Can’t Hurt Me Now

You can’t hurt me now
I got away from you, I never thought I would
You can’t make me cry, you once had the power
I never felt so good about myself

‘Oh Father’, Madonna 1989

For a super effeminate card-carrying Madonna fan who sparkled a little bit harder than the Golden, Colorado kids in the 4H program, high school was not always a walk in the park. Or if it was a walk in the park, it was a walk in a park where they yelled “Hey faggot!’ at you. I was routinely pushed and tormented and spent my senior year with charming slurs scratched into my locker door.  It sucked but armed with my smartassed sense of humor and a few tough girlfriends, I survived. Mainly, I just didn’t really show up that often. I mean, ditching class, smoking cigarettes and shoplifting were more fun and less traumatic. By senior year I had friends and wasn’t harassed as much and did my own share of bullying to keep afloat. Like any good Madonna fan, I learned how to strike a good ,”if you don’t like me, go fuck yourself” pose. I worked, I went to concerts and bad teen clubs and oh yeah- I did drugs and drank. But then again, you knew that about me. (Spoiler alert: this drinking and drug thing doesn’t turn out so good for your’s truly.)

As delightful as talking about high school is, there is a point here. Last week, I had lunch with a friend from that institution. She was always one of the good ones. We were laughing about high school and the ridiculous people we survived together. Our 20th reunion was last summer, which I did not attend. I was about to explain why when my brilliant friend interrupted and said, “Oh I don’t blame you. They were awful to you.” She then went on to recall a time when she was walking down the hall with me as the homophobic cretins yelled names at me. She was horrified and the memory has haunted her.. “Thank you”, is what I blurted out as she finished her story. It was a weird thing to say but I meant it from the bottom of my heart. In truth, I don’t know why the hell I said it. Maybe I was thanking her for having the courage to be my friend even though the people in the hallway clearly thought that was a bad idea. Or maybe I was thanking her for her honesty. At the center of my gratitude, as I figured out later on during the day, was her acknowledgement. It was so cathartic to hear someone else say notice that people were awful to me. When you’re in that kind of thing, you think it’s bad but it’s hard to know the truth. To have another person say, “that wasn’t okay” is incredibly healing. See, her younger brother was bullied too for being Jewish. So even though my friend was a popular girl with lots of friends, she understood. I wasn’t alone. It’s important for me to remember, it wasn’t just me.  The county I went to school in was not a bastion of love and tolerance. It had an epidemic of bullying, suicides and racially charged violence in the late 1980s and early 90s. Nine years later, this county’s problems would come to a boiling point and it would be put on the map, thanks to the massacre at Columbine High School.

What’s funny is that I am no longer angry or resentful at my tormentors. Yes, I was thrilled when she told me most of them got fat and look horrible- hello, I’m a human being. But overall, I don’t care.I know was a little shit too and probably caused as much pain to someone else. The best revenge is being fabulous, growing up and moving on. And I think I’ve accomplished those things for the most part. But more than that I have compassion for myself and all of the kids I went to school with. These people can’t hurt me or piss me off today. The key is that I’m no longer hurting myself either. Like everything else fantastic in my life, my forgiveness around high school can be attributed to recovery from drugs and alcohol. Thanks to facing my demons, I don’t have to fake the tough Madonna attitude. I legitimately don’t give a shit and I do so with love. So I bristle whenever I hear about bullying and the well-meaning yet over simplified “It Gets Better” campaigns. Yes, it does get better but not if you don’t do the work. We owe it to ourselves to get better too. I’ll shut up now and  let Madonna explain it:

“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”

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10 thoughts on “Can’t Hurt Me Now

  1. Sean, this is a great piece! Love it. Love your attitude. It brought back bad memories of high school–not the same kind, but yucky all the same. And then it ended with that kind of redemptive attitude that is such a relief. Next time I have that bad dream again where I’m back in high school, I’m going to make my dream self remember you and your post. We’ll see if it works. Hope you’re well, bro. Don’t go near my own blog today–it’s about menopause. And no matter how gay you are, you aren’t that gay. 🙂 Love ya, H

    • Heather, I love you. So much so that I did actually read your blog today. Suffice it to say, I did not identify but I did really love the open & honest sharing that it inspired.All of this hard to talk about stuff- menopause, bullying, alcoholism– isn’t so scary when we can laugh about it and get real about it. So thanks for doing that for me and your other readers xoxo- S.

  2. “Yes, I was thrilled when she told me most of them got fat and look horrible- hello, I’m a human being … The best revenge is being fabulous, growing up and moving on.”

    OMG Sean, it’s official, I love you.

    Love this post so much. I published one similar about a year ago with Henry Rollins as my inspiration vs. Madonna. I changed its settings to private in a moment of insecurity, though you have inspired me to soon revisit and revamp the piece–so thank you!

    Kids can be so cruel, though we rarely assign that same label to ourselves. But, god, really, what is years of repeated alcohol and drug abuse if not cruelty directed at ourselves? We are our own worst bully!

    “Until I learned to love myself
    I was never ever lovin’ anybody else…”

    Sobriety is so freeing. The gift to be able to let go of our pasts because, quite simply, “it don’t matter.” It truly can’t hurt us anymore…

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