Monday, August 14, 2006

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Someone I knew in school died. It is very sad.

The entire family was ripe for bullying. From their olive skin stained with splotches of bleach white, to their unusually whinny yet deep nasal voices and their dirty garage sale clothes clinging to their small frames, the entire family was a pack of outcasts – powerless, hungry, poor and so pitiful. The Slagley’s ate at the shitty end of the stick and I just happen to know that high school stick stinks to high heaven.

Enis the Penis was his nickname. One particular, cruel hearted, ass monkey, son-of-a-bitch named Coy gave Michael that name and loved nothing more than making sure that it stuck, adding it to the common lexicon of the school. Coy was great that way. He took it upon himself to make sure that those weaker than him found no respite, no relief, from any relentless tirades of punishment and degradation.

Michael might as well have hung a sign, a great blinking neon sign with arrows and swirling colors, right around that spotted skinny neck of his flashing: Pick On Me Won’t You Please! He couldn’t help it and I know that. So it goes with those who are socially awkward and delayed from the get-go. The social scarlet letter is sewn early on kids like Michael and the only way out is to fight or flight. When everyone is bigger than you, fighting is hard. Karate lessons take money. Some learn to be funny, but Michael wasn’t quick-witted.

The typical bullying fare was the norm for Michael. I didn’t really pay that much attention to it at the time. I was in high school, finally became moderately popular and all was right with the world. I knew, but I don’t think I was aware of the amount. Years later, I now realize that the amount of pain he took was probably overwhelming.

My little group of friends took Michael out once. Only once. We invited him to go out with us one night. It was all Jason’s idea. Maybe Jason paid more attention than I did; I don’t know. He said we needed to take Michael out with us, to the movies and cruising downtown Branson. No, we didn’t pick on him, or trick him, or leave him naked at the Western Sizzlin. We just gave him a regular night out with the boys. I think he liked it. I think he had fun. I know that it was a first time for him – a night out with a group of guys doing regular high school boy things.

My only regret is that we didn’t do it more. The problem is, outcasts – extreme outcasts, don’t usually know how to act around other people. Their behaviors, much like gifted kids and children with disabilities, are awkward and can appear strange. It typically takes longer to teach them than teenage boys have time to devote.

That’s right I didn’t help him. I was content with not being the center of the attacks and after finally finding my place and fitting in, I was more than content. I was happy not being picked on and pushed around. It felt good to be a part of a group, to fit in, to be accepted. By the time high school came around I went from the fat kid getting picked on, to the fat kid who can fight. Unlike Michael, I could afford martial arts lessons. I was not about to destabilize that position. Besides, I guess somewhere deep down inside I figured he brought it on himself, being such a spooky guy. It wouldn’t have been so bad had he just acted normal.

Of course I know better now. I wonder what would have happened to Michael had we really let him into our group, protected him from the wolves, and given him a real place in the male hierarchy of high school society?

In May 2005 Michael J. Slagley, 31, died in automobile accident in my hometown of Hollister-Branson. It was one year and two months later that I found out about his death. I hope his life got better after school.

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