I have to say that I enjoy visiting my childhood memories about as much as Donald Trump enjoys visiting a salad bar. There’s really not a lot that happened as an adolescent that I’m dying to remember, with the possible exceptions being the time I snuck into a showing of Young Frankenstein and the time I was collecting for my paper route and a naked woman answered the door.
However, with all that’s happening in this country right now, I can’t stop thinking about an incident I’d hoped was behind me for good: my time with Deplorable Dave. He entered my life when I was in the 10th grade. My family had moved from Washington State to a Minnesota town so small, there was only one school and everyone from kindergarten through 12th grade went there. This was not exactly the best environment for a new kid with an Army-curious crew cut, Mr. Peabody glasses and wardrobe from that new boutique, Mom Bought Me This.
Most of the kids in the school benignly tolerated me. Except Deplorable Dave, who took a more aggressive approach to the new kid. He enjoyed calling me “Beak” courtesy of my big nose, an insult that never failed to get a giggle or three from any classmates within range. He’d track me through the hallways, sometimes even following me home, just to get in a few extra “Beaks” along with the occasional threat to beat the living crap out of me. And all this happened for no other reason than the fact that an unknown nerd from another world had crashed into his little town.
I handled this in the most dignified way I knew…weeping silently in my bed every night, praying for aliens to attack the entire Midwest so I no longer had to go to school and deal. Every lunch period, I searched for some dark corner of the school to hide in so neither Deplorable Dave or any other students couldn’t find me. The rest of the day was spent keeping my head down, scurrying from class to class trying not to be noticed. I tried to avoid human contact because DD’s taunting had me thinking that maybe I deserved such treatment. He didn’t take my lunch money but he did take my self-respect. If nothing else, he taught me that different equals fear. And fear equals hate.
At least until one particularly frigid Minnesota winter day, when Deplorable Dave once again walked a few steps behind me on the way to class, upping his usual “Beak” quotient to a higher than usual level. I’ll never know why this particular moment, as opposed to the dozens of others, made me snap. All I know is that I snapped. I turned to face my tormentor and let loose. I told him I’d just stand there and let him get every “Beak” out of his system. I’d wait all day if need be. And if he really wanted to beat me up, have at it. I just couldn’t leave anymore wondering if and when the beat down would come.
The only person more shocked than me by this outburst was Deplorable Dave. He stood there silent for what in hindsight seems like a couple of hours but in reality was probably a couple of seconds. Then…he apologized. Seriously. He told me he was just messing around and didn’t mean anything by it. If being called “Beak” bothered me that much, I should have told him way earlier.
Why did he suddenly have this change of heart? Did he flash upon his own insecurities that he was simply projecting onto me? Did the process of bullying lose its appeal once the mocker discovered the mock-ee had topped caring? Possibly, on both fronts. More likely, though, is that once Deplorable Dave realized his actions were hurting another person, he couldn’t keep it up any longer because that’s just the way things are supposed to work.
I suddenly felt reassured me that while the world can be a pretty cruel place, there’s still a baseline below which we couldn’t fall. No matter how nasty and mean-spirited even the worst bully can be, he or she still carries some shred of humanity inside that ultimately keeps society from hitting rock bottom.
Make no mistake. Deplorable Dave and I never became friends, but that was fine by me. He just backed off, and I could spend the rest of my time in that school in peace (until six months later, when we moved to yet another town and another high school). I haven’t forgotten him, though. Throughout the several decades since, whenever I come home crushed by the callousness of anyone who’s hurt me, I think about that moment when I said “No more!” and enough basic decency kicked in for my tormentor that I could retain my faith in the goodness of humanity. It’s hard to imagine how a society can go on without believing that there’s a sort of emotional safety net to keep us from crashing.
And then we got Deplorable Don as our president. Like Dave before him, he takes unique glee in mocking anything and anyone with a life experience different from his. Like Dave, name-calling is kind of like his hobby. Like Dave, he only feels powerful when he can pounce on the perceived weaknesses of those he’s decided are his enemies.
So I am right back to being persecuted by a bully with a day old Big Mac for a brain, an arrogant yet insecure guy who believes that different equals fear. And fear equals hate. Only instead of finding a smidge of self-awareness when confronted with his cruelty the way Deplorable Dave did, Deplorable Don just doubles down on those whom he hurts. When women speak of how he harassed them, they’re ugly slutty liars. When reporters raise questions about his actions, they’re enemies of the state. When a poor person from any other country needs help, they’re money-grabbing terrorists. When a transgendered or gay person wants to be treated fairly, they’re deviants with an agenda.
I realize it’s so 2017 to complain about what a horrible human being (not just president…I go straight to “human being”), but I can’t help it. I literally wake up every morning unable to get out of bed now because Donald Trump has taken away my belief in the essential goodness of people that previously made getting out of bed feel safe. He isn’t just picking on individuals or groups. He’s picking apart the thread of humanity that tied us all together. And every single Republican supporter….every single one…is equally guilty of destroying my faith that ultimately, we will all take care of each other.
I wish I could end this rambling with a funny line to ease this depression or a good suggestion for feeling better. But I can’t. All I can do is track down Deplorable Dave, tell him all is forgiven and see if he’d be interested in running for president in 2020.