By Mike Johnson
Stuffed in the bottom drawer of shameful memories, one event is illuminated by the harsh spotlight of regret.
I was six or seven. It occurred just a couple houses up my street. I was walking with a couple other boys.
We encountered the kid with the speech impediment.
“Hey Mumbles!” I called out. The kid’s face contorted as if I’d punched him in the nose.
The other kids laughed.
He ran into his house.
Karmic regret instantly punched me in the gut. It felt awful.
Being with pals, I hid my reaction to the blow.
I never apologized to the kid. I never made it right. That karmic punch still hurts me today.
The hits kept coming. Always the skinniest kid, I had to fake-smile my way through an array of cruel nicknames.
“Bones,” “Twig” and “Skelly” (skeleton) were a few that stuck over the years.
I was never going to beat up anybody with this body.
So I learned to avoid fights.
I became situationally aware. I learned to read people. I could sense aggression before it physically arrived.
I learned to deflect testosterone with a smile, a joke, or a quick change of topic. I mastered the mental kung-fu of smooth words and defensive wit.
In effect, I hid my physical impediment by mumbling my way out of fights.
Over time, I learned that offense was the best defense. I went proactive. I became the agreeable jokester everyone liked.
And I excelled at sports. I couldn’t beat you in a fist-fight. But I could beat you in a snowball fight. Or ping-pong, baseball, touch football.
My sports confidence was an invisible muscle that others could feel.
So I earned a cruelty détente.
“Yea, he’s sure skinny, but he’s OK, leave him alone.”
I spent those brownie points bringing other “different” kids into our group.
The new kid in town. The oriental kid. The kid with glasses.
Everyone has some sort of cruelty magnet to overcome.
I’ve paid for my moment of childhood cruelty a thousand times over.
I’d never do it again, but I’m still glad it happened.
Because it did, I’m no longer that cruel, unaware person.
Age Walks on Eggshells
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