiece as best as I could, and took the wet horn out to practice. I'm not 100% sure that one or the other of them had pissed on my horn, but I still believe that is what happened. I went to the corner drug store after school and bought a lock for the locker after school that day.

I don't remember any other details from Junior High. The bullying didn't stop, but it was bearable. 8th grade was nice, because they had both moved to the high school, so there was no bullying then. But then I moved to the high school, and things got worse.

We had band first period every day in high school. Starting with my freshman year, the bullying resumed. I don't remember all the details, all the things that happened day after day after day, but I remember some.

Anyone familiar with brass instruments knows that they need to be kept lubricated to operate properly. The most common form is oil - for trombones slide oil. However there is a better method - you rub cold cream into the slide, and this causes water to bead up on it instead of wetting it - so the water provides for better lubrication. However it also runs off, so you need to have a spray bottle with you to spritz the slide occasionally. So here I was, forced to sit next to one or the other of my tormentors, and sometimes between them, both of them with spray bottles on hand every day. Did I get an earful of water every day? Every other day? Once a week? I don't remember exactly how often, but it was enough that it began to feel more like acid being sprayed in my face over and over than water. Of course they never did it when the director was looking, and he had a full class of people, and they are just being boys, so stand up for yourself and the problem will go away.

One of the great american myths we have been taught is that when you stand up to a bully, they will back down and forever leave you alone afterward. You just have to make a stand. They are all cowards at heart. Except for when they aren't, and they don't. I did try to stand up for myself. It is the only fight I got into in high school. It was after school. I think it was with EB, but KS was there. I don't think they ganged up on me - they didn't need to. The one of them kicked my ass. My year of Judo in junior high taught me just enough to really get my ass kicked (another chapter I need to someday write is the one year of Judo I tried). Did it help the situation at all? No, it just proved that they were physically stronger and capable of continuing to pick on me.

What I should have done was quit band. That would have removed me from having any contact with them. In fact I can only remember having any contact with either of them outside of band once - and that was when I was when I needed to rent some skies, and EB worked at a local ski shop. He was actually pretty nice there. But I didn't want to quit band. There were a lot of fun times - just not during practice.

Sectionals were one of the worst times. The low brass would go off in a separate room, and the the section leaders would lead it. Ours were always in the theatre department costume room. A room full of costumes, makeup and (though I don't know why) perfume. And no adults. I would be sprayed with perfume. I would have boas draped over me. Makeup smeared on my face. Sectionals were even worse than practice. And there were often other people in there, but like in most bully situations they kept silent, for fear of becoming victims themselves. I don't blame them.

One of the worst incidents was the gum. I was warming up before practice was to start, and KS walked behind me, took out his gum, and stuck in it my hair, right at the center of my head. If you ever look at how your hair grows, it starts in a bit of a spiral from near the top of your head. The spot at the very center can usually be seen if you look and don't have long, thick hair. I did not, mine was pretty plain ( and is now the epicenter of the growing baldness I can no longer ignore). This spot was where he pressed the gum - not just flicked it or dropped it - but put it on his thumb and pressed it down in the center of my head where my hair started.

Of course I went to the director, who looked at it and sent me to the school nurse to try to get it out. They were laughing their asses off. The nurse tried to get it out for close to an hour, but in the end the only solution was to cut it out. Now it wasn't on the side, or in the middle of the strands - it was pushed and spread over the base of the hair where it was centered on my head. So this meant cutting it out just above the root - effectively shaving a small bald spot in the middle of my head. I guess it possibly could have been worse if they would have actually walked up with a pair of clippers and shaved the top of my head themselves, but that would have been about the only way.

My junior year was probably the worst - they were seniors and if there had been any older kids moderating what was going on, there were none now. There was also another boy who was a year younger in our section. I have absolutely no idea now, 30 years later, what his name was. But KS and EB took him under their wing, and showed him how to continue to torture me. Trained him you might say. However he was worse, because unlike them, he had no true hatred of me. The newspaper incident was never discussed, he was just brought up in an environent where bullying me was the thing to do. So some days he would, then other days he would be nice and friendly. The inconsistency my senior year when it was just him and I made it almost worse than before. At least with the older two I knew to ALWAYS expect something, with him I never knew.

All of this did take its toll on me. During my junior year, when it was at its peak, I was also getting very involved with my church. This was the tradition time when Catholics get confirmed, and I did. I tried turning to the church for help, for support. For an entire year I said the rosary every night before going to bed, no matter where I was. For those non-catholics, the rosary is a set of prayer beads. There is a cross at the end, then a single bead, three beads together and a single bead. Then a loop with three sets of 10 beads, each separated by a single bead. You start at the cross then go up, around, and back down to end at the cross. For each single bead you say The Lords Prayer and another one that I don't remember any more, and for each bead in a group you say a Hail Mary. It is not a fast process. And I did it, praying for help every night. Another myth that they like to push on you is that God answers prayers. Back then I believed, and discovered that either God didn't answer prayers, or answered them with a NO. It was not comfort, no aid, no help. And I don't care how many footprint posters you put up - I did not feel better praying and crying myself to sleep night after night after night - there was no comfort and no one carried me through that stage of my life.

And physically it took its affects as well. I had a nightly ritual, and for a long time (at least one year, if not more, I don't remember) I had a morning ritual. Get up, shower etc. Eat breakfast. Throw up blood. Go to school, dreading first period band class, and breathing a sigh of relief when it was all over, and then enjoying the rest of my day. I actually liked high school, and in my mind separate the horror I went through every morning for 50 minutes from the rest of my life. I always made sure to eat, because if I didn't then when I threw up (and that ALWAYS happened) it was much more painful and worse - dry heaving with only the blood coming up. Of course I woudn't throw up on weekends, holidays or during vacations. Just before school. Almost like clockwork.

Then I graduated. I had hoped it would be over my senior year with KS and EB gone, but their protege' continued on, occasionally hitting, pinching or spraying me with his water bottle - then other times being a nice, ordinary kid. Sometimes looking back it felt like he was schizophrenic, because his behavior would change back and forth and be so separate and distinct. So senior year was still bad, but after I graduated it was suddenly and miraculously gone. I sold my trombone to the school a week after graduation and never looked back. I had passed through the gauntlet, and while scarred (and even today, 30 years later, I find that I still have scars that, while not physical, still ache from this) and survived. That which does not kill you makes you stronger.

A lot of times, bullying is not a big act. It is a death of a thousand cuts, or at least mine was. The vast majority of the time it wasn't something big (though sectionals were usually bad, and the gum was one of the worst (yes, even moreso than having my horn pissed on)), it was just the constant, little tortures. Having water sprayed in my ear over and over. Being constantly pinched, slapped and pushed. The constant little cuts that are never allowed to heal.

It surprised me today when this came up, because I had not thought about it in a long time. It isn't a constant pain, but still comes back. KS friended me on Facebook - that caused a huge barrel roll in my gut, but I accepted it and have never had him be anything but polite - I doubt he even remembers it. EB has not, and I have not friended him. When alone, he was actually fairly nice. That is one thing they don't mention about social networks - they help you reconnect to old friends, but also can connect you to those who you would rather leave forgotten.