On my first day at school, I found myself all alone during the morning recess, and began to cry. Some of the girls from Grade Two found me, and comforted me, and everything was alright. In fact, for a lonely boy out on a farm, school was a delight. Because new students finished early for the first half of the year, another kid and I got to sit under the Upper One teacher's desk and play for an hour and a half every afternoon! Then I would climb on the bus home, with all the other kids.
It all came crashing down one afternoon when I was met by three big girls at the school gate, and the bullying started. I was devastated, but I didn't cry. It seems that somehow I had already worked out what all boys of my generation knew: cry, and you are dead. Never let them know it hurts. After that first day, I never cried at school again, ever.
Today, the ever present anxiety I inherit from one part of my family, and which was greatly exacerbated by my school experiences, got the jump on me. By the time we got home from a morning visit to the supermarket, I was distraught. Did I say anything? No. I carried on so successfully that my partner had no idea I was falling apart. Like the good little boy of long ago, hiding it all, I got home and began putting the shopping away, saying nothing. She only realised something was up when I began dithering and couldn't manage to fit the groceries into the pantry.
Are you alright?
No. I'm absolutely distraught.
If it were her, or any of her women friends, they'd seek each other out, ring a sister, talk, weep a little—or a lot, and things would soon be much better. I needed to howl, but could not. Much less could I articulate what had been going on for me in the supermarket. I lay down at half past ten, slept until lunch, and then for an hour and a half after lunch. And I'm still exhausted.
I've been healed of many of my old school enmities. Mostly, I feel sorry for the kids who picked on me. I understand how tough life is for any kid, and looking back with adult eyes, I know now that some of the kids in my school had it really tough. My life must have seemed so privileged to them.
But I grieve and resent the relentless conditioning to be a certain kind of male, and to fit certain kind of masculinity. I think I withstood that conditioning better than some of my peers, but I am still barely emotionally literate. I am slowly becoming aware of the feelings and passions within me, and I treasure them. But I still struggle to read them sixty years after starting school.
I can't do conversation: I am driven to be the one with another, and better, story.
I struggle with empathy: I cannot simply listen to someone in distress. I have to fix it, solve the problem, and can't seem to not do that, no matter how much I try.
And when I am in distress, all I can do is wall myself in to protect me and the world from 60 years of pain and rage and tears. Because if I begin to let them out now, they might all come out, and God only knows what damage I might do. And, almost always, I can’t cry.
Don't stop your little boys crying. Don't force them into trousers if they want to wear a dress, or pink, or go to ballet, or play with the little girls. Don't tell them to be a man. Or to get over it. Comfort them while they decide when they are ready to start over. Don't just leave them to fix it on their own, either. Or they will. They'll keep going, button themselves down, force themselves to keep going, and you'll never know that something of them has died inside. Some things can send out fresh shoots when you chop them off, but some things never grow back.
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