Welcome to my Blaugust 2016! As announced, there will be a month of rather personal and non-gaming related writing happening on this blog – if that’s not your thing, see you in September! To everyone else: /wave and happy blaugusting!
This post is dedicated to my Burns – for always seeing with the heart and not turning away from a smelly bundle of white fur.
We adopted our third cat Finn, also called Finney Longshanks for his curiously flexible front legs, in June 2015. Like our other two cats whom we found via online shelters and cat networks, Finney was a rescue cat but his story was a little different: Finney was put up for adoption by his breeder, rather than some agency or cat rescue. He is half Maine Coon and half Norwegian Forest cat and by now, he is our other Norwegian’s (who is all black) best pal which was our plan all along.
Finney’s white coat is the result of a natural mutation as is the case with many white cats. He is not an albino but he was born into a litter of brown, grey and black colored coon mixes, all of them slightly bigger and hunkier than him. In the online ad the breeder lady noted that Finney was “hearing” which was the time I learned that a great majority of white and blue-eyed cats are actually deaf. The same gene that causes their blue eyes is often causing deafness too. Finney however has light green eyes, the color of fresh grass and so he can hear just fine.
He is the perfect cat; friendly and talkative to strangers, a happy over-active rascal at times (he loves dog games like retrieving), goofy and so very very affectionate. He was also bullied by his siblings and the other cats, which is why his breeder decided to put him up for adoption.
When we got Finney, he didn’t have the long and glamorous coon coat and collar he has today. His fur was shorter and shaggy. There were bald spots all across his back where he was either hurt by others or had scratched himself. He smelled horribly when we got him, so badly in fact our bedroom, which became his first refuge, smelled of unhealthy fur for weeks. We washed him twice, just to take the edge off. Whenever cats stop taking care of their personal hygiene, you know something is very very wrong.
Fast forward one year later, after a patient adjustment phase with our other two darling cats and with lots of play, joy and love Finney has become the star of every party. He prances about the house like the king he is and all our guests fall in love with him in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, he decided my side of the bed and my PC chair are the best places to sleep. I love him too.
Finney is purrfect in every way and I am not even sorry about the bad pun.
When we were little
Watching Finney make himself at home and bloom into the character he is today has made me reflect a lot on my own story of bullying and the stories of countless others. He was born a healthy and social animal but his peer group rejected, nagged and chased him off because of the color of his coat and maybe his slightly more delicate physique. He was isolated and depressed which fortunately, led his breeder to adoption.
But there is no mercy in the animal kingdom any more than there is among humans at times. When I grew up and went through six years of elementary school nightmare in the late 80ies, bullying wasn’t a topic that was frequently discussed, not even by teachers. I felt so isolated and alone not knowing how many people out there shared my predicament. Many of my friends today and folk I met online have similar stories of social ostracization to tell. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence; do we gravitate towards one another or is bullying just so pervasive in our society? I wonder too if much has changed at schools since, but I doubt it. In this age of cyber bullying, there’s still silence and stigma around the topic and not enough raising awareness along the lines of To This Day.
The reasons for bullying seem different but at heart are always the same. I don’t think it matters really why you were bullied: your looks, your clothes, the way you talk, your family, your grades – these are all just pretexts and shallow explanations. I was bullied for a variety of such reasons, sometimes total opposites, yet at the heart of it was difference– being somehow different combined with being in a minority, in a weaker position relative to a larger peer group.
You’ll find people who experienced bullying in all walks of life and on every side of the spectrum: too smart – not smart enough, too pretty – not pretty, rich – poor, short – tall, dark – fair, foreign – local, introvert – extrovert. There’s no rule to it other than one person finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of standing apart and without an exit route in sight. Bullies fear and envy as often as they hate and despise, they come in all flavors.
My mother who has a very different personality from me and who is the rolemodel teacher I always thought I’d become, got bullied all the way up to adulthood. She once told me that it’s not just the bullied who never forget but bullies too; that they remember their acts always and often regret them. I somehow doubt that’s true as a rule but when she attended her highschool reunion only a few months ago after much deliberation, she came back from an evening of late closure. A whole bunch of her old male colleagues, now grey-haired and retired, came up to tell her “I’m sorry I was such a dick”. I was happy for her. None of her female colleagues apologized.
Bullying affects us in life, sometimes for as long as it affected my mother. The old saying of “sticks and stones” was coined by a person who never suffered any bullying or other verbal and mental abuse in their life. Some are lucky to overcome the after-effects of bullying or escape relatively unscathed; for others it remains a deeply unsettling and destructive experience which alters their behavior and expectations in social contexts. I consider myself fortunate that after six years of tummy aches before school in the morning, I escaped my social environment by leaving for the Gymnasium. From that moment in time, my entire social life took a 180° degree turn – just like that. Suddenly I belonged, when I had done absolutely nothing different. I still talked the same, dressed the same, looked the same but everything else had changed. Like Finney, I had been adopted by the right environment, for me.
From there, my self-confidence was allowed to recover and prosper. I’ve had nothing but good to great times at college and university and I am thankful they overwrote much of what I had gone through before and put things into perspective: I didn’t cause the bullying. It wasn’t a fault within me and I did not deserve it. None of us do.
Thank god for growing up and becoming more independent and free to save yourself and find your own people.
No Retrospective Rationalization
These days I carry scars from bullying but no aching wounds. I frankly don’t care to attend school reunions but neither do I feel personally encumbered anymore by the cruelty I experienced as a ground schooler. I could talk about how bullying may have added to my personal independence and self-confidence later in life, or how it’s made me protective of others – but that conclusion would be fatal and is one I chose not to make. All of us who are here are survivors; we’ve been through dark times, some of us more than others, and our pain has forced us to grow. Yet as much as it is in my nature to look at upsides, I would always choose not to be bullied at all. Ever.
And not everyone who was bullied at a point in their life gets a chance to rewrite that history. Bullying is hard to prevent and even harder to stop when in full motion, even for someone in close proximity. However in the age of the internet, that fickle beast, we’re given an amazing chance to connect with others, discover similar stories and hear about people overcoming adversity. You can reach out, you can make yourself known and be there to listen. Or you can tell your own story so somebody out there may know they are not alone, that it’s not their fault and that they won’t be stuck in that wrong place for all time.
Sometimes the difference between hope and despair is touching a single other mind that knows.