Child David faced discipline for the same thing that still gets him in trouble today: opening his big mouth.
And saying something stupid.
I have since learned that the latter part isn’t even necessary to get into trouble. Just speaking will do it. I can speak nothing but the truth and be told that I’m manipulative. I can express my feelings with humble honesty and be told that I’m an emotionless zombie. Ah, but these are some recent hang-ups. Let’s just say that I cannot simply make a statement: a colon and clarification always follows.
I think the root of the matter is simply this: every individual is threatened by every other individual. People’s worlds are the same size as their minds: small. And every time somebody else speaks, their words are challenges to your existence. The biggest minds create a world in which such difference is understood or at least tolerated. They have an understanding of this truth, and don’t let the voice of the other become an existential crisis. Differences can be just that: different, not worse or better.
If somebody else’s difference makes your little world obsolete, you have two choices: condemn their decision or refine your world.
I often get condemned. Like I said, when I was young, I was pretty stupid, too. But still, more often than not, my judge was living in a walnut shell that should have been renovated. I could regale you with stories as an adult. But enough tangential ranting: two childhood stories of times when I should have been quiet.
Boy, am I stupid. I am incredibly sensitive, for the record. It just does not always come out that way. It was my seventh birthday party. Some friends and some neighborhood kids were there and I was opening presents. One kid (I think his name was Jeff) lived down the street. His father was a minister, and I remember once going to his house and listening to Christian music all day. Growing up atheist (or at least non-churchgoing), this was a strange experience. I did not quite know what to make of him. As far as I recall, we had only hung out that one time. After the birthday, I would see him around occasionally when the neighborhood kids gathered. He moved away a year or two later.
I was opening Jeff’s present with a bit of curiosity. I remember wondering with mild curiosity what strange thing this kid from a different world and down the street would get me. I had already opened a strange assortment of gifts, many from kids I hardly knew. I remember feeling grateful, though. It was the thought that counted, and the thought from so many people I barely knew was a moving thing. My parents had taught me well.
I was indeed surprised by Jeff’s present. It was two G.I. Joe action figures! The two I wanted! I could actually play with this present. Instead of a thank you, I turned to Jeff and said with delight, “I can’t believe you actually got me something I want!”
The mom was not pleased. In the middle of my glory, she took me to the kitchen and gave me a lecture on being gracious. I was dumbfounded, at first: after all, I felt gratitude! I relearned a lesson: feeling something and communicating that something are two very different things. I apologized to Jeff, which kind of surprised him. I think he took no offense. But I continued to feel bad for a long time after that.
I still had not learned my lesson at the age of 17. I had begun working at Taco Bell. It was, to put it mildly, a strange time in my life. My shift ended one day, so I turned my hat around, threw on my cape, and headed out to the parking lot to go home. (Yes, cape. Get over it. I said it was a strange time.) Four or five white guys, dressed and talking like they grew up in the slums of some inner city rather than the wealthy suburb of Palm Harbor, Florida, were entering as I was leaving. One made a comment intended to incite a fight: fucking faggot. Never one to leave well enough alone, I blew him a kiss as I left. (Yes. I already admitted to being stupid. Please. Get over it.)
These kids chased me into the parking lot. I began hopping back and forth, daring them to get me. I figured I was going to get my ass beat. But I was determined to have fun with it. I was surprisingly quicker than them. After a few duck and fades, I managed to make my way to the other store door and reenter The Bell. We had a security guard at the time, and he came to my rescue. The punks were kicked out. Thank god for taco bell. To the few of my Taco Bell family that is still around and read this: Thank You!
My escape was short-lived, however. It would have been better if I had taken the beating then and there. A month or so later, I went on my first date with a beautiful girl from Tampa whom I had met online. It was the first day I ever spent with my future wife of 13 years and counting. Near the end of the date, we stopped off at McDonalds. She was sitting at a table while I waited for our food. An acquaintance worked there, and I was looking at him when a voice from behind me said, “Hey faggot.” I suppose I should have turned around swinging, but my mind didn’t work fast enough. As I was still turning, his fist knocked me to the ground. They fled; I, a little disoriented, picked myself up. My acquaintance stood slack-jawed for several minutes. My date was staring with more than a bit of shock, too; but she recovered quickly enough to come to my aid.
I thought it was hilarious, and was simultaneously mortified.
But she kissed my fat lip later that night. So it was all good.
I definitely became gun shy. From the age of 18 until 25, I trained myself to shut up. I let the introspection which I had nurtured perforce through middle school (isolated, awkward, and oft-teased adolescent) take me over. This quietude only began to fade when I started teaching, and slowly trained myself to have an extroverted personality. It still scares me to speak. I would rather mull something over for a few days and then write about it. Even plinky is a little bit frightening because I don’t edit. And I say WAY too much about myself. Whether plinky or talking, I still stick my foot in my mouth.
For this reason, I have learned to surround myself with forgiving friends. The fastest way to become my friend is to say something stupid. I’ll love you forever for it.