I Don’t Care

“Whaaa!?” he responded, like I just gave him an impossible answer.

“I. Don’t. Care.” I repeated.

It was almost like an anniversary now. Right before a mission trip, I have to have words with everybody’s favorite Box Troll.

Ever since the conflict we had a year ago, I kept a wide birth from this guy to avoid another needless confrontation. No talking, no pranks, I even go to a different breakroom than him. This day, however, I was unlucky enough to be assigned as a box maker and he was working as a stock guy, a worker who ensures that the outbound packers and box makers have enough supplies for their jobs by wheeling dozens of pallets of unfolded boxes and other office supplies into designated areas.

Sometimes a box or two would have too much glue and cannot go through the box machine. When that happens, it jams the machine and someone has to manually extract the box. Sometimes we get an entire pallet of flat boxes that can’t go through the machine. In this case, I would pull the entire pallet off to the side to be recycled and open a new pallet and start again fresh. This was the way I was trained to handle these problems and have been doing so for years.

But the Box-troll did not approve of this method. As he was doing his rounds, he saw what I was doing with the problem boxes and decided to instruct me the “proper” method of dealing with the problem. He grabbed the boxes I had thrown out and ordered me to tape them by hand later and to go through the hundreds that were still on the pallet I put aside and check each box for its ability to go into the machine. Having been a stock guy myself, I know how time consuming his job can be. I rarely had time for idle chit-chat. When I make deliveries for box-making, I just drop off the box-maker’s cargo and leave them to whatever method they wish. Why should I care, as long as the job gets done?

The first time we clashed, we resolved our differences by chucking insults at each other and were one step away from killing each other. This time I did my best to keep a lid on my explosive anger in favor of a civil confrontation.

After he ordered me to waste time checking each box for quality, I argued.

Me: “That would take too much time.”

Troll: “You can’t throw out an entire pallet just because of 1 or 2 bad boxes.”

Me: “What about 4 or 6 in a row?”

Troll: Gestures to the pallet itself, “Do you know how many boxes you would be throwing away?”

Me: “I don’t care.”

Troll: “Whaa?!”

For a moment I looked at me like my pants suddenly caught fire.

When I am set to work on something, I always aim to do my best. Even if I do hate said job. I pride myself on diligence, efficiency, and most of all, flexibility. The Troll’s method, however, was borderline obsession. Between my work-rate, bills, and other responsibilities at home, I had no time to ponder the fate of some lone boxes that can’t go into a folding machine easily.

“Why are you even working here?” The troll continued. “If you don’t like working in box-making, say something to the managers.”

Me: “I did. And they still sent me over here.”

Troll: Left to complain to the managers. Undoubtedly to report that I don’t deserve to be in box-making like he usually does. When he came back, he continued to rant.

Troll: “I can’t understand you. If you are so unhappy here, why don’t you get another job elsewhere?”

Me: “If it were that easy, I would have left ages ago.”

Troll: “Anyone can get a job!”

Me: “What about a dream job?”

Troll: Starts cackling like a villain from a cheap cartoon.

Me: Looking bemused. “What’s wrong with having a dream job?”

Troll: “All you need are the benefits.” Still amused by my optimism, he finally walked away.

He was a jerk then and he was still a jerk now. This man was truly my enemy. In fact, my opposite in a way.  He was lame, hopeless, and completely without ambition. In other words, a tool. A minion would raise an eyebrow at this guy.

If this job makes him happy, fine. But the only opinion that the Box Troll respected was his own and he fights to share his dismal existence with the world. He can rot in his cardboard coffin for all I care. I’m going to embrace the warm sun and experience life when I can, while I can.

Nobody has the right to laugh at another’s dreams. Hope and dreams are what fuel our reasons to live and urges us on to continue forward on our journeys. Without those dreams, we would become the pessimist who complain about everything and accomplish nothing with their lives.

Beware of Trolls That Dwell in Cardboard Castles

The week before my trip, I had a conflict with a coworker. Not my fault! This individual typically works in my warehouse’s box-making area…and nothing else. Box making isn’t a difficult task. The chore involves taking flat boxes from a pallet, load them into a folding machine, take folded shipping boxes from the machine, and loading them onto a motorized overhead conveyor to be distributed to the warehouse packers. A dismal task to say the least. If it wasn’t boring, then it was annoying, as the machine would always break down if you so much as look at it.

My coworker, however, took great pride in this task. So much so, he believed he the manager of box making. He was no manager. This pride has rewarded him with a nasty temper and would often snap at anyone who wouldn’t do things his way or who denied him his favorite job. Even before our confrontation, I didn’t agree with what he did, how he treats others, or his lack of spirit in life despite being only in his mid-thirties.

If he wasn’t belittling someone for bring him the wrong colored pallet-jack, he was inventing new rules that the real managers didn’t authorize, saying that certain people don’t deserve to work there, loath the company picnic at an amusement park, and made his coworker’s jobs harder than it needed to be. And now it was my turn to work with him.

I was going about my business. I had my box-folding machine, and he had his on the opposite side of the area. I loaded my boxes on to the trolley, saying nothing, and he did the same. As I was working, I felt some kind of tension in the air, the same kind of aura you would feel from an angry parent, but my thoughts were too occupied elsewhere to care. My head was dancing with excitement for the prospect of going to Belize and imaging what wondrous adventures I may have. I couldn’t care less about the other guy or what his problem was. For three hours, we said nothing to each other ––– not even a “hello.”

I was about to load a stack of finished boxes onto the trolley. Then – Boom! – I was shoved out of the way by the supposed Box Master. Instead of an apology, he went on a rant that I wasn’t doing my job properly and that his boxes were more important than mine. I was stunned, but only for a moment. My mind briefly flashed back to the soulless English teacher that bullied me in college. I then felt a grenade pin drop in my mind. The anger I have suppressed from that time combined with the frustration of my unfulfilled life came out all at once.

My retort was loud and came complete with colorful names and signing a very insulting salute. My reply made the coworker-turned-box troll angrier and started proclaiming that I was an evil person. Making insulting accusations that loosely translate to “nobody likes me,” “I intentionally annoy others,” and “I was alone and soulless.” I saw that this conflict could only end badly as he knocked over a stack of boxes during his hissy fit. So instead of risking my job over the Box Troll, I packed up my things, left to report to the managers, and left more kindly words as a rebuttal as I left.

I wasn’t terribly injured, but I have already lost a battle with one adult bully; I was not going to be a victim to another. Not without sharing my honest opinion of him. Even if he was signing my checks, he had no excuse to treat me like an underling. And besides, of all the problems in the world, he chose to pick a fight over boxes…how lame is that?

When I relayed my story to my manager, she was not surprised to hear that the Box Troll has scared off another partner. I was not the first to be chewed out by the Box Master over his supposed supremacy in his domain. It was no secret to anyone that he loathed anything but cardboard construction and demanded respect for his “skills.”

After I was reassigned to a new job and had time to cool my head, I began to reflect on what happened back there. I had only worked with him a few times and I knew very little about what he does outside the warehouse, or if he even has a life outside his job. I was certain he knew as much about me as I did of him. So how could he have possibly become so convinced that I was an evil person when all he knew about me was that I was a piss-poor box maker? How could he say such cruel things about me when our dialog between each other has been shorter than the attention span of a goldfish?

From my training as a social worker, I analyzed what I knew of this man to make some kind of sense of this his obsession for paper containers. After some hours of pondering, the only reason that made any sense to me is that he wanted control like most bullies. From my prior interaction with this guy, I gathered that he may lack control over his life at home and the reason he enjoys box-making so much is to take back some of the power he lacks from home through his coworkers. And now he hates me because I question his authority, I debate his methods, I didn’t show him the respect I would show a manager, and I didn’t give him control over me.

As sad as all of this may seem, I don’t have any pity for him. I’m not a professional social worker yet, he wasn’t my client, and he doesn’t want my help. The Box Troll may keep his precious Cardboard Kingdom. He can shout and play with his imaginary power all he wants, but I know for a fact that I am still better than him. I don’t need to step on others to feel good about myself. I don’t need to bully others to have control over my life. I have a lifetime’s worth of astonishing achievements under my belt with no intention of slowing down. Now I’m journey-bound to Belize to build a home made of wood, dreams, and hope.

The Monsters Still Chase Me

Ever since my time in Middle School, I saw that all teachers as heroes and advocates for students that were experiencing trouble. They answered my many questions, tolerated my ignorance and protected me from bullies. However, I soon found out that not all professors were as friendly and helpful toward their pupils.

As I said before, I had bullies in my younger years of life, but I wasn’t targeted for my autism specifically. My youthful tormentors usually preyed on me because I was seen as a loner with lousy social skills. As such, I was a good source for a cheap laugh. I wasn’t afraid of them; they were only immature jerks.

My only true villain didn’t appear until in my second year of college. The fully-grown bully was not a fellow classmate on campus or an old peer from my early years. The situation would probably have been far more favorable if he had been. My bully at this point in my life, the person who harassed me for my autism, was a College professor.

This whole affair began in my sophomore year of college when I was taking a Standard English class for my General Education requirements. On my first day in the class, I went up to the teacher, introduced myself, handed him my disability papers, and took an advantageous seat in the front row. In all fairness, upon my first meeting with my teacher, he seemed like a nice guy. My tasks in the class were simple: Read the many short stories in the assigned book, take a short quizzes based on the readings, write three papers for the semester, and study for three tests plus the final exam.

For the next few months I did my best to earn a decent grade on my appointed assignments. However, nothing I did seemed to please the teacher. During my Study Table hours at KAP, I would read the scheduled stories, memorize the key notations, and have KAP help me prepare for the quiz the following day. However, on the quizzes, he wouldn’t ask for the main ideas, Meta messages, foreshadowing, or the moral of the story. No. Instead he would ask for the details of the story that were often missed due to their unimportance to the tale; tidbits that would pass off as decoration to fluff up the story. If the short story had a street brawl, he would ask for the eye color of the mute onlookers. If the story were about a teen girl confronting a dangerous youth, he would ask about what kind of wallpaper she had in the kitchen. If the tale was about a lottery that nobody wanted to win, he would ask what kind of weather the villagers were having. And so I would get nothing but F’s on my quizzes. My grades for the writing assignments for the class weren’t much better.

In spite of my best effort, despite all my work and dedication, the English teacher would pass back my papers with an F stamped on it and not have a single comment to explain why. Three months into the class, and I was at my wits’ end. If it will help me improve, I will accept any form of constructive criticism, but all I was getting back were failed assignments, failed tests, and a improving migraine. I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time.

Difficulty understanding English assignments was not a new concept for me. Weather it was writing my own story or interpreting someone else’s, I would always need help. So I thought there were more unwritten rules I wasn’t picking up on. I approached the teacher many times to figure out what was going on. But he would only provide limited feedback, a smile, and say, “Hang in there.” His response gave me a glimmer of hope, but no answers.

It wasn’t until my second test I figured out what was REALLY going on. Before the second test took place, I had spent many hours each day reviewing the class’s test material and, after the test, I felt really confident in the results. But alas, there was nothing but an F waiting for me upon grading day. In dismay, I approached the teacher one last time to ask one last question, WHY? “What was I doing wrong?” I asked him.

I was expecting some form of constructive criticism, but all he said was “You didn’t answer the questions the right way.” …. WHAT!?

I snapped. “What do you mean ‘the right way’?!” I asked in outrage.

He quickly silenced me and said, “You should be grateful for the grades I have given you! I will report your poor behavior to KAP. Do you understand?!”

At this point, I had plenty to say in response with some very choice words and colorful vocabulary to this man, but before then, I had to keep myself from crying.

Bigots, racists, prejudice. I have known of their existence since I did a report on the Ku Klux Klan back in Middle School. Ever since I have grown to despise such idealism and the creatures that worship it. I despise what they have done in the past. And I despise them still what they do now. I have seen such bigots in action in the form of the annoying protestors that insists that Gods hates homosexuals.

I have come to despise the idea of judging someone for not WHO they are but WHAT they are. I can always change WHO I am through the choices I make each and every day. I cannot, however, change WHAT I am because I did not choose to be born as a human, where I was raised, my parents, or to have Autism.

Although I was aware of bigotry in all of its elements, this was the first time I felt the cold jagged blade of prejudice stabbing my heart. How naive of me to believe the threat of bullying would just end with high school. Bullying can carry into adulthood too. Never before had I felt so helpless. I knew that I was different from everyone else. But I had assumed that being different were the only extent of the damage. Things that are deviant was not supposed to be a sin. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely pathetic.

I spent the rest of the day in doldrums, wandering from class to class, half aware of my surroundings. I tried to focus on my studies but I just too depressed to care. Helpfully, the kind organizers at KAP were as devastated and outraged at this development as I was and tried their hardest to rectify the situation in my favor. However, whenever KAP tried to contact the teacher, he would have a “convenient” excuse at the last minute to miss the meeting. When they finally cornered the rat, it was already too late for me and many others in my class. It was the first time in my life I had an F on my report card.

The semester finally ended with lackluster results. I may have walked out a little wiser, but I was mostly mad. I was infuriated at the professor for being a fat egotistic demon disguised as a teacher and mad at myself for not seeing the signs earlier that this instructor had no intention of giving me a chance to succeed.

A semester later after that horrible experience, I learned that another student at KAP was taking the same English professor I had and was having an equally difficult time with him.

It is a learned habit of mine to retain all of my notes and assignment papers of past classes just in case I might need them for future reference.

Feeling sympathy for the student, I tried to help him out by rendering all of my class notes, assignments, and quizzes that I kept from that class. I hoped that the notes would give him a fighting chance and to succeed where I have failed. He was grateful of course and used my notes. Nonetheless, my hopes were in vain. The professor still wouldn’t pass him despite his best efforts, and I felt nothing but rage.

I was betrayed! Teachers are meant to guide and protect their students and every professor before this bully did just that. How dare he deny me the one thing I ask, one chance to prove myself.

My heart was filled anger and anguish. After this episode, I thirsted for revenge. While I paced, I had countless dark fantasies of payback, each one blacker than the last. But I could not bring myself to act on any of them. Not because “revenge is wrong,” “hatred leads to more hatred,” “violence solves nothing,” “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or other similar clichés. As needlessly cruel as my pretend proctor was, I refused to become his successor and become a monster like him.

I don’t how or when, but I do know that such villainy rarely goes unchallenged. Be it of God’s wrath or karma’s cycle, he will be punished for his transgressions. Such is the way of all with closed minds, bigoted attitudes, and inflated egotists –they will get their just rewards in the end.

So, life moves on. Although I was still bitter about what happened to me in that class and how I was treated; I had to realize that life had hills and potholes and I had to learn to get over them or endure them. I learned to both choose my classes and my professors more carefully. I have also learned that it does no good to worry about the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” All it is extra baggage and I wouldn’t become any stronger nor wiser by lugging it around. The only thing I could do was pick myself up, dust myself down, and move on.

Hurdles and Monsters Oh My!

The Fast Track To A Dead-end

Although the Special Needs School was a great academic safe haven for my particular needs, I knew that I couldn’t stay in this place for long. You see I wanted to become a mechanical/robotics engineer for my adult career and to achieve this feat I couldn’t stay in the special needs program forever. As such, I stayed with this school for only three years (4th, 5th, and 6th grade). Just long enough to bring myself up to speed before transferring to the public mainstream again.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that everything in my life just magically fell into place. And I’m not going to tell you that most of the schools that I applied to opened their doors and rolled out the red carpet. On more than one occasion I was almost denied the school of my dreams. Denied the chance to show people who I am and what I’m capable of. Denied the opportunity to fulfill my potential. All because I wasn’t a cut-copy-and-paste student.

At first they were reluctant to take me because I didn’t do so well of their entrance exam, but my parents were determined to get me in and to get them to understand that I had the skills to succeed.

To convince the managers of my Middle School, and later on high school, my parents arranged meetings with Individual Education Program (IEP) and invoked their services. At IEP meetings, you, your family, and a lot of school officials decide what your “program” will consist of.

In these IEP meetings, there will be at least one person in the room who is in charge of the budget. As part of being responsible with the wallet, it is their job to find the most cost effect method your special needs. In other words; do nothing, and say, “We can’t afford it.” Other officials at the meeting feel that if the child is “different”; give them the water-downed course that guarantees a slow road to a lackluster career.

To contend with the IEP board, my parents did a lot of homework before each meeting. In the first few meetings, the board would hand my parents a single sheet of paper and call it the list of rules of what they can and can’t do. My Mom didn’t buy it, and countered their grocery list with their own rules and quoted word for word what is written in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.) detailing exactly what I’m entitled to and what the IEP board is required to do. And that always got them. In order to get anything from IEP, my parents had to learn the rules of I.D.E.A. inside and out.

The accommodations that I asked for weren’t unreasonable. I did not ask for the streets to be made with gold bricks. I could understand and do the work like that of my peers. I just understand things in the world in a unique way. All I asked for were some extra tools to help me operate in the best way possible. All we wanted were extra time to complete a class project, extra time to finish a test, and early notifications of upcoming events, plus a rental laptop, as assigned seat on the school bus and in class, and a locker at the end of a row. The reason being for the assigned places; was for a peace of mind.

To me, school buses were a big, yellow, four-wheeled vehicle designed to transport a large number of students to and from school. To everyone else, it was a gas-driven social zoo. And just like any other social gathering, it had unspoken rules of how things are done. Rules like, if you want a seat to yourself, you’re not going to get one. The bus will always have twice the number of people than it’s supposed to have. If you see someone sleeping alone in a seat, wake him up. He’s faking in order to protect his private seat. If you have someone that’s picking on you or bothering with his immature pranks, don’t get revenge by hitting him. He is a jerk, but he will win.

During my daily passage from Home to Middle School, such tricksters have constantly taunted me. They find amusement by hounding me with ill games and this often distracted me from my studies at school. In response, my parents marched up to the bus company and demanded that I would have an assigned seat next to a bus monitor. The company tried to discourage her by saying that there is no policy on assigned seats. But my mom was very persuasive. She argued that either I got the seat I wanted or they were to send a private bus for me. Eventually the bus company complied, and I got a safe seat on the bus to and from school. You can’t imagine what a relief it was!

Just as with school buses, having a locker at end of row was much more vital than you’d think. At the time I also didn’t like being boxed between others. You could say that this was a form of sensory claustrophobia. As such, my mom also made arrangements with the school to have my locker on the ends and my seat location on the ends so that I had plenty of elbow room. Eventually I gradually grew around this and learned how to be more tolerable of inconvenient circumstances.

 

New Jungles

Engineering was a sensible career, I had a deep fascination with the field of machines, a no-nonsense sensibility, and since my favorite toys as a child were Legos, Knexs, and Erector sets this was a perfect choice. I thought to myself: “How hard could it be?”

When the day came for me to transition from the safety of the Special Needs School to the regular Middle School, naturally I was petrified. The class size was bigger, the students were rowdier, and the teachers were less hands-on when teaching their lesson. However, in order for me to enter a high school of my choice, one that would allow me to fulfill my ambitions to become an engineer, transferring protocols dictated that I needed to take at least two years of public junior high. So, in the fall of 2001, I started my first years of public middle school. The most horrid two years of my life.

My chosen junior high was a mathematics/science/technology magnet by nature. Much of the school’s curriculum was geared towards the introduction of computers, electronic encyclopedias, graphing calculators, and video-editing equipment. In this school, there were also teachers that knew of my condition and very supportive of my ambitions. This school would lay the groundwork for all of my academic strengths and aspirations. The other students on the other hand, I could have done without.

Despite the school’s excellent reputation and good intentions, the atmosphere of this school seemed more appropriate for a daycare center than a school and a wild, out-of-control daycare center at that! My peer’s maturity levels left much to be desired. At first I thought that the biggest adjustment from a safe school to a public middle school was the social order. Unfortunately, it was not just the schools themselves who were different; it was the people that inhabit the school that was different. There were a sizable number of the students that were loud, obnoxious, and immature. Although I was never thrilled about going to school for those two long years, I went anyway to fulfill my educational commitment and to move on. During this time these juveniles often bothered me with childish pranks and they were deliberately disobedient to the brave teachers.

I didn’t understand the rationale behind the behavior of these kids. Even though my classmates were about the same age I was, I still considered them immature, childish, and collectively, the peanut gallery. Why would anyone purposely taunt and test the patience of the one who decides if you pass or fail a class? It made no sense.

In my mind I would often scream, “THIS is the task we are supposed to do, and THIS is how we do it. What part of that aren’t you getting?!” There is a time and place for everything, but I could not understand it. The students knew they had commitments to fill, so why would they waste their precious time to play childish pranks that should be reserved for elementary kids? There were even times that I wanted to aggressively discipline the dunderheads myself.

However, I didn’t act upon my urges no matter how strong the urge or how unpleasant the company. I knew that if I got into any trouble with the students or the school, I might forfeit my chances to enter a respectable high school and have repeat this whole horrible experience again elsewhere in a less privileged school.

As such, I performed my daily tasks and tolerated the company. My dedicated diligence often left me alone quite often. It was a rare commodity during these times to have a proper friend or common companion as I did in previous years. With that, I often found comfort and camaraderie with the teachers rather than with my peers.

This often made me feel like an alien in my own skin. “Why didn’t I act like the other students?” My parents knew I was odd. I knew that the world was odd. But this was the first time I thought I was odd. Why didn’t I talk as often as the other kids? Why didn’t we hang out? Maybe the difference between my classmates and myself was not just intelligence; maybe it was sociability.

Although I was diagnosed with autism when I was around eight years old and I was admitted into a special-needs school, I thought the world was just being unfair. However, during my years in Middle School, I began to acknowledge that autism had a real effect on me and that I would always be different from my peers. Over time, I began to see my autism as a new appendage or a traveling companion rather than a disabling condition. Sure, there was plenty I didn’t understand about people and proper order or things and I needed some special tools to help me succeed. I was still moving under my own power and the people around never handed me anything. I earned all of my rewards with hard work and determination.

My success, despite my supposed disability, was often reflected in my grades at school and in my GPA. In spite of having a zoo for Class Company, I was on the Honor Roll and my GPA was 3.5. I accredit this difference in maturity to my autism. I discovered that because of my autism, I had a no-nonsense outlook on my life and, as such, my persona grew mature at a faster pace as well as my sense of responsibility. I also discovered that I was both task-and goal-oriented when it came to completing my tasks. I never felt right if an assignment was only left half done.

2003 was the year I finally transitioned from middle school to high school. A most blessed change. When I entered through the doors of High School for the first time, I was immediately immersed by new surroundings, landmarks, laws, and culture shock. My particular high school was an engineering magnet school and was equipped with an advanced engineering program. The program was a four-year pre-engineering program whose mission is to teach high school students the basis of industrial engineering, including some pretty advanced courses such as computer aided drafting and circuit building. These courses aside, the students that make up this school were just as interesting.

My first culture shock in this place came to me when came across a peer with his pants sagging below his waist. My first thought that this young man must be unaware what had happened. So being the helpful sort that I am, I offered that he needs to pull up his pants before he trips. As a response, instead of a “Thank you for your concern” the young man responded; “You should pull your pants down!” in a playful tone. The reaction was more than a little unexpected. What custom or reason could possible warrant one’s pants to be so uselessly low like that? My last school was full of jerks, but everybody was clever enough to operate a belt. I tried to think of reason, but I could find none. So, I dismissed the incident that the person was an idiot. This was, in fact, in a strange new jungle.

There were some immature brats here and there. Yet, unlike the years before, the social crowd I was with had matured somewhat. When I looked around in this school, I was able to find individuals who cared about their future and were willing to take big steps to achieve their life ambitions. I didn’t quite understand some of the locals, but then again, school is about learning something new.

Unfortunately, new jungles came with new predators and my parents or my teachers could not protect me from everything life could throw at me. There were some things I had to deal with myself. That’s right; I had bullies in Middle School and High School.

 

Monsters and Heroes

            Bullies are monsters, a word that I don’t use often or use carelessly. Their only objective is to bar another person’s path and sling mud on to another’s ambitions. Bullies are created from the cycle of violence. One bully vents their hostility on a victim for any minute reason, then after a time that victim’s pain and rage swells to the point they take it out on another victim, and then a new bully is born. Bullies breed like an infestation, creating an endless cycle of hate.

bully-cycle

This is not the only fate of a victim. A victim of a bully can also lead to depression, madness, and even death. Bullies are creatures to fear. I live in a society where confronting a bully is not so simple. In this modern day, outside of a video game, a sword with good intentions can’t solve all of your problems, even if they deserve it. The rule here is that the last one to throw the punch will lose. After all, who are the lawmakers going to believe is the innocent victim? The one with blood on their fists? Or the one with blood on their face? Might doesn’t make right.

TV doesn’t offer any more clarity. As opposed to TV bullies, real bullies are harder to identify, don’t always get their just desserts in the end, and they don’t magically go away after 30 minutes. Just like every person is an individual and every autistic person is an individual, every bully is also an individual and must be treated as such.

I have learned early in my life that if there is even one thing that makes you different from anyone else, someone is not going to approve. As such, I never revealed that I had autism to my peers. Not in Elementary, Middle, or High School. Never, ever, ever. I feared if the wrong person heard of my struggles, they would find amusement by making my life harder.

Unfortunately, I was right. But autism wasn’t the only factor. To my benefit, they did not target me for my autism. I knew to keep it a secret from my peers. I knew that people had a nasty habit of treating others differently because of things like this, and I didn’t want that. My youthful tormentors usually preyed on me because I was normally seen alone and appeared to be underequipped socially. As such, they would harass me to get a cheap laugh at my expense, copy off my notes because they were lazy, stuff garbage in my backpack, or suffocate me with cigarette smoke in the bathroom. I had a hard time opening up to anyone or trusting someone new. I so wanted to have friends I could hang out with after school, but with so many bullies lurking about, I would just choke. The few people I could open up to at school were the teachers.

In both Middle and High School, I had been in good graces with all of my teachers. Not because my IEP or my parents demanded it. It was because I always strived to go above and beyond of what they asked. When there was something I didn’t understand from a lesson, I would walk up after class and ask for a better explanation. When I wanted to know if my assignment was up to par with the professor’s expectations, I would shoot them an e-mail to clarify if I was on the right track. When I had a question on how to prepare for an exam, I would go and find my professor’s office and ask him/her to give me some direction on what to study. For that, all my professors recognized my earnestness, my diligence, and my sincerity. That audacity was rewarded with help inside and outside the classroom when I asked for it. And I thank them greatly for it.