Bullies, Bicuspids, and the Hell-Beast

My single mom was raising four of us. We lived in the “Projects,” and mostly hung out with our friends from the projects. We didn’t understand we were poor or “different.”

None of us had fathers. I remember thinking that dads moved on after the kids were born. Like it was a natural process. But the “Gang of Three” were not from the projects. They lived across the creek about two miles through the woods.

It was like a different world over there. They had big houses, cars, fields, cows, etc. Kevin was the gang’s leader. I remember him clearly. The other two guys never started hitting or kicking me until I was already dazed and bleeding.

I was bullied very badly by their little gang. In fact, I wound up in the hospital several times from severe beatings at the hands of the “Gang of Three”.  But when I finally learned to stand up for myself and fight back, my life changed dramatically…

I learned that I could catch each of them alone and, well, measure out a portion of my rage. The very next time they saw me, there was a very different look in their eyes. They didn’t laugh and point at the poor boy in hand-me-down jeans without their fellow gang members around.

Instead, I saw them wondering if I would hunt them down alone again and give them another a thrashing. My attitude began to change…

I became a cocky “kid” who thought the whole world needed to know that I was cool.  I thought if I could look and act tough and composed, everyone would think I was super-human.

And that’s the attitude I wore like a badge of honor when I went on active duty. I was in Survival School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE’s) and counting on my assumed inner-strength to get me through any and everything. And for the most part it did.

Until the day we were on a mountain slope, four days out from our last food of any kind (it was A ration bar).  The instructor picked up the world’s largest, meanest, nastiest looking grasshopper and told us we would have to eat it.

He said the lesson was to overcome food aversions and be prepared and capable to eat anything that wouldn’t kill us, and kill anything that tried. I did not like the idea one bit.

Of course, the instructor walked over to me with that big green monster. I was staring at the grasshopper’s evil antennae, buggy eyes, and spiky legs.

Then the instructor said “Why don’t you show us all how it’s done? You seem to be so confident in everything, so this should be very easy for you.” My knees were visibly clanging together.

I was hunched over and gagging even before I put the Hell-beast in my mouth.  The instructor stopped me and told me to rip his legs off first so that it couldn’t use them to jam itself in my throat and choke me.

Sound advice – but no comfort whatsoever. I knew I was stuck. I had to eat this nasty bug.  You see, I had created a persona that would crumble if I didn’t man-up right then in front of all of the guys.

Once he was in my mouth, I could feel him trying to fight his way out. I just could not bring myself to chew him up and swallow him.  But I looked at all of those guys who were watching me. They looked like were going to throw-up, pass-out or both.

Then I thought of how I had finally conquered my childhood bullies…

How I finally got tired of getting the crap beat out of me, of being afraid all of the time… And making the decision as a young kid to do whatever I had to in order to stop the pain and fear.

What was the value of conquering my childhood bullies if I could not eat a grasshopper? And that’s when I chomped down on Mr. Greeny. It felt so bizarre, but the Demon-Spawn transformed into a mild grass flavor as soon as my teeth separated his organs from his carcass.

The truth is, it was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life. And that includes combat, parachuting, drown-proofing, hiding from enemy soldiers, having children and going through an IRS audit.

The fear of eating that sweet, grass-flavored snack almost kept me from graduating Survival School. Often in life, whether it is standing up to bullies, throwing off the shackles of tyranny or eating live (until you chomp) grasshoppers, fear can be disabling and more damaging than any action you take.

Tomorrow, consider eating your own grasshopper and moving forward with your life. Maybe your grasshopper will turn out to be a sweet snack and not the Harbinger of Hades you were expecting.

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