Like old people tend to do, I was recently aware of reminiscing about my early teenage years; in particular about my school days, and specifically, my high school nickname, 'De-link'.
Now you might actually think you can work out how I was given this name, but I'm willing to bet you'd never get it right.
As fate (and my poor study habits) would have it, I had to repeat my second of year high school. I was pissed, to say the least; another year of being bullied and tormented by both teachers and students. Here's what happened.
I walked into the class room, late, because as a repeat student I had to be reassigned to a specific class and it took time for the school dictators to work out where I would go, or perhaps which teacher would put up with me. After all, who would want to deal with a snivelling, red-headed sports-hating boy who was only good for being ridiculed, bashed and intimidated?
So I walked into my new classroom, and the teacher told me to choose a seat. I sat down at the nearest desk, which was right next to the older, bigger, hirsute boy who, unbeknownst to me, was regarded by every student in the class as the most terrifying yeti on the planet.
I didn't know any better, so ever the polite nerd, I greeted him, "Hi, I'm Des."
He looked at me with astonishment, through eyes that hid behind a tangled fringe of black hair that wanted to curl, and told me his name was Barrad. I later learned he was referred to as 'The Barbarian'.
The teacher muttered something along the lines of, "Oh, that's just great, the outcasts sitting together."
I immediately lost it. I'd had enough. I stood up, swallowed my rage, and calmly told the teacher that we were not outcasts unless he treated us like outcasts. If it had been 1975 instead of 1958, I feel certain someone in the class would have proclaimed, "The Force is strong in this one." The truth was, I'd had it with being a victim. Besides which, I was going through puberty and didn't need this 'outcast' crap to think about, along with trying to work out why some boys looked better to me than others.
The teacher just looked at me with a severe expression on his face and told me, "Don't be impudent; I'll have no delinquents in this class."
And for the next two years I was known as 'The Delinquent.' It was quickly shortened to 'Delinkie' and then to just, 'De-link'. I loved it. It was a term of respect and friendship. It changed my life. Looking back on it now, I wonder what would have happened if I had rejected the well meant intent of the friendly nickname. It's so difficult to sort out the slings and arrows of torment from the terms of teasing endearment.
The Barbarian seemed to become quite upset, over time, as I think he felt he was 'the missing link', and 'De-link' should have been his nickname. Luckily, he had his own friends in another class so I didn't need to worry about him.
Thus began the first time in my life in which I could relate to my class-mates without fear. It didn't hurt that I was nearly a year older than them. In hindsight, we had developed that link of trust so often missing amongst young teenagers, who are ever anxious about being hurt by each other.
For the next two years I lived without fear of being bullied or intimidated. I had made four great friendships which continued into my early twenties, when they all found girls to marry, and when I went out of my way to get laid as often as possible...until I became happily entangled in the bonds of love for these past forty years. And no, those high school friends were not gay, but we admitted to loving each other as we shared growing up together; teasing each other, exchanging our discoveries and wondering anew about life. I know some will think we were lucky, and I guess we were, but so often, it seems to me, we need to jump that chasm between fear and trust, the unknown and the known, instinct and intelligence, or our sophistication of thought becomes a missing link forever.
With that link to reality no longer missing, we have the means to recognise the real perils of our existence. We then can realise the rewards of sharing our lives in friendship and love, and we discover that living...well, it does get better...and I remember that even that teacher's attitude improved.