Trauma


(Watching out for the next attack)

Right away I didn’t fit in. As we’ve seen, immediately upon my arrival from Florida at age 14 I was marked as a weirdo, a perfect target. And the trauma began immediately.

Once my new chums discovered that I was nervous and jumpy, the Hot Ass became a go-to trick. The Hot Ass was a pithy variation of the Hotfoot, wherein the perp held a lighter under my plastic chair until I would jump out of said chair, shrieking in agony and, hopefully, tossing my books and pen around the room. This was especially popular during tests, when my bewildering antics would make me the focus of the quiet room. Often my perp – usually Mike Welch – would say something snarky about my causing a disturbance as the eyes of the class bored into me and their howls of laughter carved into my soul.

Because my toes turn in (“Just like Jackie Robinson!” I would say to the great amusement of my chums, who couldn’t have given less of a shit about Jackie Robinson), they said I ran like I had a brick shoved up my ass sideways, thus making gym class especially traumatic. I would usually skip class and run laps in the gym after school, then walk the four miles home. It was easier. Much less humiliating.

Remember the Cookie Monster anthem, “C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me!” I was serenaded with my own personalized version! “W is for Westbye, that’s weird enough for me!”

But nothing would ever come close to the hell and agony of being known as Twacker.

In the long view, I love the fact that this incident occurred in the very same gym that inspired Carrie: at the time it was my own version. Freshman year at Lisbon Maine High School: I was standing at a urinal shaking off after using the urinal for its intended purpose just before gym class. Kevin Lerette came up behind me and jumped to the conclusion that would break me for the next two years.

“HE’S TWACKING OFF!!! HE’S TWACKING OFF!!!”

I knew in those first few nanoseconds that this was going to be a game-changer for the worst, but I couldn’t imagine how bad it actually would be. Word spread like so many proverbial wildfires (or Hot Asses), and I became known as Twacker, thus indirectly preceding Pee Wee Herman and Fred Willard on the path of infamy.

It stuck. In a quiet science class, my desk-mate Katie asked if anyone had any hand lotion. Mike Welch immediately piped up, “Why, is Westbye horny?!?” The memory of the entire class laughing and staring still burns under the scar tissue of time.

And so it went, and it didn’t stop until mid-way through my sophomore year.

It took me years, and years of therapy, to come to terms with the word “trauma.” I always blew it off. Trauma is what one experiences after seeing their entire family bludgeoned before their eyes, or after escaping a fiery plane crash. Not me! Not someone who just got picked on a little. But the more time I spent on the couch and analyzing myself, the more I realize that I was traumatized. There is no other word to describe the toll that was exacted on my psyche during those years.

I have come to terms with it all, and I am becoming okay with it. And I’ve had many last laughs over the years (Lori, our prom queen, is one of my best friends now, and she didn’t even remember Twacker. And I doubt that Mike Welch’s band has sold out the House of Blues Boston on a Tuesday night.).

Still, trauma runs deep, and it will take many more years, if ever, before I can undo that level of damage…

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61 comments
  1. I can totally relate.
    Much of my social anxiety comes from being picked on from elementary school through high school. AND being picked on at home by my step-father.

    AND yes, it was traumatizing… it took me years of therapy to get over the majority of it. BUT it also made me who I am today. I could careless about what people think of me. I do as I please, and I am not a sheeple. And I see the world through a different set of glasses.

    It totally sucks being bullied and picked on. BUT what doesn’t kill ya…. or so they say.

    • It definitely made me hardcore, out of necessity. Not a bad thing. *grin*

      Solidarity, friend.

  2. metan said:

    One of my sons experienced bullying at school recently, talking to him about what he was going through bought back all those horrible memories of school and was so upsetting for me.
    I was lucky, he told me about it before it got out of hand and their school is one that deals with these thing IMMEDIATELY. I was so happy to see him get past all the horribleness and start enjoying school again. School days are not always ‘the best times of your life’ :(

    • Oh man, I’m SO glad he’s got that support! That does me so much good hearing that. All schools (and parents!) should be like that.

      • metan said:

        We are lucky, our kids talk to us and tell us what is going on. These things are hard for anyone to fix if the kids keep it close to their chest.
        It was really therapeutic for me to be able to do something about it, and of course I gained many ‘mum can fix anything’ points because of it too. They will grow up soon enough and think their parents are hopeless just like all other teenagers do anyway, I may as well stave that off as long as I can!

      • Awesome. Good on ya.

  3. Paula said:

    It started for me in elementary school and lasted throughout junior high and high school, to the point where even after I had graduated, I was still actively frightened of running into at least two of the people who had been the worst of the bullying crowd.

    Silly me. I had no idea that first graders do not memorize Shakespeare. I did it because my sister liked to act out scenes from Hamlet, and learning all those long-winded speeches of Horatio’s saved me from being ridiculed for failing.

    Home was no safe haven. There were endless put-downs, sarcasm, and ridicule. Nothing I could do was ever good enough.

    My mother’s opinion on the bullying at school? It was my own fault. I insisted on being myself, an individual, rather than pretending to be someone I was not, just to fit in, or at least remain anonymous.

    I spent a lot of long, lonely weekends sequestered in my bedroom with the stereo. Without music, I would have gone out of my mind.

    I still hate walking into a room full of people, though I will brave a crowd for the sake of music. But I still stay sequestered in my studio/office much of the time. Often, I really have to force myself to go out and do some of the things I like to do. Being sociable does not come easily.

    That which does not kill us CAN, in some cases, make us stronger.

    But sometimes the best thing one can say is, that which could have killed me, by some miracle, did not.

    • I think that’s the main reason I’m mining this territory of my life: the damage bullying does to the psyche, and how it just kills your self-esteme and social skills. And it’s NOT our fault for not knowing how to just get over it.

  4. Keep writing

    • Always, thanks. Great to have you here. Welcome.

  5. free penny press said:

    In reading this I recall the boy in my high school that was the brunt of so much bullying, Tim Harrison. He had really bad acne and well, you can just imagine the names he was called. I was such a shy kid then, too afraid to speak up so I did the next best thing. I became his friend until we graduated..
    Kids are effen animals!

    • What you did is an even better thing, actually. Thank you.

  6. Childhood trauma/memories are the deepest..no doubt that’s why they follow us into adulthood. I find there is always something that can trigger that same exact feeling of “not good enough”…ugh! It’s all in the response, it can make or break you.

    • Always something there to remind me, right?

      • According to Naked Eyes there is…

      • Stupid Olympics, stoking my Anglophile-ism!

  7. a gripping life said:

    This type of thing gets my blood boiling. The new kid is such an easy target. It causes such a deep sense of shame that it actually alters the way we feel about ourselves for the rest of our lives. It’s brutal. The damage that’s done is not to be taken lightly or diminished but recognized as true trauma. (Gee, hope I’m not stirring the pot here? Sorry.) Like Lynne, I was always the person who stuck up for or befriended the defenseless and vulnerable. It’s who I am. If I had been there Brian, all I can say is you and I would have been friends. The Mike Welches of this world are never happy and live in their own little self made prison. No doubt, he was being bullied at home. That’s usually the case. When you look at it that way, it sometimes gives you the needed perspective to move on.

    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around someone as beautiful and talented as you being tormented. This is one of many reasons I became a therapist – the hope that I could help turn some lives around and maybe prevent people like Mike Welch and Kevin Lerette from ever developing into full blown bullies.

    If life is like a crucible, Brian, you’ve come out the other side as a real gem. Those early experiences seemed to only make you shine more. : )

    • Dear Gripping,
      I love the fact that you are stopping people developing into “full blown bullies”. :)
      Important work.
      Lis

      • a gripping life said:

        Thanks, Lis. I feel this stuff very deeply, as if it’s happening to me. I happen to have been born with a little crusade inside of me – I HAVE to intervene in situations like this other wise I can’t function. Some people can paint, play the piano, or work math equations, I can feel very deeply. The thing is, the “bullies” are broken people, too. All parties involved need to be healed. It’s rewarding work, for sure. : )

      • Dear G,
        I am the same.
        I told my daughter’s friends about an incident that happened when I was in the 7th grade. (The same grade my daughter is in this year). I was friends with a girl that liked to sometimes be a stinker. One day on the bus, she singled out a girl that was quiet and shy. Her mom was my piano teacher. I was instantly enraged. I yelled at her in front of the whole bus.
        Not long after, many people took a page from my book, and DEfriended the bully, even though she was popular. I had some friends say,
        ‘I never could have done that! How did you do that?’
        It never occurred to me, NOT to. And I’m raising beautiful children that have shown me, they won’t be able NOT to, either.
        And you are so right. Bullies ARE broken.
        You are a fascinating lady!! I would love to have lunch with you someday!! :)
        Lisa

      • a gripping life said:

        I just wrote a post called, Birds of a Feather Flock Together…
        It doesn’t surprise me, Lisa, that we all have this same instinct. There are so many kind and warm people in our little blogging community. Isn’t it wonderful?
        Thanks for the compliments! I’d love to meet up with you, too!
        Have a beautiful day.
        Lisa

      • I love bringing my people together! Awesomeness!

    • unfetteredbs said:

      Grippy you rock.. you know that? You really truly do…

      • Damn straight! I love my people!

      • unfetteredbs said:

        me too :)

  8. Dear Brian,
    Your post made me feel so uncomfortable.
    Which, is a good thing. You made me feel what you felt in those years of sadness.
    I am sorry for what happened. And, I’m glad you are moving on. Writing about it, really seems to help me move through painful memories.
    Blessings,
    Lisa

    • You are too sweet, Lisa, thanks. I think part of moving on is moving back and rewriting. I think in a way that by posting this, my 39-year-old self is protecting my 15-year-old self, y’know? It’s getting better daily…

      • Dear Brian,
        YES.
        I love how you said that!!!
        You are strong now.
        Time doesn’t exist, not really.
        Never too late to protect yourself!! :)
        Lis

  9. Grips, thank you so much. For your support of those going through it, and
    for your so unbelievably nail-on-the-head comment. I can’t emphasize enough
    that I posted this specifically to illustrate the mental and emotional
    damage that this kind of treatment inflicts. I don’t live with it daily and
    I don’t use it as a crutch. But going through this crippled me emotionally
    for decades. It stripped away trust and comfort. It made me loathe myself
    thinking it was my fault because I couldn’t stop it. It made me paranoid
    around people for years and completely obliterated my social skills. I
    spent years of my life hiding in my room in my apartment because I couldn’t
    trust that I could have honest, kind friends.

    I’ve had well-intentioned people say things like, “well, it’s all in the
    past, so get over it.” Well, no: you don’t just GET OVER TRAUMA. And the
    word trauma IS what my experience was. I think more people need to come to
    terms with the word. It would save a lot of grief for the world.

    • a gripping life said:

      Shame is, by it’s very nature, crippling to the soul. These experiences cause you to feel as though you’re defective, unlovable, as though your very being is wrong or bad. The idea that you can move on, that it’s in the past, can actually also be shaming! OY! “What’s wrong with me that I can’t let go?” Honestly, most people don’t get it. There’s a great book called, Facing Shame, that I think you might really like.
      Looks like you’ve made great strides in understanding what transpired, and have a handle on how to cope with and self correct those early abusive messages. I wish there was an erase button, wouldn’t that be great? There is something called Psycho-drama that’s incredibly effective for these types of wounds/trauma. It’s hard to find people that do it anymore but it’s the closest thing to an erase button that I know of.
      All I can say, Brian, is thank God for your incredible intellect and big, feeling heart. A lesser person would not fare as well as you, my friend. I’m so glad you wrote this. : )

  10. Paula said:

    Wow, it really was a lucky day when I stumbled upon this blog! This entry and the comments are striking some really deep chords.

  11. Paula said:

    Tori Amos’ song, “Crucify,” still scares the hell out of me.

    “Every finger in the room is pointing at me…”

    “Nothing I do is good enough for you…”

    “Every day I crucify myself…”

    Trauma, indeed. What others began became a too-familiar pattern. On good days, I can get through without “driving another nail in,” but on bad days…[shudder]…

    • So spot-on, innit?

      • Paula said:

        Frighteningly so!

  12. Normand Albert said:

    Westbye, I always knew you were different,but I equated it to an artist who suffers for his art. You were far and away the best guitarist / musician in our tiny little high school and I was glad to be in the same band with you. I learned a great deal about playing guitar from you and for that I am thankful. Lisbon High like any high school could be a very cruel and cold space if you were a target and forced to be on the outside looking in.I’m glad that you are at a place in your life were you can share this as a way to come to terms with it. As evidenced by the number of comments, it resonates with so many who have had similar experiences.This was my first stop here,but not the last.Take care my friend.

    • Goddamn, Normy. Just…thank you.

  13. Thanks for sharing this story — you might be able to help someone. Actually it helps me to see what others have gone through. I have been a position to see that these things are not isolated and that many many many people go through teen trauma. Lets me see we’re not alone.

    But it’s why also I have anxiety about my four year old and one year old nephew — they have to go through these teen years — God help them!

    Thanks again Brian — I can’t believe you went to that school where they shot Carrie! That’s one of my favorite movies! I often think of that blood scene where Carrie has her mother’s voice running in a loop, “They’re all gonna laugh at you, they’re all gonna laugh at you…” That’s my go to loop! I like imitating her voice. Piper Laurie had a very distinctive one.

    • Hey, thanks! I hope I can help. That’s always the goal. And no worries: with you at their back, I’m sure your kids will be great.

      No idea where Carrie was shot, but I went to the same high school as Stephen King, so I know where a lot of his settings, fictionalized and otherwise, are. Walk into our gym and you can almost hear a chorus of “Plug it up!” in the still…

  14. Porkchop said:

    I love this post. Completely heartbreaking. Thanks for writing it. I totally relate to not realizing what trauma is until later in life. That stuff shapes you, for the good or the bad.

    • Good to see you, Chops! Yep: no way you can know the damage nor how to heal it until much later. Solidarity in the aftermath, friend.

  15. unfetteredbs said:

    Brian- I am so glad you shared. Keep writing. I think you are brave for putting this into words for us all.

  16. Lily said:

    My mom told me to read this one. You’re not alone Brain. It’s crazy to think that bullying has been going on forever and is still going on? Why can’t people just grow up? It’s actually kind of sad for Mike Welch because someone at home probably made him feel like shit and he had to take it out on you. I had a good time in high school. I never wanted to think of people being bullied. But I’m sure kids were living in hell right under my nose. It’s good that you went to therapy to heal your wounds. I think everyone should go to therapy, because everyone has wounds. It’s good to talk things out and release what you’re feeling. Sorry you had to endure such pain. But maybe it helped you become the person you are today?
    I just read a short story about someone that was bullied. It’s a good, sad little story called Galloping Foxley and it’s by Roald Dahl.

    • And great to see you! It’s been a while!

  17. Lily, thank you so much. Your comment really means a lot. Yeah, it was very difficult, but yes, it made me. I’m totally hardcore, and can endure anything as a result. Writing it out and meeting people like you makes all the difference as well. Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome.

    • Lily said:

      Aww good! When I see your picture, I’m always like, “Wow that Brian Westbye is so hardcore!”
      And yes, I’ve been majorly slacking on the blog front. I’m trying my best to keep up but it’s overwhelming! Who knew blogging could be so exhausting?

  18. Urph. Childhood can be/is utterly scarifying. School being the eye of the shit storm. Glad you survived, and then some (looky you, blogging royalty and such).
    The one burning question is: did you make their heads explode with your mind? That would be stellar.

    • Eye of the shit storm indeed. Heads exploding? Nah, I got my revenge by putting out a few albums, having a healthy 11-year marriage and great friends, traveling, becoming a published writer and naming names in this piece (because *I* own the rest, not them). Explosions are messy, y’know.

      • True dat. Always a thinker, you are.

    • Eye of the shit storm indeed. Heads exploding? Nah, I got my revenge by putting out a few albums, having a healthy 11-year marriage and great friends, traveling, becoming a published writer and naming names in this piece (because *I* own the rest, not them). Explosions are messy, y’know.

      Great to have you here, thanks!

  19. Inga said:

    That sounds so horrible. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. There’s always someone isn’t it? Thanks for sharing.

    • Can’t complain too much, Inga. It made me hardcore. And writing about it brought us Vikings together. *grin*

  20. Thank you for being so honest and open with something so personal. As I read this, and all the comments, my own memories come back to me. I can relate to a lot of what you’re describing, and being the new kid was never easy. I had a hard time at home as well. Though as much as I hated it then, I can now sometimes think I wouldn’t be the person I am today if none of that had happened. Experiences like these can make you a better person, even though, as you say, they also cause trauma that might take a life time to get rid of. I try, however, to think of it as something valuable. After all, it thought me what’s important in life, and even more important, what’s not. Thank you again for sharing this text, I’m glad I got to read it!

    • Strength and Solidarity, friend. We all belong here.

  21. I’m sorry you were traumatized. I can relate to a point. I was called squaw and liver lips.

    • People suck. We don’t.

  22. If I wasn’t such a horrible fighter who bleeds easily, I’d say we jump that Welch guy when he’s not looking and superglue embarrassing pictures to his clothes.

    I’m glad you’ve gotten a handle on trauma and realized that it isn’t always the result of some horrific incident. You’re the better man for it, Brian. :)

    • I’d love to get Welch and my man Cedric from Jacksonville and set them up Heathers style, actually…

  23. Barb said:

    I’m so sorry you had to endure such pain. Yes, I can still remember the exact look on my snotty mean-girl-bully’s face. Strange how those details stay for years.

    • Those details really do stick, don’t they? Precisely why it’s not so easy to just “get over it.”

  24. Sophie Nussle said:

    I was also bullied at school, up to the age of 11, when my parents (mercifully) agreed that I go to another school, where I was still considered ‘different’, but not bullied. The memory of that time still stings. It took me years to rediscover that I was fine as I was and likeable, and also not to mind if someone doesn’t like me.

    • Sophie, thank you so much for joining us here. I’m so sorry you also went through it. But we’re hardcore as a result! You’re always welcome here.

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