Krystal was one of the cool kids. It was the late 80s. Krystal was a year or two older than me and lived directly across the street. She terrified me. Her whole family terrified me. Her mother had heft and spoke in a shrill voice that always seemed much louder than necessary. Her father was pale, slight, and quiet, unless he was screaming at his family. There was a second daughter, younger than me, who mostly stayed under the radar. I can’t remember her name or face.
Krystal had big, curly red hair and teal eyelashes. Or purple, or blue, or even on rare occasion, black. Layers upon layers of mascara encrusted both her upper and lower lashes, raccoon style. I guess that was in fashion. I wasn’t in fashion, even when I tried spiking my bangs or wearing neon bangles. But Krystal and her cheerleader friends, they were in fashion.
If it wasn’t for proximity, there is no reason Krystal and I would have interacted at all. She was older and cooler. And mean, like her parents. She held power over the younger kids on the block. One Fourth of July, we were all recruited into putting on a parade. Krystal choreographed a routine for the girls. I have a picture of me very apathetically holding a wooden hoop decorated with red, white and blue ribbons above my head to the right, left leg stretched out. I’m almost in synch with the rest of the girls, but I’m slack-jawed, rolling my eyes, not smiling photogenically at our audience. Typical pre-teen behavior – you might be able to make me do something, but there is no way you’ll make me enjoy it.
I don’t remember if it was before or after the parade that Krystal threw a basketball in my face. It wasn’t the same day. I don’t remember what we were arguing about – just that we were standing at the edge of my driveway and that Krystal intended to hurt me. Blood ran out of my nose, and I ran inside. Violence was outside of my normal experience. My brother is six years older than me, and the worst he ever did was hold my hands behind my back, or return a slap with nowhere near the force he was capable of, when I attacked him. (Yes, I was a brat. I attacked him, but I was tiny. Supremely annoying, I’m sure, but I never did real damage.) Carelessness caused plenty of physical injuries at school, but the “Indian burns” we gave each other were more like experiments between willing participants. It was only verbally that my classmates and I went for blood.
Krystal’s life was different, and it wasn’t the mascara that gave her a unique view into the world. My parents never did anything accept shake their heads, but I noticed our next door neighbors would set up their lawn chairs at the curb, facing Krystal’s house, when the screaming and belt cracking was audible on our side of the street. I never really understood that as a kid. I guess the Blotsky’s wanted the Hagen’s to know that they were being watched, and that maybe someone would intervene in their family drama if a certain line was crossed. That maybe they should be ashamed of themselves. Maybe they should at least pretend to be a happy family for the sake of property values. Sometimes the police showed up. I don’t know who called, or if it ever changed anything. We lived in the suburbs. There was a lot of space between our big houses. I took my basketball inside and shut the garage door behind me when Krystal came outside.
I harbored a suspicion of popular kids, people who wear excessive makeup, cheerleaders and redheads for a long time. I’m still scared of clowns – Ronald McDonald in particular – but for the most part, I can separate a person’s personality and proclivity for bullying from their hair color, skin color, popularity, etc.
Which is why, given current events, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m terrified – but I am shocked to find myself at once totally safe in my physical reality – sitting in the sun on my patio – and totally terrified. Bullies on one side sneer that I’m too sensitive. Bullies on the other sneer that it’s about damn time my privileged bubble’s burst.
Fuck off, bullies. I know I’m sensitive. And privileged. And if not being either of these things would make the world a fairer place, then great. I’d give them up. But feeling bad or guilty about my existence or advantages has yet to help anyone. Complaining about someone else’s existence or their advantages has yet to help anyone. So then why do we, individually or collectively, keep doing it? Why don’t we figure out how to deal with reality as it is?
Bullies are masters of mind fuckery. They claim they aren’t mean – it’s just that the rest of us are weak. And that as long as we play by their rules, we’ll be safe. It is a total lie – they will change the rules whenever it pleases them. No one is safe when bullies are in charge. I’m not interested in playing life by the bully rulebook, so saying fuck off seems like an appropriate place to start. Currently, the world seems more chaotic than usual – another fab bullying tactic – and I don’t know where to focus my efforts. So I’m listing my “fuck off, bullies” key chain with three options, and letting you choose if your purchase will benefit reproductive rights, environmental rights, or good old basic human rights. All of these important things are vulnerable right now, if we do nothing.
I’m done hiding in the garage. The sun is out, and I want to play ball.