A Darker Path: Part 7 – Backbone

In the continuing saga, from Part 6.

Inspirational Examples

Of all the teachers I had through primary and high school, none do I remember more fondly than Mr Beer, and Mr Tozer, my Maths III and II teachers respectively.

Mr Beer was simply cool. His approach to teaching complex maths was always with inspirational games and events. He often gave little challenges to test out puzzle solving skills, and one that I remember all too well goes like this;

There is a young lady at an airport somewhere in the world. She has missed her flight, and there isn’t another until the next day, but she is clearly desperate. However, the is nothing to be done. She will have to wait. This is all observed by a gentleman who approaches her as she leaves the check-in counter.

“I couldn’t help noticing that you missed your flight. Can I help?”

“My mother has fallen ill and I really need to get home.” She has clearly been crying.

“Well, I have my own private jet and about to leave. I would be happy to take you wherever you wish to go.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you out of your way. You don’t even know where I am going.”

“It wouldn’t matter. I am heading to Perth in Australia, and I can assure you, wherever you are going, it’ll be on my way.”

The question is, where are they?

I’ll just leave that one for you to ponder. There was also the time he was teaching about using angles to calculate the length, or height, of an object. His approach was to use two navigational angled finders, sextants, to measure the angle of a kite flying above the sporting event on the school oval. We could also measure the distance between the to sextants. Back in class, we used these figures to work out how high the kite flew. Then we went back a tried to get it higher. Maths was fun, when creative solutions are a part of the deal.

Mr Tozer struggled through year 11 with a very slight speech impediment. He was clearly uncomfortable, and classes were somewhat tedious. Between year 11 and 12, something changed. He had learned to overcome his condition, and he was a different man. Suddenly, classes were more interesting, and enjoyable. He was more relaxed and confident. It was rather enlightening to watch, and I think I learnt more in his transition, then in class. For someone who struggled with confidence and image, this was a significant lesson.

Protection in Confusion

A development from my experiments in saying hello to those would did not expect it, was outlandish humour. Having observed people for many years, I knew I didn’t want to be a bully, and use violence as a way to “control” others, but being meek and mild was not working for me either. So I needed something else. Witty repartee was out because I never could think of anything until hours, even days after the event.

So I used to say completely random things. I couldn’t tell you now what I did say. It was just bizarre things. It had the effect of making someone stop, look at you strangely, forget their train of thought, and diminished the effect of anything they might have said. I didn’t mind if people though I was a bit weird. It was better than the alternative.

I used it great effect when in Sydney. I had joined up with a nationally based Saturday morning group, who got together and motivated each other. Quite a few of my school friends were a part of it, I rather enjoyed it all. We had a convention and most of us hopped on over to Sydney for a few weeks. I believe this was during Year 12, although my memory is a little vague.

Walking around Circular Quay, I became aware of the large number of non-english speaking tourists, because every time we walked past a group, they would all start laughing. I admit, I was a little self-conscious, and I couldn’t figure out any reason why they would be laughing at us. So I turned to my friend and said, “I’m going to do something here, and I want you to go with it.” He nodded.

Now, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I know I wanted to do something. So as the next group of tourists approach, and on cue they started babbling to each other, I turned and uttered a stream of utter garbage and gibberish. He, to his immense credit, returned with something equally out there. We were both rather stunned and amused by this that we burst into fits of laughter, much to the wonder and bewilderment of the group we were passing.

It was my ultimate weapon.

Finding a Backbone

To this day, I do not know what motivated a strange turning in someone I had thought as a friend. Climbing a flight of stairs to my , I was startled by the sudden appearance of said friend, who came running around the corner down the stairs. On the way, he punched me in the stomach. Startling in itself, I was blind-sided, winded, and rather bewildered.

Much much later, he apologised. Mind you, he did so with the obvious assistance of others, and he stood there with his cheeky grin, his slightly in-genuine apology, and I, already feeling animosity toward him since the attack, was offended. He held out his hand for a hand shake, and I thought that this was not enough. I stepped forward and punched him in return.

I am not usually one to get involved in fights, and I certainly was not one to initiate them, and I would not encourage anyone to do so. In this moment, it felt right, and it felt good. I never shook his hand, and our friendship was slender from that time on, but to his credit, he took it as a fair cop, if a little unexpected. Someone said to me later, “Nice to see you have a back bone.”

It wasn’t the last time it showed either. In the final days of year 12, I had found a certain degree of freedom from the bullies, taunts, and such. Most had found that I no longer cared what they said to me, or that my confusion tactic was simply too weird for them to hand, or they had found other, better interests. Which ever way, the top order bullies generally left me alone, and that made way for the mid-range wannabes.

It is interesting that there is a clear ranking system when it comes to bullies, and I only realised when I was able to stop worrying about it so much. So it was that on the last day, or near last day, of high school, the one such wannabe bully decided to have a go at the infamous victim. I had just slung my bag over my shoulder when it was knocked of. I turned and saw who it was, and told them to leave me alone as I slung my bag up again. He knocked my bag off a second time, so I told him to get lost. After a third time, I turned, dropped my bag, and told him to F* off.

I didn’t and don’t swear much. When I do, it is usually unexpected, and it certainly was here. For a split second, he was a little stunned, but quickly recovered.

“Oooo, I’m gonna kill you for that.”

I snapped. “Really? You wanna kill me? Right then. Come on. Do it. F*g kill. COME ON. PUT YOUR HANDS AROUND MY THROAT AND KILL ME!” and I dared him to kill me. I got up in his face (he was slightly taller than me) and demanded that he kill me. Old feelings came flooding back. Feelings I had not felt in a very long time, and for a brief moment, I wanted him to do it. I wanted him to try. I wanted to see if he could.

I remember thinking that I had seen death. It was a long dark tunnel with nothing at the end of it, taunting you. If you wanted to talk death and killing, then you better have the balls to follow through with it.

He didn’t. I fact, I think he got more than he bargained for. He didn’t know what to do. That was when on of his mates called to him. He turned, clearly relieved of the distraction. After all, no one wants to fight a mad dog, and told his mate, “Jeff beat me up.”

I almost could hear the click as he realised what he had said, and his mate was rather amused at this also.

“Oh please.” I said. “You really need to grow a pair.” I collected my bag, and left without further incident.

But I was troubled. Old memories had been stirred, and I would have to find a way to bury them back down again.

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