In 1986, I lived in the blink and you’ll miss it town of Kathleen, Florida. (No offense to those who lived or still live there, but even they would have to admit, it’s small.) I was in the sixth grade and was one of the more popular kids in school, or at least I thought I was. I had tons of friends, was on the A honor roll every report card. Life was good. But mid-way through that year, my family moved into the city of Lakeland, Florida. Now I do not begrudge my parents this decision, nor do I regret it. A brick house beats a single wide trailer all day. But I will admit, that’s when things started to change. Like I said before, it’s hard to start something new.
For the remainder of my sixth grade year, I kind of kept to myself. I was in gifted classes and made friends with the other kids there, and I made friends with a couple of boys in my neighborhood. Nut I tried not to make a scene at my new school. I figured I would just wait until seventh grade and a completely new school to try to assert myself.
The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say. Almost immediately I knew something was wrong. People who had been my friends just six months ago were now making fun of me. At first it was simple things, calling me a nerd because I was given the French Horn to play in band, calling me a geek because I was in Boy Scouts, even though the one who called me that was in Boy Scouts as well, (if only at the age of 11 I knew the word hypocrite.) But things turned dark very quickly. The words changed from nerd and geek to faggot and homo. I didn’t know why, I knew that I liked girls. Was quite positive of that fact. But the words kept flying. Day after day. One of the people who was calling me that was my friend just the year before. I was lucky in the fact that it only got physical once. I was getting off the bus and walking to my house , which was less than 50 yards away. It had rained that day and the ditch by my house was full of water. Suddenly I found myself lying in the ditch while some of the kids that got off at my stop were laughing. One of them had taken it upon himself to tackle me for fun. If my father had been asleep when I walked in the door, it would have gone unnoticed, but it just so happened to be his day off and he was awake, I walked in soaking wet and he went to have a discussion with the boys. It never got physical again, but the words kept flowing.
Fast forward to high school, I was now pretty much an introvert. I had friends, great friends, but I didn’t really put myself out there at first. But by that point I didn’t care what people said, the damage was done and they couldn’t hurt me anymore. Except one day, The girl I had been pining for since almost day one of tenth grade had agreed to go out with me. I remember standing on the sidewalk kissing her as we went to our separate classes, I could feel that someone was staring at us, I looked and a girl that had been in Jr High with me just blurted out: “I thought you were gay.” I still remember her name, I remember all their names. Unfortunately, they’re burned into my brain. I can say it did get better. I have been happily married for thirteen years (to a woman) and I have a 9 year old son who means the world to me. The funny thing is, I can see my personality in him. He has recently started to be bullied, and I see the joy that he once had diminishing ever so slightly. That’s why I’ve started a project called Compassion Rock in all its facets. To help him and others like him find a source of expression to keep them from being introverted to the point that they don’t express their feelings.
I always had music. From the time I was old enough to remember, my dad seeded music into my life. Styx, Pink Floyd, Molly Hatchet, Alice Cooper, (pretty much anything from the 1970′s that you hear on classic rock radio today, that’s what my dad listened to.) Music became my outlet. When I got home from school and shut the door. The bullying stopped. I want that for kids today. It’s much harder for them to escape it, with social media being so prevalent. But I want to create a place that once the door closed behind them, the bullying stops, if just for a while. And in the process teach them music that they can use to build themselves up.
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