Posted by: tommybrennan | March 23, 2011

The Kick Me Sign

When I was a kid, things were pretty good.  Kindergarten was good, and then I entered St. Bede’s Catholic School in Southfield, Michigan.  I was there for three years, and again, things were good.  I had friends, and I did well in that environment.  Then, my life started to get rocked.  My Dad stopped coming home at night.  We were to discover later that another woman was involved.   I also got moved to a Public School, Evergreen Elementary.   This was my fourth grade year, and I didn’t know anybody at this school.   The first few days were alright, and then the trouble started.  I had attracted the attention of one of the fourth grade bullies.   Demands for my lunch money started.   Then threats,  mockery and  cruel comments.  I remember the fear and hatred that I felt toward this person.  I can still feel it today.   I told my Dad about this on one of the nights he came home.  He made me feel ashamed that I was being picked on.  I shouldn’t be such a wimp.  I felt completely outnumbered, though.  This kid was popular, he had friends.  He had been at this school since Kindergarten.  I was the new weird kid who wore glasses, and I had no friends.  Once you demonstrate weakness, the sharks smell blood in the water, and they begin to circle.   I began to sit alone at lunch, and slide into a very passive and quiet demeanor.  I just didn’t want anyone to notice me, because if they did, it was always bad.   Better to be ignored and sneak through the days.  I was to make a terrible decision that made things even worse.

Our school made the announcement that there was going to be a fashion show, and they were looking for boys and girls to be models at this event.   I had no idea what a fashion show was, and somehow, my name wound up on the short list and I was selected.  As a fourth grader, I was the oldest boy that would be in this fashion show.  Oh, and by the way, it was going to be held in the school gym.  I went to Jacobsons with my mom and picked out some clothes.   I had no idea what awaited me.   On the night of the fashion show, the gym was absolutely packed.   I remember looking out and seeing all these people, adults, my classmates, it seemed like all of Southeast Michigan had showed up.  Why my parents ever let me get involved in this is beyond me.  I had to go out not once, but twice and model.   This was as bad as you are imagining it to be.   The humiliation and mockery started even that night, as some of the fourth grade kids were there, and I became the lightning rod and the object of negative attention in a major way.   I became “the fag who picked his nose in the fashion show”.  The die was cast, and my school career was to be nothing short of unrelieved misery until my 12th grade year.  When I started playing bass, but that is another very different story.

When a person reaches this point of self-doubt and fear, they begin to wear a virtual “Kick Me” sign.   It is not visible, but everyone knows that you are wearing it.   Others start to disrespect you, because they can tell that you won’t stick up for yourself.  If you are in this situation and happen to be less than attractive, you have hit the absolute bottom of the social order.  Such was my position in fourth grade.  My life came crashing down hard and fast.  How quickly I began to learn the cruel and efficient laws of public school social order.  If there was an equivalent to the Indian untouchable caste, I was in it.  How I dreaded everything about school, and just wanted to get out of that building as fast as I could each day, hoping to preserve what little self respect I had for at least another day.   I was the kid you could make fun of.  I was the last one picked when teams were chosen.   Not second to last, but last.   This self perception made me even more awkward, and I found myself saying and doing stupid things, as if on cue, and with the net effect of my behavior becoming a self fulfilling prophecy of  my own social suicide.

This went on for the rest of elementary school.  It got worse in Junior High School.  It peaked in High School.   I learned to go to the library during Study Hall.  If I stayed with the rest of the kids, there was nobody to talk to, or I would hear people laughing at me.   Maybe I was paranoid, but after it happens to you enough, you always expect the worst.

I saw a movie last night.  Never Let Me Go.  It really blew me away on a lot of levels, but it really got me thinking about this whole issue of treating others as less than human.  In the movie, cloned people are created for the purpose of “donating” their organs.  They are treated, predictably, as less than human.  I began to see awful parallels to what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, and Blacks during the 300 years of North American Slavery.   There is no way for me to understand the dehumanization that the Jews and Blacks went through, it is at a level that defies the human capacity to understand.   I do have some understanding, though, of how people in a society can ostracize others and treat them as “less thans”.   “Others”.   “One of Those”.   The basic tribalism that haunts every society on the planet.

I have probably lost all of my readers except those that have been through this experience.  So, now that we are alone, come closer, let me tell you something:   You’re Okay.   God is not through with you yet.   You have a friend in me, and more importantly, you have one in Heaven.   You are not defined by what others have told you.  You are not the labels that have been stuck on you.  You may have begun to succumb to the downward pull of what others have said about you, but it can stop today.  Throw off the Kick Me Sign!   Trash it!  You have much good in you, and the world has yet to see it.

If you are one of the lonely ones, the outcast, the loser, the failure, the ugly.  I tell you with God as my witness:  Those are lies.  Don’t embrace them.   There is so much for you to live for.  There is much to leave behind, and much to discover.  You will find that there are kind and wonderful people all over the place.   I pray for you today, that you will find some of these, and find the acceptance and belonging that you should have always had.

The jerks were wrong about you.  They always are.



  1. This is painful. I am so sorry for the pain you endured, but I think it bred a compassion in you that you passed on to us. You taught us to never mock, ridicule or make fun of anyone, for anything.

    I will teach my children this. For that, I am so, so grateful.

    I love you, dad. You are one of the best men I know.

  2. Yep, been there done that ! I was a Christian and in 4th grade expierenced my first dose of persecution by, my teacher – NO LESS. In a period when prayer was recently dismissed from school , the message of the cross banned , and the influence of Darwin HUGE – I stood up and asked my teacher about Adam and Eve. She got mad, labled me a trouble maker and a problem child and allowed many of the kids in my class to get away with things that they probably shouldn’t have. Geesh didn’t all kids get taught the Bible – weren’t all kids trying to do what Jesus wanted – a resounding NO ! (right between the eyes) . I didn’t understand how man could develope from a slimey cell in a cess pool – Hence the Adam and Eve question, it just made more sence to me…. Oh and let’s not even get started with the Dinosaurs- 4th Grade I was humiliated by my teacher on a daily basis, which lead to a discention in the ranks of my 4 th grade class…… I learned alot that year about parent teacher confrences- My teacher told me things my mom had disclosed in the confidence of parent teacher trust …I came home in tears…… Needless to say my siblings did NOT get this same teacher – My mom learned that year that all teachers are NOT created equal……. Still hurts to think about 4th grade – only because of the little girl I was , but not for the woman I am – I am alot stronger…… and I think I must have been pretty strong to even disagree with my teacher in the first place – I just didn’t know it THEN. 🙂 5th grade was MUCH better ! Love the post Tom – sorry for your pain , the kick me sign doesn’t have a place to hang anymore ! You done Good 😉 (and so for that matter did God ! )

    • Good insight Reenie. Those early memories are so formative. I am glad you had the courage to speak up.

  3. Another great message, bro. I was just telling my husband the story of “the Evergreen Elementary fashion show” a few days ago. I had John read your blog to experience this story in the words of the man who lived it–and survived it.

    You’re right: the jerks were WRONG.
    I hope your story will inspire people young and old.

    • Thanks for reading Shawn. I am a survivor. I can only imagine how victims of abuse, molestation, and rape feel. They are the real overcomers.

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