I grew up in a pretty hostile environment, and I grew up a pretty hostile child. There are enough "colorful stories" buried in my past to write several different books about - there's a stepsister that tried to kill me, her mother who later tried the same, and a stepfather that burst into my room when I was 13 and tried his best to beat the hell out of me. Those are all stories I've told many times before, though not in any kind of public forum like this. But what I haven't talked quite so much about is the lasting impression all this had on me, of how terribly strong I needed to be, how very impenetrable I needed to keep my ego, to keep everyone around me from battering me down at the first chance they got.
My first few years of school-based socialization, things seemed fairly secure, and though I'd forget it pretty quickly in later years, I was definitely an alpha type of child. I rarely bullied anyone, but I had lots of friends, and I generally led whatever group I was in. There were of course already some problems - I was, after all, that little kid staring out the window waiting for a car that never came - but it didn't really dominate my life.
Later, though, when my parents divorced, it was a pretty huge blow. I never thought for an instant that it was my fault, but I didn't understand it either - and, particularly being that I was in a new school with kids I'd never known before that year, and had only been there for a few months, it was pretty easy for the rest of the pack to sense weakness, and exploit it. (Anyone who thinks wolves are fierce in battles for pack dominance has clearly never witnessed the hell that is fourth grade.) I just didn't have the energy to handle it in any way until provocations became too extreme... and kids in fourth grade just don't tend to be perceptive enough to notice little signs before a storm, so I oscillated rapidly from ignoring jabs at me completely to lashing out in sudden, astonishing fury at whoever was advancing their own standings by picking on someone they perceived to be weaker. And since my father had drummed it into me in no uncertain terms that I was never, ever, ever to throw the first blow, this could only confuse the kids around me, not deter them - fourth graders are also not exactly subtle enough to fear a sudden defense when their offense goes unpunished for long.
Things only got worse over the next few years, as everyone surrounding me confirmed their impression that - no matter how fiercely I defended myself if provoked far enough - my raison d'etre was to score points against in the complicated and evil little games that children in large groups tend to play. Perhaps there was some effort not to cross a certain line that inevitably resulted in a pint-sized wolverine, but not too much - that line was far too deep, and middle school children see only what is in front of them, not what has been or what will be.
These were the same years that first, the stepsister mentioned tried to stab me in the throat with a sharpened chunk of bamboo, and later the stepmother tried to kill me - as I've often told people in idle conversation, in my best Party Story tone - with a maroon 1985 Ford LTD station wagon, in reverse. The thing is, those are actually the easy stories to tell. They sound dramatic, and they go over well in a one-upsmanship contest, but I was never afraid of anyone around me in any physical terms. I fought nearly every day for three years after school, always against people bigger and generally stronger than me. After that, physical fear was just something I didn't really know.
What was a lot harder to take, though, was the unending scorn dished out from all sides. From the stepsister my age, from the one a couple of years older, from their mother. From the kids around me at school. Worse, from the stories from home, taken to school by those same stepsisters. There just wasn't any escape. I learned pretty quickly to handle any insult delivered, to let it roll off of me, and to respond as savagely as I could. I never wanted to be a bully - I just didn't have the energy for it. I wanted, more than anything else in the world, just to be left alone. To be allowed some peace; peace that I could never find. To not have to defend myself. The only thing left of the alpha male child I started out as was an absolute refusal to admit domination by anyone... and I gained an idea, too, that dominant behavior must be bad. That it couldn't, and shouldn't, be tolerated - in myself as much as in anyone else. After all, I never did want to be the bad guy.
When you take a boy who's naturally inclined to be an alpha type, and by hook or by crook you instill in him the unshakable belief that dominant behavior and personality traits are inevitably bad, you get... well, you get me.
I spent an awful lot of years trying to appease the alpha traits in myself, and my own shuddering insecurity, and my need to be The Good Guy, all at the same time, by looking eagerly for Righteous Targets. You know... people who would cross a line, any line, of some sort that would make them clearly okay to attack. So that I could knock them savagely right down into the dirt. As my own sophistication grew, I began including "and offering them a hand back up again" to the story... but that didn't really do anything but help further disguise my own tortured motive to destroy. The real point was still to dominate - but to do so only after being provoked. And, unfortunately, to break things when dominating... because after all, that's what dominance means, right?
I never was particularly the bar brawl type. I might have been, and perhaps I might have gotten it all out of my system and been better for it a lot sooner, but one thing that still stuck with unshakeable tenacity was my father's commandment Thou Shalt Not Throw The First Punch. And, really, while I did grow out of the small child I'd been into a fairly sizeable guy, and without really losing much of the ferocity that those daily fights had instilled, physical battery was never my strongest suit. Where I really excelled, as I always have, is in the use of my mind.
One of the ways this eventually manifested itself is in the creation of a website. You may be reading that website right now; or if you're reading this from LiveJournal and you're clever, you may rush to figure out what that website is. No matter. For a few years, that site was pretty surprisingly popular. Never an internet powerhouse, it nonetheless grew from a Tripod page to a largish and ambitious site housed on its own server, with links to and from some rather larger places like the infamous Stile Project. Basically the focus of the site was the same as the focus of my life had been for too long - to look like a nice guy, while finding people who I could find excuses to knock into the dirt (in this case, by means of public ridicule). To look strong, without looking evil. And, in the process, to destroy as much as I created.
At one point, I remember that a site some friends of mine ran was a bit long on technology (for the time) and short on technological people. I would up administering their forum, largely by default, and there was a character with problems of his own who took to posting a bunch of stupid crap in the attempt to be an annoying vandal. I forget what exactly he did; something along the lines of posting an image as many times as he could as quickly as he could. Petty disruption.
And an excuse.
Unfortunately for this poor sap, he was doing his act from work - and so when I traced his IP address to find the SOA for the block this vandalism was coming from, what I got was his employer. And I made a phone call, and later that day, my vandal contacted me privately, shaken to the bone. He knew he'd been being an asshole, he said, but that was his work. That was his livelihood. How could I do that to him?
The fact is, he was still wrong, and work is where he'd been doing it from, and that was the only hook I had against him - and I was under no moral obligation to just let him freely rampage across the chunk of internet territory I was protecting without making him stop. But I thrilled at his fear. I kindly told him that I had no intention of getting him fired, and explained that all he had to do was stop, and it could all end there. He could even continue being a poster there, if he liked, as long as he played by the rules - I wouldn't hold any continuing hostility against him. But inside, I knew, and I rejoiced, that I had beaten him. Thoroughly. Completely. Savagely.
Several years later, in spite of its popularity and how much work I'd put into it, I gradually quit updating my website. I didn't know why at the time, but I'd started to realize, no matter how good my excuses always were, just how fucked up it was to always be looking for people to beat down. Doing that had always been a short-term fix, and I couldn't feel good about myself for doing it anymore. Yes, I had an "excuse", but... sigh.
My relationships, on the other hand, tended toward the other side of the spectrum. Keeping in mind I do always want to be the good guy - but I can't admit any weakness - I'd find women who were obviously fucked up, who I could be there for. Who I could be strong for. Who I could help. Not to try to be all nasty-christian-backstabbing-"look-how-g
That didn't work out so well. And I didn't really know what I was doing. I figured out the part about wanting to help them so that they would have a reason to be good to me, and then I figured out the rest, but what I didn't figure out - until yesterday - was that what I really, really deeply needed was somebody I could be vulnerable to. Somebody I could be weak in front of. Someone who I could break down, sobbing, showing the soft pale underbelly of my soul that I'd been hiding so goddamned long to, and know that they'd hold me and that it would be all right, it would be all right.
Unfortunately, when you pick women out - knowingly or unknowingly - for their own emotional difficulties, you aren't really selecting for women who can be strong for you. Time after time after time, things would get to a certain point, and ... poof ... bailed on again. Maybe because I hadn't ever shown any of my own weakness to them. Maybe because I was smarter than they were, or better experienced than they were, or knew things they didn't - and insisted on behaving as though I wasn't any more of those things than they were, and thus making them feel inadequate instead of simply different. Maybe because they were just that damn fucked up and there was just no getting around it. Maybe - usually - all of the above.
I didn't really realize all of this until yesterday, when I finally understood it and brokenly sobbed it out to the only woman I've ever known who's easily as smart as I am - no need for pretense. Whose weaknesses I'd seen enough of to finally be able - after extreme provocation - to start unloading some of my own shit that I didn't even know about to.
But this is not a story about a boy and a girl, this is a story about a boy and his own deep-seated, shuddering insecurities. I won't tell you any of the rest of it, because she has her own demons to face, and they're different demons, and that's not my story to tell.
But I'm still empty inside.