Poor Me! — by Eric Marcus
Scott Schwartz had it in for me. I don’t know why. Maybe because I wore ugly corrective shoes. Glasses, too (black plastic frames purchased at a discount store on Jamaica Avenue in Queens). And I had a bad haircut. I was also small for my age, sat in the front row of our fifth grade class, and was always eager to answer questions. No one used the word then, but I was a fag and Scott knew it even if I didn’t.
But if Scott was going to kick my ass, like he’d threatened, he’d have to catch me first. Despite my shoes, he could never outrace me. Maybe that bothered him, too. Scott wasn’t fat, but he was chubby and slow moving. So he enlisted Richard Mennenger. A big guy by comparison. Athletic. Fast. Still, it took them the length of 82nd Road before they could pin me to a tree.
I didn’t struggle. With Richard pressed against me there was no getting away. I didn’t cry. I’d chew my lip off before I let them see me cry. “Just don’t break my new glasses,” I told them, because I knew that my hardworking mother hadn’t yet finished paying for them.
Scott took his time preparing for the kill, stroking one hand with the other, making and unmaking his fist. All the while, a smirk pasted on his round face. But my attacker was so focused on terrorizing me that he didn’t notice when a city bus pulled up a hundred feet away and disgorged its passengers. The last person to step off the bus was a cop in uniform.
The policeman locked eyes with me and headed our way. “What’s going on?” he asked, clearly knowing what was going on. With that simple question from the man with a gun on his hip, Scott and Richard were reduced to mute, meek eleven-year-old boys whose eyes were suddenly glued to the pavement.
The cop turned to me and said, “Leave them to me. Go home.” And I did, walking first at a studied, casual pace. But once I turned the corner and was certain they couldn’t see me anymore, I started to shake and then burst into tears. I cried most of the way home. Was it relief? Anger? The injustice of being singled out for reasons I didn’t yet understand? I had no idea.
I never told my mother what happened. I certainly didn’t tell anyone at school (and I knew Richard and Scott never would). I doubt I could have told you at the time that I despised the thought of anyone thinking of me as a victim, but that’s how I felt. I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. Then, or later—when my parents split up, when my father killed himself, when the kids at camp called me a fag. Mostly I kept my feelings to myself and just kept going.
Maybe that’s why I’ve reacted so viscerally and so negatively to Hillary Clinton’s use of the victim card as a campaign tactic. I’ve worked so hard to never feel like a victim—and to never let anyone know when I did—that I can’t imagine anyone, especially a presidential candidate, wanting us to think she is one.
I realize that the Clinton campaign’s complaints about the press (“You always ask me the first question! Poor me!”) and the campaign’s response to inquiries as to the whereabouts of the Clinton tax returns (“My tax returns? I feel like I’m being Ken Starred!”) are supposed to evoke sympathy among voters. But I find it repulsive.
I also find it inspiring, although not in the way that the Clinton campaign might have hoped. Just last week I made my first campaign contribution to the Democratic candidate for president who is asking for my vote, not my sympathy.
(I feel compelled to add that I’ll be voting for the Democratic nominee come November, no matter who it is.)
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