I was thinking about bullying again today. Obviously, the topic is still topical, given the latest Glee episode “Born This Way”, the 2 girls that committed suicide together last week and other assorted news bits from politicians trying to derail Anti-Bullying legislation. One of the things that suddenly came to mind was winning a district writing award in the 4th grade for a story I wrote. Yes, my first official notice as a writer.
Gratifying as that is, though it is now thirty years later, I had forgotten the story that got that recognition in in 1980. I happened to be driving home when that memory popped up about the award. The story chosen was read on local radio along with other selections from other schools in the district. Small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. A huge universe for a nine year old. It may have been the first time that I was getting positive attention from school. Well, at least school related. I hated writing. I hated reading. I just hated school.
So, I got home and pulled out that book that Mrs Cuthbert had put together for each student. All semester we had to write things for it. She used wallpaper samples and cardboard to create bindings, along with appropriate colored construction paper to make each page. Our school lined paper with our actual writing was then rubber cemented into place on the pages. We also had to do our own drawings for each story. In a way, very much a creative process. I remember praying that I could just get it over with. It was torture for a boy who had fine motor control issue with his hands and so could never really get that neat tidy script all teachers demanded.
It was just where I had stuck it, in the nightstand on my side of the bed. It had sat there for 3 years now. I vaguely remember glancing through briefly and without much interest at the time. Just another school memory, not worth much but also not quite ready to totally discard either. Well, my opinion has changed slightly now. I flipped the pages and found the story that had gotten read over the radio. As my eyes flicked over the simple sentences, I found I had a lump in my throat and couldn’t swallow.
The story was, “The Pink Tiger”. It was about a tiger cub born pink. A small tiger that was teased and picked on. A tiger that ran away from home and got lost. A tiger that found its way back on its own, in time for dinner, no less. A pink tiger that no one had even missed. That pink tiger was me. I was different. I had run away from home already before this. I found my way back. The story was not really a story. It was me.
Looking back those thirty years makes me wonder. It was always obvious that I was different. I was always taller than other boys. I was slender and ungangly. At the time, I spoke with the remnants of a Texas twang in a central California school. I wasn’t interested in the things other boys were. Honestly, wasn’t interested in the girls either. I just wanted to be left alone. I did not want to be picked on and bullied. I would rather make up my own games and even worlds far from anyone. I did not have any friends in 3rd grade or 4th. Friends were always something that was hard for me to manage. It wasn’t until 7th grade I finally started to have any at all.
Even then, I preferred one good friend to many. I could handle one. So it has been for most of my life. I am just barely now able to manage to handle FaceBook and the social aspects of the internet. Not an easy feat for a self-made hermit. Still, looking back at that story and the pink tiger drawing I made for it, I have to wonder. Did a part of me already recognize that other essential difference from everyone around me? Was that what the other kids were really picking up on? I have family and family friends that claim they knew I was gay by the time I was four years old. So maybe it was there the whole time.
Why else would I pick a pink tiger to be the bullied one? Why else indeed. What is truly interesting and no doubt over looked, is that The Pink Tiger is what the district chose to represent my school. Consider that a moment and marvel.