In Or Out

Entry by: jaguar

25th February 2016

When we were very young our mums would take us to the local park, and sit gossiping while we played. Play was perhaps the wrong word for it because it was a series of battles, who could outwit the other. Who was first up the climbing frame, who could swing the highest? We were very closely matched.

Except for the seesaw. We'd get it really pumping, holding on so fiercely as it clunked into action, our small legs thrusting the ground away as we soared up, trying to cushion the blow as we thudded back down to earth. Then you worked out that I'd hit the ground much harder if you leapt off at the top. The first time you did it all the breath got knocked out of me. Part force of impact and part surprise that you'd abandon me like that.

I learnt to do it too, of course. Eventually you escalated the game by leaping off at the top and then back on just after I'd hit the hard ground so I got flung back into the air. I just had to hold on hoping you'd stop because I never really got my balance back after that. It was a game and we were laughing but I always wondered just how far you would go.

I felt the same way last week. You were trying to tell me what to choose but you were talking too fast. It was just a list of things, outcomes, possible events that may or may not happen. It wasn’t real but my mind felt like a greased ball on a tray you kept tilting, as if I had to follow your thinking because I'm back on the seesaw, grasping on but not understanding, no time to think it through. I am in the air, nothing to hold on to. The playground has disappeared from view like you and our friendship, punctured by our political views.

You insisted it was our only option, nothing else made sense. If we weren’t part of the group we’d automatically become targets – for terrorists, for bullies, for who knows what. You said we had to be in the gang or we would be in danger but you didn’t say why and you didn’t explain the downside of joining them.

I already knew the downside, I'd seen it up close, in action. I’d seen how that gang changed your principles and beliefs for a one-size fits all morality, the lowest common denominator. I’d seen how they all stick together to make themselves feel OK about the awful things they’re doing. How you've begun to resemble them, how you don't meet my eyes. You claim we could negotiate our own rules but it’s conform or leave because they can’t afford dissent. You haven’t questioned their thinking because it’s so frail, so unevenly created it wouldn’t survive your sharp mind.

It’s the rule of thuggery, braying and shouting louder than anybody else. Being the one who hits first because there’s no skill in it, no targeting, only surprise and force. How can you, with your brilliance, your delicacy, want to be associated with them? Is your fear of the unknown so over-powering? Are you really so afraid you're prepared to become one of them?

I watched you yesterday, swaggering around the playground, looking the part, keeping the secret of your dad's leaving wrapped tight inside you, as tight as you now wear your tie. You've told no one, not even me. You know how that hint of vulnerability, that emotional weakness could flip you from gang member to victim like the seesaw going down. I saw you standing on the edge of their group, trying to swallow your doubts. You know it's only a matter of time.

I watched them too. I saw them surround that little girl, Amy, like sparrows picking on a smaller bird. I saw them jab, push and tear her clothes like pulling out feathers. I smelt blood although there wasn’t any because I knew the damage inside would be magnified. I knew exactly what she was feeling because I’d been her. So tattered, stripped mentally naked so that by the time they shove, you go all the way down. You can't bounce back because they’ve taken your cushion of self-confidence away.

The only thing left is what’s best about you. When I was huddled in the dark, curled and cringing I found it there. A self-righting device that screamed at me not to believe who they thought I was. Something that said I would always be more than them because you thought I was. So I’m not going to listen to you insisting we join in with this group. Today, when Amy comes out for break time, all salty with fear, I’m going to take her hand.

Because you’re right about one thing – there is safety in numbers. You just have to choose where you get your volume from. I’ve done a lot of counting these last few days. I’ve assessed the strength of every schoolmate who’s fallen foul of them. I’ve talked with my fellow outsiders and gauged our confidence levels. We think, if we are brave and solid enough, we might be stronger than them. We think we can save Amy from them. If we had you, I could be sure.

This time I’m getting off the seesaw first but at least I’m warning you in advance. I want to be a bigger person than submerging myself in that gang would make me but I don’t want to be on the other side from you. My motive isn’t entirely altruistic, I’ll give you that. By saving Amy, making it clear their behaviour is unacceptable, we have the power to also save ourselves. So the question is will you stay on the seesaw this time, will you join our new gang? Tell me who you really are old friend – are you in or out?