Originally on Mild Mutant
My early years at school were horrible, mainly because of one boy. This one boy was at the centre of my hatred because I was the centre of his cruelty. Although he could hardly string an insult together he still managed to make me feel horrible. He was the kind of bully that if you could go back in time and punch him you wouldn’t, because his frame would crush you.
One day in the middle of class he turned to me and without any context said, “At least I can catch a footy.” This sentence shattered my world. His bullying was always physical, but this uncharted leap into intellectualism left me broken.
I feel sorry for him though, he had a hard childhood. His father used to beat him. He did it to toughen up his child and over years of being beaten it did toughen him up. His ability to tolerate pain was only matched by his willingness to meter it out.
But there came a point where these scheduled beatings started to take a toll on his body. His joints began to weaken and his ligaments started to snap. Soon his bones became frail.
The saddest part for me is that there would have been a moment at training, or at school, where he noticed how his team mates’ fathers treated them with love and affection rather than disdain because they had what he would have perceived as normal relationships. It would have been a painful realisation and instead of having the opportunity to express it to his family he would have had to internalise it.
I feel for a scared little boy who had to suffer through his father’s search for immortality. As an adult I can empathise with his struggle. Perspective is the curse of memory. Instinctively, I knew that he was heading towards a breakdown.
And I was there.
We had just lost the Grand Final and his leg ligaments, weakened by uncountable beatings, had snapped. It was obvious he was living in dread of his next pounding and it was as if he was in a cold sweat. He was struggling to cry in an attempt to express his emotions but it seemed the ability had been beaten out of him.
I decided to show him some comradeship and sat beside him. I searched for the right words, looked into his grey, glassy eyes and said, “Don’t worry mate, at least you can catch a footy.”