I’m going to tell you something I’m horribly ashamed of.
For those of you who know me personally, but have met me only recently, this may come as a shock to you. If you’ve read some of my impassioned Facebook rants you know how I feel about these topics in general, and yet I was not always this man.
To those who know me now who knew me then, I’ve likely said so to you before, but I’m so sorry.
I was a conveyor of hate.
In my past I used the disabilities and pain of others as a tool for comedy in order to fit in with those around me who were more cruel than I was at the time. There is no excuse for this besides youth, and even that doesn’t excuse the behavior; most of all because I knew better. Not long prior to those moments I had been the victim.
Highschool for some is a glorious time of fond recall before they found out what adulthood truly was, moments of nostalgia with glasses tinted rose.
For me it was a veritable hellscape.
I was even shorter than I am now back then, due to something called delayed bone growth, and was cursed with glasses. In addition to these blights on my personal appearance I had long blonde hair, no idea of fashion, was chubby, and filled with social anxiety. I wasn’t good at sarcasm or recognizing who my friends were then, and was often taken advantage of because of it.
Ceaselessly made fun of and harassed for my pudgy, awkward appearance, but also filled with a temper that could not let insults or shoulder checks go, I was constantly in fights. I felt like my high school was a battle ground and I was beset on all sides. The few friends I did have weren’t real friends, we wouldn’t hang outside of school or anything, and because of the pressures of peers would often abandon me in moments of need. I felt truly alone.
Fast forward a year or two past high school and you wouldn’t have recognized me by sight. In the time since I had gone through Lasik surgery, gained a few inches in height (though I was still short by any standard), dropped all the fat, put on substantial muscle, grown a goatee, and shaved my head bald. People who I had known for four years, including people who had made my life a living hell, would see me at my service job and talk to me cordially and laugh at jokes I would make, not knowing who I was.
One girl who had dismissed me entirely in high school, in a public forum in a manner that one might a leper, asked me out. I was flabbergasted at the change in people that just my personal appearance brought about.
During this same time I met a man at my workplace who was not unlike the bullies at school, just placed beyond his popularity and into the real world. I looked up to him quite literally, he was a giant, and we both liked video games which we bonded over. We started to visit outside the confines of work, becoming what I thought was fast friends.
I was a military brat growing up, constantly moving, and had never made a long lasting friend. Never had I had the experience of knowing someone else’s Mom or Dad so well that they cooked me dinner and I would hang out with them for long periods of time, but I had that with this friend.
This man was raised to be racist in ways with closed minded views, and he derived joy from making jokes at other’s expense. I would never joke with him when it came to things he would say about mexicans or black people, though I might uncomfortably chuckle and try to draw the subject away from those things. Never though did I stand up to him and tell him that those jokes and barbs weren’t right; in my silence I was complicit in the act.
In lesser aggression I openly joined him after a time, growing skilled in the art of sarcasm and insults. I’d always had a propensity to be able to read people and figure them out, and I used this to great effect in tearing people down. Often this would be of a private nature, just me and him making fun of people together and laughing at them behind their back, but more than once it turned outward when confronted and I had left people in tears before.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I desperately needed the attention and friendship of someone outside my familial unit, and I took it in this terrible person. I let his actions influence me until even my brothers, mother, and father saw a change in me they didn’t like. Growing distant from those around me my behavior was increasingly intolerable.
I’d become the same monsters who had terrorized me in high school.
At this same time I met a woman who I would eventually marry, and she was the same type of cruel. I was with another person at the time that was sweet and loved me deeply, though I did not cheat on her, I left her to be with this more racy, and interesting person. We had some of the same sorts of adventures me and my male friend did, though of course there was parts of it more romantic and sexual in nature to add to the excitement.
I grew reprehensible.
We eventually divorced, she had cheated on me with half of greater Tulsa it seemed, and I retreated into myself and my family. Not long before this I had a falling out with my friend in a rare moment of decency at the time: I confronted him about his racist and homophobic comments, some of which would be constantly levied at me, calling anything he didn’t approve of gay and making fun of me. We got in a fist fight, and that was it, after a 6 year long “friendship”.
After all of this took place I realized the person I had become and I’ve done everything in my power to correct it. Knowing what I know now and seeing people like Trump, someone whom I despise, behaving in ways I might have 14 years ago, makes me sick to my stomach. I’m ashamed of the person I became in my early 20s, and though that person is dead and gone, I still hold responsibility for who he was.
This is relevant because we live in culture divided now, where one side of the fence constantly lobs insults at the other. Anyone who cares for others is a liberal snowflake, or too PC, while the other side gets simply lumped as Nazis. Typically things are more nuanced than that, and people aren’t easily fit into boxes.
I don’t understand why being cruel to people who are different then you is considered just a matter of a joke, or political correctness. It isn’t, it is just mean. Jokes aren’t dying, comedy isn’t dead. We can still laugh and have a good time, but we should strive to never do it at another’s expense. Whether they have a different sexual orientation, identify with a different sex, have a different colored skin, different religious beliefs or are disabled: they are all people and should be afforded the most basic of human decency, being able to exist without fear of being ridiculed and put down for the amusement of others.
Not long ago I met with this old friend again, after all he was the longest I had ever known someone that wasn’t my family or current wife, and thought surely he must have changed. He came to my home, sat on my couch, insulted me, made fun of my son’s chubbiness, and made racist jokes. He left shortly after arriving, we had nothing to talk about any longer it seemed, and haven’t spoken to him since. In 13 years he hadn’t changed: he was the same person he had been, the same person I had been, and it was then I truly realized the depth I had sunk in my past.
I’m ashamed of who I was, but proud of who I am now, and I will continue to strive to improve. After all, as I’m very fond of saying, there is no limit to better.
I did better.
We all can too.