The Bully Bus

As far as my emotional childhood memories go, the school bus experience topped the list of nightmarish encounters with bullies. I can’t think of anything I hated more as a thirteen year old gay teenager, except maybe gym class and mayonnaise.

This was bus number 14 and the girl with the ribbon in her hair was Regina Jones. She was my friend somehow, but that’s all I remember. That’s not a bad deal for her though because many of the students riding that bus were my regular tormentors, so remembering only Regina’s name gives her a gentle spot in my memory instead of the seething thunderstorm of hatred and revenge the other teenagers left behind.

Aside from the daily name-calling and mocking laughter directed at me from the bullies on the bus, the most life changing event happened at the bus stop one morning before school. A random redheaded freckle-faced bully decided name-calling wasn’t enough to showoff his adolescent maleness, so he physically attacked me instead. Because of my shyness I usually stood a short distance away from the others, which made it easy for the bully to sneak around behind me, jump on my back, and knock me face-first onto the ground. His violent fist pounding into my back, neck, and head seemed to last forever. He was bigger and stronger than I was. My first thought was to cover my face to prevent him from permanently disfiguring me. My second thought was paralyzing fear, then pain, and finally humiliation before another teen managed to stop him.

The events immediately following the attack are a blur, but I do remember hearing laughter and derogatory chatter coming from a few other students as bus 14 pulled up to the curb and they all boarded. I skipped school that day and walked home in pain and with tears trying to understand why another person would do this to me. I had never spoken to him. We had no classes together. We shared nothing except a bus ride to school. What was wrong with me?

I rarely rode that bus again. I found other ways to get to school, but that was only a temporary solution because the effect of that violent assault has lasted a lifetime as anxiety and fear. To this day, at fifty-four years old, I will go out of my way to avoid walking past small groups of strangers. I worry they will lash out at me in some mocking or threatening way. Realistically, I understand my fear is irrational, but emotionally my fear is as fresh and new as the day that redheaded freckle-faced bully attacked me for no reason at all.

Childhood bullying is a horrible crime. Not only does it violate the legal rights of those being bullied, but it extends the trauma of victimization into decades of emotional suffering and confusion. It shapes the way in which victims navigate their lives moving forward. It can prevent or diminish trust levels in every type of relationship. It can annihilate self-esteem. It can lead to substance abuse and even suicide. And all for what?

My life has not been defined by the six years of bullying I endured during my school days, but my reaction to what happens in life certainly has been and therein lies the problem for me and for a society that continues to sweep the seriousness of bullying under the carpet. I often wonder how different my outlook on life would have been had the bullying never happened or how much more confident and empowered I could have felt had there been legal ramifications for the bullies who trampled across my civil rights and self esteem.

The Red Barn

  Most kids cannot wait until they reach legal drinking age so they can visit their first cocktail lounge, or sleazy bar, depending on how you want to remember it. Like most young men coming of age, I was no different except the legal drinking age in Las Vegas was twenty-one and I had to wait three long years more than my old classmates from Maryland because their legal drinking age was only eighteen.

 The wait wasn’t exactly an inconvenience as I had plenty of opportunities to try alcohol long before my twenty-first birthday, but my first official visit to a public establishment that served booze wasn’t until October 1983, or thereabouts. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my first visit to a cocktail lounge, but I do remember my first visit to a gay bar called the Red Barn.

 The Red Barn started its life as an antique store in the late 1950s and converted to a gay bar in the early 1960s after new owners acquired the property. By the mid-1980s, when I found my way into the barn, the building and clientele had already reached their senior years. Of course, to a twenty-one year old, anyone ten years or so older might be considered an AARP member, so in all fairness to the men at the bar that night, many of them might not have been as old and used up as I remember them to be.

 What I do remember about that night is being accompanied by my best girlfriend, Jamie. I had just recently come out as a gay virgin, so I needed protection from being sucked into a void of unfamiliar gayness and/or a reason to hightail it out of there if things got weird.

 And things did get weird soon after we ordered cocktails. At least weird to me as I had no experience being the new young piece of meat sitting at the end of the bar. I thought Jamie and I would be mostly ignored as we huddled together in conversation giving me the opportunity to quietly observe what other gay men were about. What I didn’t realize when we walked in was most of the men at the bar were old drunken regulars sitting in wait for someone like me who might allow them to grope my toned and tanned body or have anonymous sex in the back alley!

 It reminded me of a zombie apocalypse, except the zombies closing in on us were unshaven horny old men with potbellies and receding hairlines, desperately stretching their arms out toward my private parts. Jamie somehow kept them at bay as we finished our drinks and escaped relatively unscathed.

 Oddly, the memory of the Red Barn has become more frightening as the decades have passed because now that potbellied zombie could be me!

Release Request

To whom it may concern,

What does obsessive fear and constant worry have to do with being crazy? I am not sure, but the people keep talking about that when I am in the room and it’s making me feel really annoyed. We are all one breakdown away from being “clinically papered” and if you look deep enough into your own brain I bet you’d find a few cells wearing a straitjacket too.

Perhaps you never need to know it, but there is somebody out there somewhere who has met you and believes you are a nut-job! Take me for example, the first thing I notice when I meet someone is the way in which their eyes move about, darting this way and that, or their voice asking me things like, “Are you being supervised?” and “Do you always make a habit of licking people?” What sane person asks those questions?  Of course I lick people!

So you see, others believe they are normal and go through life never knowing the truth. Just because I worry every day about falling into a sink hole or keep the window blinds shut so the stray cats can’t see in, doesn’t mean I am a whacko. The truth lies in our personal perception of reality. Crazy to one is a naked pole dancer to another. With that being said, I want to officially request my release forms so I can attend the movie award ceremonies this year in Cancun. The show isn’t actually being filmed there, but due to my fear of polyester plaid shoes and my need for cheap tequila, Mexico is my best option.

The Great Benjasmine #625321