Friday, August 20, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood:
Trust no one

(In this entry, I assume you are aware of my goal of raising a lot of money to help child soldiers by donating all of my earnings from sales of the hardback of Children No More to Falling Whistles. If you're not, you can go to the Children No More site and learn more there. I'll be here when you return.)

What I experienced in my three years in a militaristic youth group is nothing compared to what true child soldiers undergo. I believe, however, that they and I, as well as many abused children, emerge from our experiences having learned many of the same lessons. To help folks without these backgrounds understand some of the challenges facing these kids--and those who seek to help rehabilitate and reintegrate them--I'm going to talk about some of the lessons I learned--and that I believe they did, too.

Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I know how unhealthy these lessons are, I don't live my life by them, and so on.

They are, though, what such kids learn, and they are what I learned at that age.

Also, beware that there's going to be rough language and generally harsh stuff in all of these lessons. That's the nature of them.

Enough disclaimers. Let's get on with today's lesson:

Trust no one

The hits can come from any person in any place at any time. Walking down a hall, running, doing leg lifts, sleeping, trying to read alone--then smack! You're on the ground, or your face is stinging. Usually they laugh. Good one, they say. Then they turn serious: Stay alert, meat. Toughen up. You won't make it if you don't learn better.

So you do. You learn. Your leaders, your squad mates, the adults who are supposed to take care of you--any of them can hurt you in an instant. Strangers, too. Those closest to you, and those you haven't met yet. Any of them.

You learn, too, to take care of yourself. You never stop looking around. Your eyes scan as far and as wide as you can make them, looking for the threats that just haven't shown themselves yet. You keep a wall to your back if you can. You sit in the corners, where the threats have to come at you. You never completely relax, because you know what happens then. You accumulate every edge you can, in case you need it.

As you scan, you look for the others who are also watching, who also understand, because they're the most dangerous. Those, the ones most like you, you watch carefully, because they'll strike with skill.

Most of the people around you will never understand, and you're okay with that. You smile and tell them you trust them as you automatically and without thought check their hands, the position of their feet, and you adjust to compensate.

When they get you, a hit, a job firing, an emotional wound, whatever--you don't even blame them. You know you screwed up. You remind yourself with words you rarely remember once came from others.

Stay alert.

Toughen up.

You won't make it if you don't learn better.

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