Tuesday, September 22, 2015

That's Dr. Mushy to You

On Being Bullied

A little background:

I grew up in a bedroom community of NYC in the 60's and 70's. I was the eldest child of two parents who were both the eldest children from families who were so incredibly different from each other, it's amazing they stayed married until Death "did them part."

My parents met in the Navy. My father was there because, well, he had to be. After finishing college it was either join the Navy or be drafted into the Army, and he chose OTS (Officer's Training School) for the Navy. His father and his father's best friend enlisted during WWI by lying about their ages.  My Grandfather eventually became a Paterson cop and according to my father's legend in his own mind, one of the only honest cops at the time.

My Grandfather was too old to enlist again for WWII so he was made the Civil Service Chief for Paterson, and ran all the Air raid siren drills-- because they were near the coast of NJ and who knew when the "Krauts" would attack. My Dad knew what all of the enemy planes looked like from underneath. He was ready.

Just to give you a flavor of my father, he was Archie Bunker before there WAS Archie Bunker. He had the typical NJ accent with the "Dees, Dats, Does, (pronounced like the animal doe), and Dems" and "Axe" instead of "ask," and "eckscape," instead of "escape". They happily declared themselves "Shanty Irish" in contradistinction to those bourgeoise "Lace Curtain" Irish, who thought they were "the shits." (Why "the shits" was good, is beyond me.)

My mother was a Southern Belle. A "Georgia Peach." That's what my father called her when he first met her. She was from a well-to-do family from North Carolina, who originally made their money in black walnut and saw mills in South Carolina in the 1800's and early 1900's. Her father was a GP-general practitioner- a now unused term for a doctor who could do anything. He did home births, kitchen table tonsillectomies, surgery, and whatever else was needed to be done. Farm accidents, Croup, TB, whatever needed doctoring, he did.  He also was a drug addict and a mean son-of-a-bitch, according to my mother.  Also according to my mother, he allegedly used morphine and barbiturates, and uppers and downers, and beat his wife and kids. He died before I could know him. Small favors.

As a result, my mother was depressed, mean, and likely bipolar, which would explain her father's self medication, as bipolar is very much a hereditary disease.
She ran away to join the Navy to get out from under her father's controlling thumb. He made her go to an all girl's college in Georgia. She wanted to go to UNC and to become a doctor, and this school was all about preparing fine upstanding upperclass women for marriage. Her college chemistry professor actually told her that "women have no place in medicine" and flunked her on purpose-or so she said.

So this is all background to the story of my beating up TW in 4th grade.

I was a complete and total nerd, with no social skills. I was more comfortable around adults, and had  a very hard time in school, socially. I was smart and didn't know how to keep my mouth shut. I had no control over my temper, because no one had taught me. My father's motto was "fight and be somebody."  Fighting and screaming were the only forms of communication my parents really excelled at. My parents were always upset or angry about something or someone in the outside world. They would rail against the establishment. They held the rest of the world in disdain, and would say, at the end of the day, "Lock the door and pull up the drawbridge. Keep the world out." They really wanted a moat. Seriously. Filled with alligators. They hated people. They often hated each other. There was some conversation, but mostly it was my parents telling me that I didn't know what I was talking about and yelling at me, each other, and the TV- So that was how I learned to communicate.

As you can imagine, I got the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis. I earned the nickname, "Mushy," in third grade when I got frustrated over the Iowa tests and started crying, and the ink on the test book ran, and the teacher made me stand up in front of the whole class to hold up the soggy and tear streaked book to a fan to dry it out. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Campbell. I hated her for making me stand there in front of the fan, and I still hate her to this day because she told us there was no Santa Claus. "No one here still believes in Santa Claus, right? You all know he's not real, right?" (No, I did NOT know and was laughed at for years afterwards for believing. It was THIRD GRADE for God's sakes. Couldn't she keep her mouth shut and let the parents decide?)

My parents got sick and tired of my coming home with ripped clothes and tear streaked cheeks, because Vinny or Timmy or Michael or Richard almost daily beat the crap out of me after school on the way home. The school wouldn't do anything because it was after school and not on school property. The parents would talk to their kids (Mom was on the PTA and knew everyone and talked to their parents) but it never stopped. So they got the "Great Idea" that I should become a black belt in Judo and learn how to beat the bullies up so they'd stop.

The problem with this whole scheme was that Judo is a defensive sport, not to be used to beat the shit out of the mean kids, and I was a complete and total spaz. I had absolutely no coordination, nor did I have any inclinations towards sports. I was always the last kid picked in gym for teams and my arms and legs were growing faster that my body, and I was fat and gangly all at the same time.

My father's buddy taught the Judo class in the high school gym. I got a judogi (the white uniform for Judo) and dutifully learned how to shoulder roll, and how to trip people, how to push and pull at the same time, and importantly, how to land without getting hurt.

One sunny afternoon in fourth grade, TW, my arch enemy, started in on me. We were just off the school grounds and I was surrounded. So, I decided, enough is enough. I yelled, "Hi Ya Ching" (who the hell knows where I got that, but yes, I screamed it loud and clear), grabbed the front of his shirt, pushed him while tripping him over my lower leg and knocking him down to the ground, where he split his head open on the edge of the sidewalk.

Then I ran home.

I felt horribly guilty. I didn't know if TW needed stitches, or how badly I'd hurt him. I felt guilt and relief. I thought the bullying would all end because my Dad said that if you beat up a bully, they always back down.

Yeah, not so much.

He continued to bully me all through high school, and taught all the other kids to yell, "MUSHY!" as I walked up or down the stairs out of earshot of the teachers, just to torture me.

I stopped taking judo. I never got a black belt.
I'm still a spaz.
I learned in college and medical school how to act like I didn't care what people said, and soon, I didn't.

At my 10th high school reunion, one of my arch enemies, who was now actually a really nice guy, thought he was going to be funny. I was dressed in a black cat suit with a long red riding jacket, and I looked amazing. (This was before having kids completely destroyed my body). He looked me up and down appraisingly, and said, with surprise in his voice, "MUSHY!"

I turned to him, smiled, hugged him, and whispered in his ear, "That's DR Mushy, to you."