My father was one of those men who sit in a room and you can feel it: the simmer, the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose, and do something terrible.
― John Burnside, A Lie about My Father: A Memoir
I must have been about seven or eight, certainly no more, when I was bullied at school. I am pretty sure it was not the first time and I am positive it was not the last. These second or third grade incidents are pretty vague, but I am sure they were physical as well as psychological. My shoes were getting very scuffed in the incidents; my pants were torn where I fell on bloodied knees. I believe I got at least one bloody nose, too. This episode is remarkable because there more snippets of recollection than any whole collection. Taken together the images cannot be patched together into any meaningful whole. I suspect that is the way with trauma.
Here’s what I recall of the incidents: more than one, a horizontal striped shirt, two boys, shouting, “sissy,” terror, dirt, front of the Catholic school I attended. Things are also clouded about getting home. I don’t recall a sense of relief, though I may have had one. I believe that I hid my injuries and torn clothes out of fear. I know that after a few of these episodes my mother insisted that I stand up and fight or I would get further beaten at home. I have absolutely no image of my father in this story. None. He may have had some role in its resolution, but the screen of my memory is blank on this.
I remember being bullied again in sixth grade and again in eighth. I think I was just as scared, maybe more. I know that blood was not let in these episodes. The bullying was generally more psychological than physical. I know I was slapped across the face once. This time I was a sissy and more – queer, I believe. I didn’t tell my parents about these incidents and thus avoided being disappointed in each other again.
Since then I have been bullied in high school and college, at work and on the streets. Recently on a trip to the Northwest, I was bullied while walking along Puget Sound. For weeks I have been relating the incident to others, describing it as being stalked. After recounting the experience at least a dozen times, someone finally asked why I called it stalking when it sounded more like bullying. Of course, he was correct. I was bullied but changed the name to protect myself from the humiliation that comes from not fighting for myself and from not being defended by my father.
He was a magical being then, enchanted, I think, by excitement, by the glamour of his otherness. He seemed to know the answer to every question. He was tall and strong, a carpenter, woodchopper, and builder of fires, friend to all mammals and insects, a storyteller, a smoke- ring- blower, and of course, a man who went to work, where he taught college students and engaged in various other cerebral activities, the nature of which were a little dim to me.
– Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking: Essays