The Writer, the Bully, and the Really Puffy Jacket

image Tonight I’m looking for a particular YA novel. I know the first four words in the title, “The Dark Side of”. So I do what any avid reader does in a town with an impressive public library just a bike ride away…I google the book. Here’s what I find…

The Dark Side of The Moon
The Dark Side of Disney
The Dark Side of Love
The Dark Side of Men
The Dark Side of Women
The Dark Side of Family
The Dark Side of Religion
The Dark Side of Hope

I close the laptop and stuff a spoonful of sorbet into my mouth. Then, I ask my poodle, “Does everything have a dark side?” She doesn’t know. I google “the dark side of poodles” and the screen fills with stories of designer dogs gone bad. I move away from the laptop. And the poodle.

It’s Halloween night and my TV won’t let me forget it. Screams and the guttural roar of chainsaws vibrate my collection of Pixar figurines. What is it with human beings and our fascination with forbidden impulses and fantastical nightmares? It seems to set us apart from other animals. I have yet to hear of a lion pride assembling to watch videos of demon-possessed gazelles impaling scantily furred lionesses whilst camping beside a lake.

I admit I’ve always been fascinated with what can go wrong in our fragile existences. I love sensational stories as much as every other human being, but not the weepers or the screamers. I love books and movies that make me laugh, because “pants-peeing giggling” is the only thing strong enough to counter my fears. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid I’ll fail. Or succeed. Or remain average. Or be alone. Or be in a crowd. Or say the wrong thing. Or do the wrong thing. Or forget to flush.

I know, right?

As an only child with two full-time working parents, I often had to find solutions to my own problems. I was a late, late, late bloomer, who had the agility of a newborn walrus, and the patience of a labrador retriever. I discovered the power of my humor on the first day of fifth grade.

Insert Wayne’s World “doodlee-doo” dissolve. Look it up, if you don’t know it. It’s hilarious.

After a glorious summer of shenanigans and chocolate shakes, I open a back-to-school gift from my grandparents. It’s a puffy winter jacket, the color of a rusted screw. Years later, it will be the height of fashion, but as I am walking the gauntlet on this fall day, it is a big, puffy, rusty screw of a target…on my back.

The day sucks as expected: spilled lunch, missing classrooms, friendly betrayals, alphabetical seating assignments that assure I sat next to Sam “Puncher” Pullman. I assume you get why that last one was such a bummer.

When the last bell rings, I yank on my coat and run for the front door. The sidewalk is just steps away…

“Did you forget to inflate your parachute?”, a rough male voice yells at the back of my head. It cracks at the end, turning parachute into two distinct words.

I turn around and look up, up, up into the sneering face of Big Bobby. He is a sixth grader and whatever his parents are feeding him is working. He pokes at my jacket a few times and smiles a sharky smile. The crowd gathers close, scenting my imminent humiliation. I can almost see two doors on either side of Bobby’s head. One would lead me to a moment of shame that will hopefully be forgotten as soon as he finds another victim. The other door would require me standing up for myself and maybe, just maybe, ending up somewhere new.

I stand up straight and bellow, “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? I heard that joke from a third grader before lunch. How about…my mom’s maxi pads look comfier than that coat. Or…did you get that jacket from my toilet, ’cause I think I pooped it out this morning!”

The crowd is noticeably impressed with what is my first and last stand-up set. Big Bobby pats me on the shoulder and smiles. “Alright, kid. Nice.” As I escape to the curb, kids smile, wave and yell “see ya’ tomorrow, Kel!” I am finally somewhere new.

I’ll always be grateful to Big Bobby because he forced me to make a choice, and as a result, I found a way to deal with life’s dark side. Whether you laugh, or cry, or scream, or pee your pants, connecting through emotion is what makes us human.

That, and Googling videos of cats dressed as Princess Leia.

So, get out there and face your fears. Then, use your words and let the rest of us know it’s okay to do the same.