I haven’t written in a bit, crazy couple of weeks with some drama and some travel. So just wanted to jot down a quick little story to a) stay in practice and b) get some stuff out of my head.
So. Interesting sermon series at church lately, about relationships. Called “The Fairy Tale and the Fall”. This past week the focus was on one word, “shame”. The pastor said that he believes most “stuff” that goes on in a relationship can be traced back to shame. Either someone is motivated by something they did, or some personal attribute they have/think they have/don’t have that they’re ashamed about, or by some event that happened where they were shamed.
He gave an example of trying out for the track team in the 7th grade. He was a chubby kid, and knew it was going to end badly, but did it anyways to be able to hang out with a girl he was crushing on. At that school, if you didn’t qualify for any of the events, they had a “fun run” that wasn’t timed, didn’t earn points and was kind of like a consolation prize. It was the equivalent of being cut from the team. When the coach was calling off the various people and their events, the pastor was just sitting there on the edge of his seat, and when they announced that he’d be running the fun run, he said everyone started laughing at him, including the crush. It was a traumatizing moment for him, and motivated his actions for years.
I was born in Thailand during/shortly after the Vietnam war and when the war was over and US contractors were forced to return home, my family first went to Arkansas so my father could finish college, then we returned to Iowa, which was home for him. Eventually we ended up in a small town there where I started school. Because it was a small town, I already knew a lot of my classmates, either from the neighborhood, or from church or because our parents were friends. If you’ve grown up in the same place, you know what that’s like. You don’t really notice differences back then, you’re just kids. But as a half-asian, my sisters and me WERE the minorities in this little white-bread town. We just didn’t know it.
Then we moved to Georgia while I was still in grade school, and started at the public schools there. My classes were slightly >black, then the white kids, then me, the lone asian. This time, everyone noticed. I don’t want to get into a big discussion on racism in America, now or then. I’m just sharing my experiences, and my take on it. But I think even at that young age, some of the black kids were already aware of racism, and had probably already taken some shit and weren’t happy about it. And when someone new popped up, a lone person, that wasn’t black and wasn’t white? That new person ended up on the totem pole lower than them and they were happy to pass on what they’d been taking for awhile.
I got my ass beat for no reason other than I was me and I was there. I got made fun of and messed with in the halls. A lot of it I was able to laugh off. A lot of it stunned me. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I’d never realized I was different. And it wasn’t consistent. Some kids were mean, some were totally nice. I remember having to ask my dad what “Chink” meant.
Partway through the time there, I developed a crush on one little girl. In my memories she’s always wearing pink overalls, a white turtleneck with some design printed on it and pigtails. And, being a kid with no understanding of crushes and feelings, of course I tugged those pigtails.
One day, for whatever reason, the teacher was out of the classroom. Those were the days of mimeograph machines. So she might’ve been out running copies of something. Or maybe she was smoking in the teacher’s lounge. Who knows. All I remember is that it happened from time to time, and sometimes when it did, the classroom quickly devolved into something out of Lord of the Flies. This was one of those days. I remember someone trying to pick on me, and me ignoring them. I used to like to make little star wars bases in my desk. And little spaceships out of rubber bands and pens or pencils, or if I was really lucky, binder clips. They were almost perfect. So I think to ignore it I just started focusing on my spaceship and I got out of my seat and squatted on the floor next to the opening under the seat where school books went. Then out of nowhere a banana hit me. And someone screamed “Dance monkey boy!” In seconds it seemed like everyone was chanting that, and some of the kids were hopping from one foot to the other, scratching their armpits and making the “ooh-oooh” monkey sound. And everyone was laughing, including the crush.
My parents tried to help, but they didn’t really understand what was going on. My dad grew up going to a one-room school house. There wasn’t racism there. He’d seen it in the Navy as an adult, but that was different. That wasn’t school bullying. When he was growing up, if something got big enough, two guys went out to the playground and fought it out. He never had some black kid he’d never talked to come up and punch him on the back of the head while he was unchaining his bike, just because. Or had a group of kids push him down in the bathroom and kick him while he laid there in the fetal position. And how do you explain it to your parents? My dad didn’t talk about things like fear, he was old-school. I didn’t want to disappoint him.
So much for a short story.
Anyways. A lot of other stuff happened in my youth to reinforce my feelings. But that was probably the start of some of my “shame”. That was the first time I felt different, ugly, mockable. That was the first time I noticed the difference between me and the blonde haired, blue-eyed hearth throbs. Nowadays, intellectually, I understand that there’s someone for everyone, that we all have different tastes and different things we find attractive. That there’s someone out there who would find me handsome. But emotionally? It’s still hard to believe. And yeah, the preacher-man was right. That shame impacts every relationship I’ve ever had.