Saturday, May 30, 2020

That Time I Fought Everyone

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had this strong sense of justice – albeit, that might sound a bit self-righteous by modern standards. Still, it is a personal virtue (in my opinion), that I’ve always held true to. 

Partially at least, I would attribute this to the myriad of superhero cartoons and other shows within the same genre that I grew up with. My favorite was definitely the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I religiously waited for every Friday night on ABS-CBN together with my big sister. Sometimes, the show would be canceled for something else for no particular reason. It also moved timeslots several times over the years. We loved the pilot episodes of the show when we first saw it via a rented betamax tape. Of course, we did start to notice that as the show went on, the turtles weren’t even using their weapons anymore. Eventually, the fighting devolved to tripping up their opponents with booby traps or smacking them with pizza pies to the face. The Shredder went from being some fearsome villain to a complete joke… but we tolerated it because we liked the show initially. Kids were generally simple that way. You might think this naïve, but information was not as accessible back then so we were unlikely to complain about every little thing; thus, radical progressive ideas just didn’t exist – at least as far as kids were concerned. Perhaps I’m alone in my thoughts, but to the best of my understanding, no kid in the 90’s was thinking about LGBTBBQOMGWTFLOL and SJW feminist rights, kids just wanted to have fun and not be spoonfed pseudo-facts with politically-colored intentions by social justice warriors using “kindness” as a weapon to ironically and hypocritically spew unkind words upon the rest of humanity who disagree with their snowflake mentality.

So? Did this result in inhumane, suppressed conditions leading to a lifetime of trauma for people who wish to be called “persons” and not be defined by binary pronouns? Uh… no, but you’re free to think that way if it helps you sleep better at night. At least none of my classmates from IAMS – even the openly homosexual ones (yes, they existed) felt depressed, repressed, or oppressed – but perhaps that’s just me being a privileged white male imposing my own thoughts on someone else – oh wait, I’m a chinky-eyed Filipino from a small island in the Philippines – how does that work?

In any case, this was a time before cable TV and our parents would rent out a new betamax tape or two for us every weekend at a local video rental shop called Video World. Surprisingly, it still exists today, although it moved from The Amigo Plaza Hotel Mall to a place somewhere in Calle Real. A few other notable shows I grew up with were G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, The Smurfs, Ewoks – basically, many different shows wherein the main protagonists possess a strong sense of justice and the main overarching theme is about how good triumphs over evil.

Naturally, as we grow into all adulthood all of us eventually come to realize that our interactions with other individuals often fall somewhere in that gray area between what absolute good and absolute evil. Thus, as a 9 year-old child back then, I lived in this world of good versus evil – and so, this is how I chose to deal with the people around me.

This is one particular story of what I perceived to be a great injustice. Unfortunately, unlike the previous stories of my childhood days that I’ve written before, this one doesn’t end very well – but then again, such is life. Not everything is always resolved cleanly and all of us who have gotten this far often bear many emotional as well as physical scars from the past.

Roughly, I remember that it was about the middle of the school year when I’d finally settled down and been accepted as “one of the group,” as I was a transferee to IAMS at Grade 3. Just like most other kids my age, I loved to play – even if I am an introvert. It was early morning just before classes started and I was playing a game of tag with a friend from my class, Jerson. I was “it” and because he kept a considerable distance from me all the time and he was a pretty fast runner, I was having trouble tagging him.
This was when the wheels in my head began to turn. I made an exaggerated wheezing sound and put my hands on my bent knees with my head hung low as if I was out of breath. The ruse worked and he started gloating and dancing around while clinging to a metal pole. It was one of many metal poles around the IAMS campus grounds that was used to hang banners and stuff. It was cemented in place to an old wheel to make it easy to move around.

Anyway, I let Jerson gloat there for about 10-15 seconds while I kept pretending to be oh so tired… then suddenly, from out of nowhere, I pounced. I dashed in to tag him when he wasn’t looking and then disaster struck. The plan was so effective that he panicked when I tried to go in for the tag and rushed forward straight into the flagpole.

I asked him if he was ok and he covered his forehead, smiled at me and waved with his hand to tell me he was fine – but as soon as he took his hand off his forehead, blood spurted out like a fountain. He caught some of it on his hands and the look of shock on his face was akin to someone who was facing certain doom. 

The teachers and school security were quick to react. It must have taken them no more than a minute to get there and rush him to the hospital… but this is not the story of injustice – oh no, the story proper starts after Jerson’s accident.
I was quite shocked myself, so I slowly made my way back to our classroom and when I got there, I saw accusatory glances everywhere. I heard several remarks such as:

“Cymark! What have you done to Jerson?”

“What did Jerson ever do to you? You might have killed him?”

“It’s all your fault that Jerson is in the hospital!”

What is worse is that our homeroom teacher (in our terms, our “adviser”) but she seemed to be just allowing these things to happen unchecked. Perhaps, she herself believed that I was guilty.

Of course, I shouted out in protest that I didn’t do anything and that they weren’t even there to witness the accident. I told them to ask Jerson himself when he gets back.

But I was just a single voice in a sea of what I felt to be very unjust accusations. They were treating me like some kind of monster with fingers everywhere pointed in my direction like I was some kind of criminal. I couldn’t tell who was who anymore because more than any feelings of guilt, the rage at being so unjustly accused without even being heard out was smoldering like an uncontrollable wildfire inside of me.

I let out a scream of primal rage and concentrated all the power in my body. 

Our homeroom teacher panicked and instead of attempting to stop me herself, she called out for the boys in our class to restrain me because in her own words, “Naga incredible hulk sya!” (He’s becoming the incredible hulk)

This remark caused me to snap. I screamed: “Do not touch me or I will punch you! You think I’m guilty? Anyone who thinks I’m guilty come out here right now and line up! I’ll take you all on one by one!”

I marched out of the classroom pushing anyone who got in my face out of my way. As I said before, I didn’t even know who was who anymore. This was the angriest that I’d ever been in my entire life. To add to my indignation, I saw about six boys actually follow me out of the room.  I was thinking, “Oh, you’re approaching me? Then come as close as you like (lol you know how the Jojo meme goes)”
Before I knew it, even the girls had followed me out. There was a cyclone wire fence just outside our room and the walkway was on an elevated platform. I’d actually factored this in inside of my head when I asked any challengers to come follow me.

Then, without hesitation, I launched a flying lunge kick straight at the nearest boy and sent him tumbling over onto his back. This caused him to bowl over two more boys who quickly got up to try and hit me for that. However, there was a huge difference in our desires to fight. I for one was prepared to fight to the death any of my accusers at that point, but these other boys challenging me, I was pretty sure they had very little resolve. I just kept throwing lunge kicks in their direction and they kept just receiving it squarely on the torso forcing them to retreat. Eventually, one of them decide to kick me as well – so I kicked his foot, which sent him tumbling backwards like the rest of them. At the side, I saw Damian, my bully from before cheering me on for some reason. This caused me to smirk… which was then again wrongly interpreted by my homeroom teacher.

“Oh my God! He’s smiling! He’s being possessed by a demon!”

Of course, it had to come to an end eventually. I was suddenly yanked by my collar to the side by a burly handyman who works for the school. His nickname was “Nene,” but I never knew his real name. I screamed until my throat was sore for him to let me go and fight me man to man.

He was flabbergasted that I’d challenge him – an adult (he was a short, rotund man, just about the same height as me but much, much larger in terms of body mass.) He then took out some pliers and pointed them directly at my nose.
He told me:
“Maisog ka maskin imo pa sala? Gusto mo utdon ko ilong mo?” (You being stubborn even though it was your fault? Want me to cut off your nose?)

I screamed out once again, “WALA KO YA SALA!” (I WAS NOT AT FAULT!)

Eventually, I settled down and stopped struggling which caused him to let me go. We all went back to class and our homeroom teacher told everyone to be understanding towards me because even though I’m smart, I’m a bit special. I’m not sure how clever she thought she was, but the implication that I was autistic or was an “abno” as we used to call them did not escape me.

The good news is that Jerson returned to class by recess time and he clearly spelled it out for everyone that it was his own fault and not mine because we were both just playing around. I believe, at least, that my classmates did not hold any grudges against me for my unstoppable temper tantrum after this incident. 

In hindsight, this was an accident that would continue to haunt me for decades to come. Every now and then, I still have this recurring nightmare wherein I’m totally naked and being chased by a horde of native warriors armed with spears and bows while I’m running as fast as my legs would carry me not out of fear, but powered by the rage of not being able to fight back against the insurmountable force that is chasing me. The dream would always end when I’m cornered and I decide to fight back with all my might – only to punch the wall next to my bed in real life.

This incident taught me that there are some things in life that will always be beyond your control. People will form opinions about you based on their own personal biases and trying to change their minds will only hurt you in the end. Most of all, it taught me to harbor a certain disgust and distrust for groups and communities – especially the people who rely on them to validate their own existence. I learned to stand on my own in any endeavor – without relying on anyone else; a philosophy that I will always strive to live by.

Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to this story -- no clean resolution, but the silver lining is that no one was truly hurt beyond repair. Sometimes, this is the best that we can ask for in this cruel world of ours. Learn to live with the small heartaches and move forward. Stand up for your rights --always, but don't ever expect the world to be perfect.

Funnily enough, as I would learn later on, my mother had been through a similar incident in her adult life -- but that's a story for her to tell someday.

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