I took a walk to the beach today and, as I strolled, my mind--for reasons it certainly did not see fit to share with me--wandered back into the days of junior highschool. Specifically, I recalled I the stream of insults and cruel taunts that I so often found being flung my way. I suspect that these verbal assaults are something with which most anybody at that age has to contend, but I found them to be particularly vexing. The reason I was so frustrated was not that I was shocked or dismayed by the fact that I was being belittled--to the contrary, at the time, I believed that the cruelty of one’s friends was a given, that it was simply a part of the natural order of things, and I did my best to make peace with this reality--but instead, my aggravation stemmed from the fact that the barbs used against me were always random and nonsensical in nature.
Instead of picking on some quirk of my personality or highlighting a particularly ugly physical feature (and I surely had plenty of both!), my tormentors chose alternatively to make up some unattractive quality out of whole-cloth, assign it to me, and then mock me for it (An especially perplexing example of this occurred after I wore a recently-purchased “Cookie Monster” T-shirt to school. After being spotted in this apparently ridiculous attire, my “friends” permanently labeled me as “a wuss.” To this day, I cannot understand their logic. To me, Cookie Monster is the very embodiment of testosterone-driven machismo: he knows exactly what he wants and he’s willing to consume anything and everything that stands between him and his desire. Cookie Monster looks at rules, restraints, and societal norms and says, “To Hell with that! Me want Cookies!” How he could possibly be associated in any way with “wussiness” I simply cannot fathom).
To me, this seemed egregiously unjust; if I was to be mocked, I wanted to be mocked for something I deserved, damnit! My assailants’ weapons of choice also had the unfortunate side-effect--and this, I suppose, is the reason for which they were chosen--of catching me so off-guard that, in the moment, I was left completely incapable of mounting an effective counter-attack (and, in these kind of situations, being able to react and respond “in the moment” is all that really matters). So, instead of responding, I simply forced a weak, ineffectual smile and pretended that I wasn’t bothered by what they said.
If the fact that, ten years later, I still find my mind drawn back to their taunting is any evidence, it seems to me now that I really was bothered. Perturbed or not, as I walked today, I finally found my voice; As I replayed these conversations in my head I was at last able to fashion a few retorts so sharp and biting that, had I found myself with the opportunity to use them “in the moment” I would have cut my antagonists to bloody ribbons (metaphorically speaking, of course), while at the same time cementing my own status as demigod of coolness. No bully could possibly have stood in the wake of my calm, collected onslaught. Alas, I fear that my new-found parrying skills have come a decade too late, and since I no longer inhabit the halls of junior highschool, they will be of no use except as a means to revel in pubescent glories that might have been. I suppose that I should simply be glad that, as an adult living in a moderately more mature world, I no longer find having a steady supply of cruel come-backs at-the-ready to be a necessity. On the other hand, should I happen upon a person who, in his abounding foolishness, thinks me a bit of easy sport, a patsy upon which he can effortlessly heap brutally absurd daggers, he will find himself sorely mistaken; the gloves have come off and I’m ready to rumble.