Friday, October 2, 2015

800 Words: How I Spent My Yom Kippur - Shul 3 - Beth Tfiloh Part 5

When I came to Beth Tfiloh, I was in the throes of a new terrible problem. When I first enrolled there, I realized that if life was ever to be different I had to be a completely different person. As so many millions of High School kids have done over the years, I did my best to affect a completely altered persona from the one I truly was. Nobody could know I listened to Beethoven and Verdi in my spare time, nobody could know that I was a social nothing at Krieger Schechter, nobody could know that I by and large spent the last few years in a state of inner horror.

I was already turning into something of a pathological liar before BT, and it would be a habit I took to stratospheric levels once I got to Hyde. The anxiety of telling the whole truth in so many of my life situations was too great. But if there was any theme that defined those two years at Beth Tfiloh, it was deceit - deceit for something resembling a decent reason, but deceit nonetheless, and deceit that might have made my adolescent dreck sandwich a hundred times worse.

It was a high school class of roughly 40 kids, can you believe that a school could ever thrive so so few students? Most years, BT gets an influx of Schechter kids, but there were only two new kids from Schechter in my year, and we had to fit in with a class as established into a pecking order as anything at our old school. There was another kid from my Schechter years, the autistic kid whom I was friends with when I was little. His parents, thankfully, pulled him out of Schechter a year before so that he would not be subjected to the horrific bullying which others were. The other Schechter kid who came over to BT when I did, the Russian kid from last post who was shamefully bullied, became my one close friend at Beth Tfiloh - not that I've spoken to him in twenty years, but he was a truly brilliant kid, and had life been fairer to kids like us, I don't doubt he and I would have been very firm friends for many years both before and after. 

Surprisingly to me, considering how good a performer I am, I was terrible at it. In the long run, nobody can possibly keep so many lies up, and I doubt too many people bought too many of my lies for more than a few minutes at a time. Unless the pathological liar is a psychopath who's an expert of manipulation, the lies are usually so easy to spot that there is no way of talking yourself out of the lie without a humiliating confession of what you've done. But so desperate was I for something resembling a social life and romantic life that I thought the best way to get it was to affect having a completely fulfilling social and romantic life outside of Beth Tfiloh to BT kids, and affect having a completely fulfilling social and romantic life inside of Beth Tfiloh to Schechter grads. Both were done in the hope that the other kids would think enough of my social moxy to bring me into their own social lives and not write me off as the social loser I no doubt was. Such is the logic of a socially dumb adolescent. In my first year at BT, I was valued as the class clown, but I was not valued enough to have any place to go on weekends. I doubt kids at Beth Tfiloh did much on weekends anyway, but it would still have been helpful to know that you had real friends. Ultimately, I doubt anybody believed anything I said for long, but what could I do? Admit to the lies? That was the most terrifying prospect of all.

By the second year, even the clowning was not enough keep me from getting bullied. The bullying was not as serious as at Schechter thank God, perhaps nowhere near as serious, but I was already so fragile from everything that there was no keeping me together. And even had my social life gotten better, there was still my academic life, and the terrors that awaited me as always from certain teachers who either didn't or refused to understand. I'd sold down the river whatever integrity a severely depressed adolescent was capable of having, and it didn't save me from the shit bill of goods I'd have gotten anyway. Some days I was so depressed that I simply begged my parents not to make me go to school. There was resistance of course, once or twice they even got me to go when I'd at first refused, but were they really going to say no? Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into had I gone to school in such a state? Sometimes I would ditch whole weeks of school because I simply couldn't face the idea of walking into another buzzsaw. Even when I went to school, I was sometimes too terrified to go to class, and would ditch the places I was supposed to be for hours at a time, hiding in bathrooms or unoccupied classrooms - often in the throes of a hyperventilating panic attack.

The last straw was one Sunday night in the early spring, when I finally sat down to do homework, no doubt after being nagged by Dad all weekend about when I was going to start doing it. When I began, I found the same thing happened that sometimes caused me more stress than anything else - I'd forgotten to bring a book home. So often over the years, I was yelled at and made fun of by friends, teachers, parents of friends, even family members, for having lost things that everybody else can keep track of with no problem at all. It's a habit that even now seems impossible to break, and even at 33 it only occurs to me that I've done or haven't done certain things days after it's too late to do anything about it. Even Schmuck and Kol Rinah were subject to and often undone by this problem's vicissitudes; and it's probably the reason, or at least the most prominent reason, that my last relationship came undone so poisonously. Many people tell me that there are preventative steps to keep track of such things, I inevitably tell them the truth: I've tried those things, but Mother Nature always finds a way. They rarely if ever believe me or accept the answer, what can I do?...

Anyway, my father drove me back to Beth Tfiloh, and I went to my locker. I opened it to find that the entirety of my locker was smeared with green paint. Everything in it was slathered in it, and I'd be walking around the school for the rest of the year with some ugly prank of an unnamed piece of shit tattooed to every school book I had. The Bible that was in my locker that year still sits on my shelf with the reminder that it really happened. What followed was the worst panic attack I'd ever had in my life to that date. I thought I could never show my face in this place ever again. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, I later discovered that my father thought I had dumped the paint in myself.

It was clear that I could not stay at Beth Tfiloh any longer. I'm not totally sure I was present at half my classes for the last two months of that year. But, being the psychotically angry megalomaniac I was, I was not going to leave without some kind of vengeance.

The night before my last day at Beth Tfiloh, I walked from my parents house to Beth Tfiloh and back. In the mailboxes of every person in my grade, I deposited a note that listed precisely what I thought of them in no uncertain terms. As shocking as some of the things I said in that letter was, I would not have felt so ashamed of what I did if I had actually said what I thought instead of using it as an opportunity to settle scores. To the girl who would make fun of me while I was in earshot because I was clearly attracted to her, I wrote "I never wanted to fuck you, and I can't imagine why anybody would because you resemble a D-Cupped African Warthog." To one of the class bullies, frankly one of the lesser ones, I told him that he was going to get raped in prison, but probably said that because I was jealous that he supplanted me as the class clown. Worst of all perhaps, to the shy perhaps autistic kid who was once my friend - when it came time to say what I thought of him, I simply wrote ___________________________________. When my Mother saw that, it truly broke her heart.  To the end, even in this letter, I pretended as though I had some kind of amazing social and sex life outside of BT. How pathetic can lies get?

I came to school the next day, ostensibly to take a Hebrew exam, but I didn't need to take a Hebrew exam when I was going to a secular school the next year. I suppose the real reason was to simply watch my high school burn down to the ground like Regina George in Mean Girls. I should have, of course, stayed home. Instead, my mother had to pick me up, because when the teachers saw that I had the temerity to show up, I was immediately suspended on my last day of school.  My mother was notified to pick me up, and she refused to speak to me in the car. When we got home, she simply sat in the car, motionless and saying nothing for what felt like ten minutes thereafter. What was there to say?

I don't want to exonerate myself for any of this. It was a shitty thing to do by a shitty kid who had done many shitty things over the years - some still worse than that. Hopefully, this shitty kid has turned into a slightly less shitty adult. But no matter how shitty or unshitty a person I am, I do think I have a right to ask: How did a community so ostensibly committed to excellence, to generosity and integrity, to Jewish values, allow one of their own slip through the cracks so entirely? Even after I'd long since fallen from grace, people regularly told me that I was some kind of 'brilliant,' a compliment that was usually followed by "How did you screw up so badly?" or "Why can't you just pick your life up?" Even if I wasn't or am not particularly brilliant, I was a smart kid who wanted to do well by people, and I certainly did not start out my life wanting to hurt or even exploit anyone.

It is rather narcissistic and infantile to talk at all about childhood pain - let alone devote a series of blogposts to them. But nevertheless, I feel the need to ask this: There was a time in my childhood, truly there was, when I wished best for everyone - as a small child at least, I was rather saintly. To the best of my recollection, I did none harm, I said none harm, I thought none harm. But that saintliness was thoroughly broken. When I first arrived at Schechter, it was genuinely a shock to me that people could ever be mean to each other. As I got older, perhaps I deluded myself into thinking that I was simply retaliating in self-defense, but that was nevertheless how I justified it to myself. How could the little angel I once was become so definitively a devil?

...this was a very painful post to write.

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