The Human Equation

31 October 2019

Title page of a first novel. Brian Koberlein
Title page of a first novel.

The spider lay just beneath his skull. Its sleek cylindrical body rested precisely above the corpus collosum, while thousands of tendril legs spanned the cerebral cortex. Six hair-thin tails descended past the cerebellum to the upper reaches of the spinal cord, from which the device carefully drew the few microwatts of power needed for its operation.

That’s the opening paragraph of a novel I was writing when I was about fifteen. Following the pattern of most young writers, it was going to be an epic tale set in a rich fictional world. It had exotic cultures, constructed languages, and a thousand years of history. It was going to be awesome. Looking back on those old handwritten pages, there’s some potential but mostly cringe. Interesting ideas, but inexperienced execution. Exactly what you’d expect from an eager young scribe.

As a teenager, I thought pretty seriously about becoming a writer. It was something I enjoyed, and it didn’t require a university degree, which was good because I didn’t think college was an option at the time. But it was a path that brought all manner of abuse. It’s hard enough being bookish and unathletic in a rural Bible Belt town. Being observed writing added a layer of homophobia to the bullying. There are shadows from that time I still don’t talk about, and while I’m mostly over it, the shadows occasionally come back for a visit.

The remnants of this old novel are one example. At the time I had written about 400 pages, not counting all the background notes. Only about 70 pages remain. At school, I kept pages in my locker, which we weren’t allowed to lock. One day whole sections of the novel just went missing. A few days later a pile of pages was stuffed back into my locker, burnt and urinated on. The only pages I could save were the ones I had on me at the time. Going through them I can still almost smell the ammonia and smoke.

The most insidious thing about bullies is how they find the cracks in your armor, peel them open, and strike you where you are most vulnerable. The beatings and name-calling, mockery and rumors were bad, but the destruction of my writings was a mortal blow. I was devastated. I stopped working on the novel, and I haven’t written fiction since. That is, until about two months ago.

A bully will destroy your soul if you let them. The surest victory you can have over a bully is to live your life. I have been very fortunate to have found a life and built a life that has been rich and full. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but not writing fiction is one of them. So after years, I started writing again. I don’t know if I will ever make the work public, or whether I will write a novel at long last, but it’s my work. And that’s what matters.

Bullies haunt far too many of our lives, but they can be defeated. It takes work, hope, and time. If you have been bullied, or are being bullied, know that bullies lie. You are worthy. You are strong.

And you are not alone.