I think I hit Christina once in second grade. I say “I think” because I don’t remember doing it even once, but repercussions were so severe that I must have done it. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Angie, my cousin, liked to regularly remind me that I hit her in kindergarten. And my mom told me that I almost got kicked out of preschool for beating up boys. If I think real hard and close my eyes and scrunch my nose I can’t remember any of that. Not even one bit. And I remember a lot. But I know all this is possible because I was and am autistic and sometime we hit out of frustration because we knew not better.
The repercussions of hitting Christina were thus: Andrea Garcia, Elise Holler, Sarah Rosete and all their friends tormented me through elementary school, junior high and high school. You can call it bullying if you like, but that word has lost any meaning at this point. What they did started out as teasing–playing keep away with my hat, calling me names, laughing as I passed them in hallways–progressed. Long after second grade these girls had found a target who wouldn’t react and they just kept trying to make her squeal.
There was a whole week in sixth grade when these older girls orchestrated their campaign of terror. They spread the rumor that they would beat me up. They had a goon squad follow me around campus from class to class, taunting me. At lunch, I was a sitting duck on an open campus with nowhere to hide. And then the worst part: gym.
Gym was after lunch, and the locker rooms were below the gymnasium. You walked down some stairs and into a little archway where everyone congregated before the bell. Only one way in and only on way out. Sometimes, we were 30, and sometimes more like 90.
On this very special day, we were a bunch. And I was close to the front of many 11-year old girls. But then, suddenly, the girls got much taller and older. The goon squad. And they began to chant. Something about me and something about a pig. In front of almost everyone my age. For what felt like an eternity. Until the taunts gave way to threats. In that crotch to ass crowd I was completely alone.
I felt my eyes well with tears and then my red hot cheeks moisten as the tears betrayed me and overflew their brim. The crowd parted around me as everyone turned to see who they were calling out, and then turned to see my reaction when they figured out it was me. Eventually the door to the locker room opened and I went in, changed into gym clothes, and did whatever bullshit task we were set out to do.
I didn’t want to tell my mother. The shame of being called out by a bunch of older girls was one thing, but having to admit to my mother that I was even not well liked was too much. But my cousin Denise, who has always shown up at pivotal moments in my life (the night I lost my virginity, the day I got an abortion), did tell my mom.
My mom handled it like a pro…that is if a pro would interrogate her traumatized child for hours asking the same questions over and over and not once offering any solace, and then calling the mothers of everyone I named and fighting with them. It goes without saying (but I shall) that I did not sleep that night or for many subsequent nights thereafter.
I don’t know who arranged it, but I spent the next complete day in the principal’s office. Marcy Varona (principal and creepazoid extraordinaire) interrogated me and then brought every one of the other girls in at the same time to see what happened. There were seven of them and one of me. And when the day was done Marcy made me apologize to them.
It didn’t end there because kids are cruel and a target once identified becomes an easy kill. I spent most of my adolescence alone. And when I did make a friend, the popular girls would try to pick her off just to get her away from me.
The taunting didn’t stop when I went to high school. But I cared less. They could crank call me, stick notes in my locker, steal my clothes, and on and on. But by then, I was so assured in my intelligence and place in the world that it didn’t matter. The power of education saved me. Or at least I thought so.
I married the first boy I fell in love with (not crushed on, that would be Michael Grossman). I liked him because he was irreverent and brilliant. We had a lot in common. One of those things, was a relationship to Andrea Garcia and all my childhood tormentors.
Danny’s step-sister is this social climbing phoney named Vanessa. Vanessa was there that day outside the gym. And to this day she is friends with the lot of them. They live in La Jolla and other basic bitchy places. They party together. They are hashtag blessed together. They take photo shoots of bellies full of baby on the beach together for giant canvasses they put in their living rooms to show the world they are marvels of the world. And for years I had to endure their company.
I’m going to be plain spoken. These women made my stomach hurt. Whatever amount of trauma they inflicted upon me never went away. And every time I had to socialize with them, I felt any layer of confidence and protection stripped away. I would go to events and they would ignore me. All of them. And Danny, ever in search of alcohol, would disappear as soon as he could. So I learned to cause havoc that would in any way prevent these gatherings.
He hated me for being afraid. It was one of the last pieces of invective he would throw in my face. Everyone gets bullied, Vene. It’s time for you to grow up.
Maybe I didn’t say it the right way, I thought. Maybe if he knew how awful it was to have their words and actions approved of and compounded by every subsequent bully. To be not only ostracized, but then to be hounded while ostracized. To have my own parents turn against me because I didn’t know how to play along. But that wasn’t it.
I finally realized he was never going to understand. It’s not that I had to become hardened to a cruel world. Or even that I had to put away childish things. It’s been nine years since he said that and I’m still me. No, what it was was that I had to find kind people who would accept the me-ist me I can be; the person I am when I have no one to please. When I can let down my façade and be honest and my autism can shine through. The rest of the people will never ever understand and holding my breath and stomping for years won’t make it so.
I still run into bullies. They start out interested in me because of what I am, and then progressively get meaner when I say things or act in ways that they can only categorize as abrasive or self-indulgent. They ascribe all sorts of non-existent meaning to my words and actions, and then they become cruel. Like Erica the other night interrupting a conversation I was having to call me the most conceited Mexican she’d ever met without any prompting. 1) maybe, but that’s gotta be a pretty limited sample size; and 2) so fucking what?
I will never be normal. I will never think like most people on this planet. So it follows that most people on this planet will view me through the lens of their own perception. They cannot understand what it is to be me. So I must be articulate. I must be an open book. I must take on the onus of explaining my possession or absence of motive. I don’t mind. I’m charming and well-spoken. My flirtatious nature leads to free booze and new friends with a pretty high frequency.
But it never stops being difficult for me to be the square peg. All it does is make those instances in which I do make a friend the more wonderful. I will take each victory as it comes and declare it to the world, humility be damned. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t buy a friend. So yeah, I will brag. Because I’m kind of a big deal.