Tuesday, August 03, 2004


When people look at me, what they see is… blandness. Let’s face it, I appear to be boring. I’m not the type of person you expect excitement, laughter, or even anger. I’m a modern day ad for stoicism. Not that doing so doesn’t have its benefits. I mean I’m the last person you expect to be angry, for example. Yet how did this all happen? Was I born a reserved person?

For me, perhaps the strongest emotion that incites people is probably anger. Anyone can feign a smile. Pretending to be angry, on the other hand, is more difficult. As a child, I was quite angry with a lot of people. Unfortunately, my enemies were everywhere: my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my classmates, even my neighbors. To reveal my anger would get me bruises all over my body, and I considered verbal abuse getting off easy.

My mother loved to spank. Of course she’s not the person I see most of the day. It’s usually the other people, such as the maid who takes care of me and finds it too much of a hassle so she punishes me. There’s also the driver who pulls my ear and shouts all the time. My older brother is easily irritable, and has been known to publicly humiliate and injure his teachers because they annoy him; guess what more he does to his little brother? And there will always be a long line of bullies at school. When you’re a small, skinny boy, you’re a target for a lot of people.

It probably would have been okay if things got resolved. Unfortunately, they didn’t. The maids and my brother continued to abuse me despite my complaints to my parents, and the bullies continued to bully even if you stood up to them. Worse, sometimes other people even blamed you for the incident. So in order to survive my childhood, one of the first things I learned was to curb my anger.

When you don’t have anger as an emotional weapon, what else is left to you? I discovered that pity was an involuntary response, although it did save me once in awhile. I was a crybaby, despite my vehement denials of it at the time. It’s difficult to be taken seriously when there’s tears leaking out of your eyes and snot out of your nose, and you keep on saying that everything’s fine and that you’re not crying. That didn’t stop the teasing by kids my age, but it did draw attention to me. During our frequent trips abroad, my first resort when getting lost was to cry. Aloud. That would draw in my family, or a helpful stranger at the very least.

Unfortunately, I live in the Philippines where machismo rules, and crying was seen as weakness. If I was able to control my anger, I was easily able to control my tears. However, that didn’t stop other people from hurting me, such as the bullies at school, or the less-than-friendly people at home. Since we’re going for masochism, I might as well ignore the pain, or at least appear to ignore the pain. Chairs in grade school were made of metal and wood, and I really wish they were made out of the plastic ones which are light and easy to carry. I even wish they’re the type that gets used on TV wrestling. At least those chairs were small and foldable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But when you’re able to take a hit at the back and immediately recover, people start respecting you. Suddenly, I had dreams of becoming a stuntman. I mean when you’re constantly getting hit by things made of wood and metal, receiving punches and kicks didn’t look threatening anymore.

I was also buck-toothed when I was a kid, due to a certain accident that involves me landing on the ground with my mouth open. My smile was far from perfect, and my classmates loved to point that out. I think you pretty much get the picture I’m driving at. If I appear to lack a certain range when it comes to facial expressions, it’s not because of a lack of learning.

Stoicism has its benefits though. I mean bullies remain bullies because of the pain they inflict on others. When they stop seeing you suffer, they grow bored. The same goes for the teasing. When the subject of your taunts doesn’t looked annoyed, what’s the point in continuing? In the end, the whole experience also taught me two important things: one is to listen, because when you stop dwelling on your pitiful life, you realize that others have something to teach you, even if they’re unaware of it. The bully, for example, reveals his insecurities by his taunts. The other thing I learned was sympathy. When you’re usually at the receiving end of most injuries, you realize how other people feel as well. One becomes sensitive to pain, not just of one’s self, but of other’s as well. I know what it feels like to be the underdog, to be the scapegoat of society. But because of that, I also know how to comfort, how to aid others.

I didn’t come out unscathed from the whole experience. The fact that I am who I am now shows that events in my childhood have changed me. However, I did learn wisdom from the entire ordeal, and for me, that’s a worthy tradeoff (at least I still have my eye, unlike a certain Norse deity).

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