All my life, I’ve been the runt of the litter fighting for the table scraps.

When I was just a boy of four years old, the schools and my mom had a choice whether or not to place me in kindergarten. I was a September child, so my birthday happened to fall in that rare window of time where they could have made me wait a year until next fall. But Sesame Street taught me well, and with my excitable boyish demeanor, I was able to recite not only my alphabet, but also count to ten…in Spanish.

So they took me in, despite the fact I was developmentally behind most other kids in my grade by almost an entire year. I feel like since then, I’ve always been taken advantage of. I’ve constantly been underestimated, undermined, and trampled over.

In grade school, the differences weren’t very noticeable. Most of the other kids were lanky and dirty and full of energy like I was. But as I reached junior high and high school, the differences became more obvious. Bigger kids shoved me into lockers. Girls made fun of me and dared each other to touch my greasy, unwashed hair. Boys caught me outside and punched me in the stomach, or made me lay on the ground as they did jumps over me with their bikes. They made me eat dirt and sit still while they kicked me. They dragged me by my hair or legs through dog shit, broken glass, or rocks. They pushed me into snow banks filled with sharp ice chunks. They targeted my siblings to get a rise out of me, to goad me into fighting back. They threw rocks through my window. They threatened me with the naked blade of a knife. They held an open flame within inches of my face. They threatened me with sexual violence.

Through all of this, I persevered. All the taunting, all the goading, all the disgust and anger within me pushed somewhere down below, where it couldn’t influence me or my decisions, and it went into some well where it couldn’t be accessed.

I fought back without fists against these injustices, but with my wit and with my ability to center myself. Soon, they grew tired of me and the way I never rose to meet their violence or insults. And then I redoubled back on them by acting the way they didn’t want me to act. By wearing things they didn’t want me to wear. By being who they didn’t want me to be.

I wore women’s clothing and lipstick to school, taking pride in how I made them look at me in disgust. I scoffed at their threats of violence. I showed them how little I cared for their opinions. And still, as I moved forward with my life, I was taken advantage of, underestimated, used. People pretended to be my friends. People tried to use me, to place themselves in my sphere so that I might further their own causes and agendas.

Somewhere around the time of my divorce, the well of anger and frustrations finally reached capacity. It all came bubbling to the surface, bursting from within and sending my body to the hospital with a seizure. Emotional magma.

I grew moody. I fought back against those who crossed me at work. I punched walls and put my fists through them. I screamed in the walk-in freezer. I cried in the bathroom. I responded to anger with more anger, and for a while, that anger served me. That magma hardened into a protective coating around me and I let nobody in, and I was safe for a time. But after a while, I had to let a little of myself outside in order to live a fuller life.

Now I struggle. The runt inside of me remembers how I chafed at being taken advantage of, knowing all the while but being unable to do anything about it. I find myself in a similar situation now, and one half of me is rabid and wants to strike back. Yet, the other half is naked, vulnerable, and exposed – and wants to climb back into that protective casing. These two sides of me are at war, and I’m not sure which one will come out the victor. This runt is tired of the table scraps – He wants the whole steak.

But at what cost?