Spat at in the Face

I find spitting repugnant. I don’t like watching other people do it, and I don’t care to do it myself. When I absolutely must spit out some distasteful wad of phlegm, I do so with an offended face that serves not only as an expression of how I feel about the experience, but as a silent apology to whoever may stand in witness of the event. It’s me saying, in effect, “I know this is gross. I’m disgusted too. I’m so very sorry for the both of us that this had to happen.”

“Where does this come from?” is a question you may well ask. “Geez, you’re weird. Are you in therapy?” is another one that might come up.

The second answer is a quick and easy, “No.” I don’t need the help of some professional headshrinker to search through my repressed memories and figure out what exact traumas turned me into the asshole you see before you today. I’ve long since traced all my quirks and ticks back to specific moments in my developing years. I know where they come from. And it doesn’t do me a bit of good.

I’ve found that knowing the precise origin of all my phobias, buttons and mental disorders has been no help whatsoever in curing them. It’s like having total recall of the time, place and serial number of the thresher that mulched your hand off. You know where you lost it and how, but it doesn’t help you grow your hand back.

For example, I can name the girl who crushed all future romantic confidence with women out of me before puberty was even a looming threat. I can quote the cruel words said to me in childhood by another young boy that would convince me to never sing another note again in my life (up to and including all those birthday parties when the cake comes out). And I can also name the three key instances that forever turned spitting from a basic biological function into a vile and despicable act I can hardly stomach. I know where it all comes from. But the damage is done, and I can’t fix my brain now. All I can do is accept my irrational reactions to certain things, acknowledge that they’re irrational, understand their origins, and then go on feeling the same damn way.

My aversion to spitting began during an unfortunate shortcut on my way to elementary school one morning. I was running late and the area was vacant. All the kids were indoors already. The only people in sight were three teenagers from a nearby high school. In this era, when school boards were still divided along religious lines, we were all told to steer clear of that particular high school because it was full of angry young Catholic boys. They were angry not so much because they were Catholic, but because all the slutty young Catholic girls had been sent off to be schooled at the inconveniently distant Queen of Angels. As a result, they had a lot of pent up hostility they needed to work out. Kicking the asses of the Protestant grade-schoolers a few blocks away was one possible outlet.

In order to avoid a direct confrontation with these suspicious teens who were headed my way, I decided to scale the school fence and take the well-travelled shortcut over a flattened-out section of barbed wire that allowed easy access to dozens of kids daily who were too lazy to walk the extra thirty yards to the gate. I was halfway over the fence when my paranoia was validated. The three towering teenagers ran over and grabbed me by the jacket, leaving me dangling on the opposite side of the fence, unable to escape. An ass-kicking might have ensued had I still been on their side, but it proved impossible for them to haul me back over the top. Instead, they satisfied themselves with shouting abuse. And then one of them spat in my face before they finally released me and I fell to the ground on the other side. Wiping the vile hood’s copious saliva off my face, I walked the rest of the way to school crying, while they busied themselves throwing discarded cans and bottles at me for as long as I was in range. The refuse all missed, but the spit had been dead on target.

First lesson learned: People are shit and will assault you randomly for no other reason than to be mean. The seeds of misanthropy were planted. I was seven.

One day, while still attending that school, my class was subjected to the ritual of being introduced to a new student who had just moved to town. He was a little waif of a kid named Patrick, alone among strangers, isolated as an outsider. Just a few short minutes after the introduction, the students of my class were gathered in the hall in preparation to march us to the audio/visual room to watch an educational film. I found myself standing behind Patrick as the line was formed.

Understanding how difficult it must have been for him on his first day in a new school with so many new people, I decided to introduce myself. I tapped him on the shoulder and Patrick turned to see what I wanted.

“Hi!” I declared in my friendliest, most welcoming tone.

And instantly, like some expectorating dromedary who’d neglected to swallow for the last couple of hours, he spat skillfully and precisely in my face. Never saying a word, he turned back around, eyes forward, and concentrated on queuing once again.

Second lesson learned: Never talk to strangers or try to make new friends. I was eight.

On another occasion, I was driving with my parents in the family car. It was summer, the windows were down, and a cool breeze was blowing. We had just taken a curve near the airport, surrounded by light traffic, when the driver of a car somewhere up ahead decided to spit out his own open window.

Through some incalculable magic of physics and complexity theory, this flying glob of snotty mucus navigated the wind currents with the skill of a seaborne starling, crossed a lane of high-speed highway traffic, and was sucked into the open passenger-side window of our car, only to hit me squarely in the face, all the way in the back seat where I had incorrectly assumed I was safely ensconced against an assault by some random stranger’s bodily fluids. It took me a few moments to realize what had happened, but once the confusion had passed, the horror set in and I knew, at last, that I was cursed.

Third lesson learned: Random, horrible things will happen to you for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that the universe just sucks. I was nine.

Most people get through their entire lives without being spat at in the face. I managed to get nailed three times before I was out of my first decade. Is this bad luck, bad karma, or me simply being the repeat victim of a bad habit? I don’t know. But aside from offering me some valuable life lessons, my whole spitting aversion has taught me one very important thing which I shall share with you.

And it’s this: I’m totally going to fucking kill the next motherfucker who spits in my face.

You’ve been warned, universe.

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