Thursday, July 26, 2012

Learn to be a man. chapter 21

Chapter 21.
I was a quiet, soft-spoken child.  Things like trick-or-treating, would often be a chore for me.  It’s not that I didn’t like the excuse to stuff my face for night with an actual reason, cause that part I still love.  I didn’t speak to strangers, stuffed animals or much to anyone really unless I had to.  If spoken to, my responses would be quiet little mumbles.  Halloween was no different.  I would get to the door, clam up and speak quietly.  As they would open the door, I would start out saying “trick-O” and would fade to a volume frequency only audible to dogs and rodents Miss Cleo.  My father often would be a few feet behind me chain-smoking his Benson Ultra-Lights, cause it was the late 80s and everyone was health conscious then.  He would be glancing at his watch, because he wanted to make it home in time for a Charles Bronson movie which he had seen a million times, that was going to be on tv that night.  He would then try to record the movie off the TV, so that he could improve on the last recording of the same movie.  Since most of the VHS-cassettes in our house were recordings of various movies of the week on T.V., I was 12 before I realized “freak you” was not a part of any of these original scripts.  I was 18 when I realized that there was a scene in “Grease” where they mooned the camera.

On a side note, my father made it his duty to make sure he would show me what it meant to be a man, like other fathers.  Unfortunately he wasn’t sure exactly what it was that men did, so he used TV as an aid.  He would make me watch Bronson, Norris, Eastwood, Stalone and any other machismo bullshit hero crap he could dig up.  He would also make me watch Tyson fights on a constant loop, because that apparently taught a young boy how to be a man.  He also made me watch every Eddie Murphy movie cause my father loved him.  Tyson on a loop just made me want to hang out with Robyn Gibbons.

 Back to the story at hand, while exhaling his Benson Ultra-light, he would come from his cloud of smoke, in his harsh Russian accent, say to me, “speak up, if you don’t they won’t hear you.”  This was his fatherly way or at least the closest to that role I ever knew him.  This would in turn make me blush, grab the candy and walk away with my head low.  Actually, until the age of 12 or 13 that was my father’s response to every sentence that came out of my mouth.

In school I would sit as far to the back of the classroom as possible.  This way I would avoid getting asked questions.  I would sit quietly until called upon or picked on.  Being a little, chubby boy, with a big head, pinkish-white skin so light that you could see my veins, huge eyes and a weird Russian name didn’t help my cause either.  I kind of resembled a caricature until I eventually grew into my huge head years later.  I looked like a real life Charlie Brown without the friends.  My name, Yuri, for some reason only got me associated with stupid nicknames and bodily functions that didn’t help my child-self much either.  To American children my name for some reason sounded like the word “Urine.”  On the first day of school, the torment would always begin once the teacher would take role and attempt to say my name, stumble and then spell it out.  They would then proceed to compliment me on how unique I was at the time.  While as an adult, the sentiment could be understood, to a child, this was anything but a compliment.  To me, the concept of being different was like being telling me that I was an alien and proved what I had knew all along, that I didn’t belong.
           Aside from being simply an awkward kid, I also had two left feet.  While many boys were inclined to go play soccer ball or basket during recess I would often be found playing house or simply chatting it up with the girls.  Oddly, every game of house would end in divorce and me leaving.  I watched a lot of “Thirty Something” with my mom.  I became ridiculously good at making macramé friendship bracelets and lanyards.  I had few friends besides my cousin Nicole to give them too, who was in the same grade and equally as awkward as myself.  By the end of the third grade, my mom had so many of them she began to re-gift them to other relatives.  The bracelets were so ugly that she had to share in the wealth.

While I didn’t have all that much desire to actually do physical activity, it was more so that I hated being picked last for games.  For a fat kid, being picked last was pretty much the normal routine and always uncomfortable.  Often, while lining up during PE for game like flag football I would wait to see the kids argue over who would be stuck with me on their team.  I would sit there thinking about how much I didn’t understand the reason we were forced to run like barbarians and steal flags off of each other and compete so much.  The goal of this game made no damned sense to me.  Then, each and every time without fail there would be this kid. Always some cocky moot, kid that would see me staring past them and then yell, “hey, stop staring at me.” The truth was that my eyes seemed to take up half my head in those days and it probably looked to a lot of people like I was staring at them even if I wasn’t.   This would escalade to “that fag’s looking at me.”  I never really understood this phenomenon.  If I was or wasn’t looking at them, why would it matter?  I didn’t even know what a fag was I figured it was some sort of bug or something.  That was the ironic thing about growing up with Russian parents, when they got angry, it was in Russian and pretty much never in English.  I had no role model to learn “bad” words from.  I didn’t know that “fuck” could mean more than just the act of penetration and made for a good adjective that would come in handy later. There were a lot of things I didn’t know then.  What made me more odd was that I never had the inclination to fight back, verbally or physically.  I would kind of just stand there.  After a while they would lose interest and drop their stupid vendetta of how my big eyes needed to stay to themselves because I would bore them.
             While I was a slightly pudgy little meatball of a boy, I didn’t notice that I was much different from the other boys.  This was until, during recess, at the age of 9 or 10, I lined up with all the other kids to play basketball.  As I got up to see if the kids playing would let me join their group, this little, Monica Tedesco yelled out to me 2 words that I will never forget.  She asked me if I ever though of “thigh master.”  This was when Susanne Sommers was selling that shit like hotcakes.  Then I imagined myself trying to use one of those things and got confused.  Instead of yelling back at the little jerk, I just walked away.  No fighting back, not jokes about her legs resembling 2 lines of rope or being as skinny as extension chords.  No come back.  I just walked away.
            My whole life my father would always ask me, hey been in any good fights lately?  I would always respond the same way. No.  He used to force me to spar with him now and again because as he put it, “you always want to be able to protect yourself and your girlfriend,” assuming that I would have one.  I had no desire to throw punches at anyone.  I saw myself as the Nelson Mandela of the 4th grade.  He would always be disappointed in my lack of desire for these fights.  Whenever guys would pick fights with me, I would just talk my way out of it or simply make an effort not to react.  This was when I realized that I could talk my way out of many battles.
              By the 6th grade I made it without ever really getting into any major fights.  When guys would pick fights with me, I would change the topic just as I had done in the earlier years.  I figured talking fast and changing topics would simply confuse these macho retards and deflect their desire to pulverizing me.  When I entered junior high I still elected to stay quiet most of the time.  When I would get teased or told I was a fag, I would listen and every once in a while actually talk back.  My comebacks were weak but confusing for the average 12-year old.  While they would simply shout out “fag” or “Yuri, what a fag name.” I would come back a minute later, not understanding the word “what is a fag? You would obviously know. What’s the definition?”  They would look so confused that I didn’t take their shout as an insult often they would walk away in their own bewilderment.  I would answer everything with a question this actually got me out of these messes most of the time.
              By high school I simply didn’t give a shit anymore.  While I was still soft spoken, my quietness turned to talking without words more often.  My actions spoke louder.  Around junior year of high school I already was working a full week with school and my part time job I didn’t care anymore.  The thing is that by this point, the years of not fighting back had caught up with me.  I had this pent up anger against bullies and those who had treated me badly over the years.  Eventually this would turn to an obsessive compulsive eating problem which later lead to and obsessive-compulsive gym addiction.  This was because as I have said many times before, food shall always equal love.  While I would like to blame myself for these issues, it would be easier to keep the blame on those put me down for years as a child.  In return for those years of quietness I became a talker.  I became loud.  I learned to speak for my beliefs and stand up for those who couldn’t.  As much pain as the silence covered up, I am thankful for all that happened to me, both good and bad.  Being unique, fat and different made me a better person at least that is what my mother told me.

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