Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Spirits of Lebanon, Part 11

In one respect, Darrow was no different than any other boarding school, or military barracks, or prison. In these places, students, soldiers or inmates engage in typical group dynamics: They establish a pecking order, recognize leaders and select victims. To avoid persecution, you had to follow the accepted norms of behavior and fashion, and it helped greatly if you were not ugly, uncoordinated, effeminate, unstable, uncool, physically disabled, or in any other way different.

Some of the nicknames boys acquired were playful, like "Ma" and "Yoyo." Other were considerably more mean-spirited: "No-Chin" and "Dogface." Worse still were the ugly slurs: "Kike," "Fag," "Queer," and "Gimp."

Boys might prey on victims for the most minor of offenses. I recall one student teased and ridiculed because his madras sport jacket was not 100 percent cotton and from Brooks Brothers but rather some cheap blended fabric from Robert Hall.

For some of us - those lucky enough to be considered cool, or at least not uncool, or perhaps just invisible - life on the mountainside was tolerable and sometimes better. For the persecuted, those were years of fear and agony, creeping from one hiding place, such as a library cubicle, to the safety of their dorm rooms.

It is only years later that the regret and shame of it all begins to seep into your consciousness. You feel awful for being part of the pack that pounced on one of these kids, or, at least, for not coming to the defense of the persecuted.

I returned for a reunion 25 years after graduation and was surprised to see that one of these victimized classmates had also shown up. Why, I wondered, would he want to resurrect such awful memories? Why would he risk ridicule again?

Perhaps going through what he did in those years at Darrow made him stronger and hardened him for life at college, and for that he was grateful.

Of course, none of us teased or ignored him at the reunion. We had grown up. We treated him as we treated our old and good friends. We pretended as if the torture never happened. But sadly, none of us had the guts to tell him, "I'm sorry."

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