“I know how bad bullying can hurt. I was bullied when I was a kid.” ~ Tracy Morgan
Gratitude Before the Nitty Gritty
I would be remiss in not acknowledging the supportive role some of my parents’ siblings played in ensuring I had a nourishing upbringing. There were remnants of a village raising a child in the late 1980s and 1990s that I clearly remember. Now, the actual number of aunts and uncles fitting this description is small. More of them perpetuated behaviors of bullying, strife, and avoidable hardship. The relatives who were more supportive included my sister, first cousins who are more like makeshift siblings, and my maternal grandmother.
Why did I create this blog series?
While there is kinfolk who constantly reminded me of their love and support, there are others who worked overtime to ensure I felt the disdain they had for me. I am no victim by any stretch of the imagination — I chose to blog about my experiences of adults bullying me as a child to therapeutically air dirty laundry and do my part in creating vicarious experiences for others who may be or have been dealing with similar situations. Paying it forward, if you would. I will not call specific names — not for reasons related to any fear of confronting them about my feelings — because I can make my point without doing so.
What do I mean adults bullying a child? Just that, from the perspective of memories I have of my aunts and uncles treating me poorly. Oh Keith, you were a sensitive lad. I sure was – how is that in any way an absolution of grown folks terrorizing someone over twice their junior? Well, you are a Millennial — entitled, too soft, and require a trophy even though you did not earn it. Wrong again, this has nothing to do with fully autonomous adults cornering a defenseless child. I mean, you are from the South, so… Try again. Even people below the Mason-Dixon line – which seem to have culturally shifted to position Northern Virginia to the north of it – have limits when it comes to treating a child well.
For the 200th time, the relatives I will discuss were adults — my age ranged from pre-teen to teenager at the time of the menacing events I will discuss in this series. I am referencing an instance where one of my dad’s sisters and one of his brothers cornered me during a family gathering in 1999 to interrogate me about my parents’ marital problems. I am speaking of an aunt who spoke hatefully to me once because she was upset with my dad for holding her accountable in a situation where she was clearly wrong. I am highlighting another aunt who attempted to publicly shame me with accusations of “acting funny” and “thinking I am better than other people” because I chose not to respond to a Facebook comment she made on my wall. I am blasting my mother’s brother who treated me and my sister poorly for years because my mother held his feet to the fire regarding something about which he was irrefutably wrong.
I hold onto familial grievances longer than some people would deem healthy. There is no one way to process pain. Admittedly there is some validity in productively acknowledging, processing, and responding to pain in a timely manner. I do think lingering anger and resentment can bring about early death through the onset of expensive and physiologically devastating chronic conditions — hypertension, depression, fatigue, etc. I also believe forgiving and forgetting are easier said than done. Moving on from hurt and pain caused by relatives is especially difficult if there is no discernible recourse in attempting to right a wrong. Hell, forget doing something about it, getting my kin to acknowledge issues in a constructive manner is a Herculean effort.
Given I have no control over people owning bad behavior that has negatively affected me and other relatives or any behavior for that matter I turned to something I can fully control. How I respond. I have chosen to respond by getting the help I need to process and release deeply buried pain and phasing out self-defeating ways I respond to it. There is no silver bullet. Several measured solutions done my way at my pace are key in moving me emotionally forward. Blogging — which is a form of releasing — is my version of better out than in.
Tangential Note: I made myself the accountability police because my physical health and emotional well-being depend on it. While I have not begun to manifest any of the adverse health outcomes associated with chronic stress and mental anguish, I will not await their onset before I make some critical changes. With that, calling a thing a thing in an unapologetic and straightforward way to engage relatives who have never ever been held accountable for anything is the first of many steps.
Even as a Child My Gut Instincts Were Right
As a child, you are often told you are not old enough to understand x, or too young to process y. In the South, this is best expressed with stay outta grown folks’ business or quit looking in grown folks’ mouths. I think this narrative holds in certain situations, when it comes to perceiving how people treat you, one’s gut feeling may be more accurate than we are willing to admit. I believe this to be the case irrespective of age. As a preteen and later adolescent, my gut feeling told me I was right to feel bad because of the way some of my aunts and uncles treated me. Yet I made excuses in favor of them and against myself. For the most egregious offenses, I would tell my parents — mostly my mother – about them. I did not trust my dad to check his relatives for mistreating me because Blood is Thicker than Accountability. Once, he did issue a scathing corrective action to one of sisters for overstepping in how she spoke to me. Maybe he has checked some of his other siblings, unbeknownst to me. I doubt it.
In seeking help from my biological protectors — the two people who gave me my 46 chromosomes — I would beg them not to make a big fuss or say anything to the perps. I only told them because I needed to get it out. They were my mother and father as well as providers of pro bono psychological examinations. It was imperative for me to tell someone who would not mock, ignore, or otherwise delegitimize me. Why did I not want my parents to confront them, the bullying aunts and uncles? Because I still wanted them to like me. Of course, my parents hung them out to dry – which caused the bullies to dislike me even more. Mind you, I never did anything to them to deserve how they treated me.
I wished the aunts and uncles who treated me poorly showed me the adulation they freely gave to my cousins who were physically fit, played sports, and obviously heterosexual among other characteristics I now consider mediocre at best. I hold such traits in even lower regard it they are the only ones touted as a person’s most admirable and sole qualities. How about discuss a book you recently read? Your thoughts on climate change? Did you vote in 2016? You do know the Apprentice was staged, right? Why would I still yearn for the approval and affection of people who treated me terribly? Human nature? A child’s nature? Stockholm Syndrome? If they were mistreating me and none of my cousins — I would say to myself — then I must be doing something wrong or I am a bad person.
Maybe I am being to harsh on the past me, expecting the Keith of the 1990s to have had the intellectual fortitude to more readily process and have my parents address what was clearly foul behavior. I do know for sure the way some of my relatives bullied me, the way my father treated my mother with disdain and how the most heinous of offenders on his side of the family were idolized — no one being held to account for any of it created a fierce amount of anger and resentment within me. The lack of ownership and sound personal choices — not to be confused with the dog whistles and crushing hypocrisy of politicians — drove me to the most intense corners of the accountability spectrum. I began seeking accountability at all costs no matter the energy, time, and severed relationships required.
I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.