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Column: On the roots of violence

Some guy to the left of me is swearing. Loudly. He's calling some guy a shithead and a host of other epithets.

I turn and look at this frat boy in blazer who is obviously drunk out of his mind. Our eyes meet.

"What the f--k are you looking at?"

I shake my head in amazement. I'm a good 30 pounds heavier than this intoxicated little punk. I worked as a nightclub bouncer for nine months. I'm also sober. That this preppy redhead staggering around is taunting me is rather comical.

I laugh.

"I don't have time for this. I just want to watch the game."

But for most of the second half of Saturday's football game this guy yells at me. "f--k you, carpetbagger," is his favorite expression, and, try as his frat brothers do, this kid proceeds to yell an epithet at me about once a minute for a full hour.

For the most part I found it relatively easy to ignore this guy. If I ever found my blood rising I could just turn and caress the neck and hair of the girl I'm watching the game with. Soft skin and soft hair do wonders to diminish one's fighting spirit.

But nonetheless every time I looked left at the scoreboard I'm called a f--king something or other by some guy standing five yards away from me. A few times I'll meet his eyes, which only seems to enrage him further. I snarled once, which immediately brought one of his friends over to apologize for him, but for the most part I behaved like a mature adult, and I'm proud of that.

I'm proud of myself because ignoring some guy willing to belittle you is deceptively difficult to do.

Rationally, willing yourself to merely smile at someone else's attempt to humiliate you in public seems like a no-brainer. After all, clearly he's looking dumber than you are, and if you're with a significant other, you look composed and confident (chicks tend to dig a guy who doesn't have to prove how big his balls are every time someone curses at him).

But there is another aspect, a subconscious urge that makes turning your head away much more difficult. That urge is fury over all the times when you were a little boy and someone assaulted you, fury over how defenseless you felt then as someone physically hurt you repeatedly.

Let me try to explain.

When I look in the mirror now I don't always see what's in front of me. I don't always see 185 pounds of muscle looking back at me. I don't always see eyes hardened by witnessing a close friend's drug overdose or seeing the cigarette scars on her body that her father left.

Sometimes I see a fat, little 10-year old kid victimized repeatedly by so many people around him. No matter how much tougher I make myself, I can never forget how weak I once was or most importantly of all, how helpless I once felt.

If today a fellow student of mine surprised me in a bathroom stall and shook me vigorously so as to make me urinate all over my shoes and pants, I could have him arrested and jailed. We would call that man who did that to me a criminal.

When you're 10 years old in public school, the bigger kid is simply a bully. If you tell a teacher about him he gets detention after school, and then the next day he proceeds hit your head into the wall. Maybe if you're lucky he didn't like d-hall and so instead finds you in the hallway and calls you a faggoty little bitch in front of 20 kids who laugh at you.

For two years I put up with that stuff in public school here in Durham. When I went to prep school up north I got hazed on and off for years. Even as I lifted to get stronger there was always somebody bigger there to push you into a wall.

And then, there are those certain moments in your childhood that you can't block out. Mine was when an uncle of mine came into my house and threw me up against a wall. He held me, all 6-foot-2, 230 pounds of him held me, against a container of Legos, shaking and menacing me. Apparently my grandmother had told him I had mouthed off to her or something, so he felt it his duty to imprint upon me the error of my ways.

When you're 10 years old you have nowhere to go. You count on your parents and your teachers to protect you, and then when they don't you're forced to endure whatever. You cry yourself to sleep at night, and you dread waking up the next day.

I can never shake the pain and the shame that I felt for so many years. I can flex every muscle I have, I can hit a punching bag as hard as I want, but I can never shake it completely.

There is a rage in me that doesn't sleep. No matter how many deep breaths I take it's always there taunting me.

It is that rage that I keep having to quench.

I get challenged to fight a lot in my life. My column about the South has drawn the ire of many, and so usually once a week there's some guy or group of guys yelling and taunting me. I also have lots of gay friends, and so every time I hear the word faggot in public I turn and ask that person not to say that word around me. They offer to fight me as well.

So, on Saturday, when this random drunk frat boy threatens me and calls me name upon name, the part of me that saw what a scared, insecure kid he was found it easy to ignore him. But a portion of me looked into his taunting eyes and saw the eyes of the bullies of my youth.

Rationality is a difficult thing to maintain. The instinct to stand up for yourself, the instinct for vengeance can be immensely powerful.

Indeed, a part of me was wishing that the punk either called me a faggot or called the girl I was with a slut. For all of my gay friends living in fear as well as my female friends who have been victimized, I would have eagerly sent him to the hospital. Transference can be, unfortunately, the most seductive of pleasures.

You know what scares me most? It is that so many men, women and children bear scars far deeper than mine. Their struggle to control their rage is that much more difficult.

Singular acts of violence have impacts that last a lifetime. My friend who bares the scars of her father's cigarettes is forever fighting for self-confidence. Meanwhile, her brother might grow up to be just like her dad.

I see every terrorist act, every murder and every rape, and I don't just see the victims, I see the victims to come. The process is sickeningly circular.

Nick Christie is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle.


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