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Your kids call it “triggered.” When someone or something sets one of them off. It happens a lot. Snap! Snap! Snap! Teenagers. Sometimes it seems they are moving through mousetraps. Yet the genius of it is that they are not caught up in any one trap. The trap goes off. They yelp. Maybe lash out. Then let go. Maybe they return the insult. Maybe they shrug it off with a benign curse. Where are the seething long-term resentments that plagued you when bedeviled by others?

You held onto such pain, letting it fester, cultivating revenge fantasies and, whether acting on them or not, made it infinitely worse. One sprung mousetrap was all it took. The howl in your head echoed too long. Such was your pathology. An addict and introspect you could never let go. Like diabetes of the soul, your psychic wounds took forever to heal. You still remember slights from high school, about your weight for example, or lack of fighting skills. That girls didn’t think of you the way you thought of them. Such disturbances shaped your life. If only you had a word like “triggered.” Then you could have called out the bad feelings and smashed them like the mosquitoes they were. A bit of blood on the skin and some itching afterwards.

But no. You turned every bite into a bloody scar, scratching until your flesh was ragged, picking at the soar for weeks, trying to prolong its presence in your life. To this day you relish the occasional scab for the distraction it brings. You floss your teeth overly hard, drawing blood. Pleasure and pain intermingle -the physical as well as psychological. You understand cutters.

You don’t envy your daughters or any young person. Their world seems vapid and idiotic – an endless slew of You Tubes and disappearing dick pics. You must explain almost every reference to the 20th century. They do not read for pleasure and barely for school. If it’s not on their social media feeds they aren’t consuming it. Yet, you do envy their paradoxically thick skins. Their ability to “shake it off” is remarkable. Moving through the minefield of mousetraps with ease you find breathtaking.

Does a glib term like triggered render life’s brutalities benign? For all the very real talk of bullying and its fatal consequences, those maladjusted loners shooting up high schools, your children seem blissfully immune.

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The Bully of Adland.

March 21, 2011

We were a small community, vibrant and strong, though not without hardships. Times were tough and our benefactors were cutting back. And while we sometimes competed against each another, for the most part we got along. Many of us had friends on other teams.

Then a bully came along. For some reason, he disliked us on principle. He made fun of the stuff we made, kicking over our sand castles and spitting on our pictures.

In the beginning, we all tried to make peace with the bully. That failed. Then we merely tried to appease him. But that failed, too.

The bully acted with impunity, because he knew we wouldn’t strike back. He knew our guardians told us to ignore him, that discretion was critical. As his attacks grew evermore personal, this became harder and harder to do. Yet, we never fought back. We became weak.

The bully became a tyrant. He belittled our capabilities and integrity as if he were the only one possessing any of either. From the top of his mountain he took to calling us names, hurtful and extreme. Few were spared his wrath.

Some of us took to viewing his acts of carnage with fearful glee, not unlike staring at a car wreck. When it was over we rushed away to our forts, glad it hadn’t been us but full of shame. We tried to remember what it was like before the bully, but we could not.

Oh, the bully had his pets. But those he nurtured only felt pitiful for being spared. They knew it was only a matter of time before the bully turned on them. In the end some of us tried becoming his allies, giving him information he could use against others in our community. Thus we became accomplices.

And then one day the bully was gone, disappearing like dirty snow in spring. Maybe his protectors had had enough. Or perhaps the difficult times that had befallen us had gotten to him as well. We only knew the bully’s reign over our tiny community was over.

We rejoiced. But at the same time we were a little sad. From the bully, we’d learned how to point fingers and criticize one another. Often from behind hiding places. Our sense of community was damaged.

Shrugging, we continued making things for our benefactors, not really sure if it would ever go back to way it was before the bully. For there were other bullies lurking beyond the fence and we knew it.