Bully for Me: An Emancipation Proclamation, Part I

10 Jan

The enlarged ridge on the side of my tongue was prominent and peculiar—and permanent. That is, unless I was willing for the oral surgeon to slice it off, and then there was no guarantee, after months of painful rehabilitation during which time I would not be able to use my tongue, the swelling wouldn’t return. The orthodontist suggested breaking my jaw and widening my mouth to make room for the expansion —but, again, after months of painful rehabilitation during which time I would not be able to use my mouth, it might not take care of the problem, either. The dentist made a mouth guard to discourage me from chewing on my tongue during my sleep, but most nights I’d find my tongue between my teeth again and the mouth guard discarded on the pillow. I decided to continue to bite my tongue—literally—and try to live with the discomfort. I couldn’t afford time off from my teaching job—a job that required I use my mouth incessantly. 

Why did I start biting my tongue in the first place? I cast my mind back as far as I could to identify when I first noticed the unusual and uncomfortable lump on the side of my tongue. I was living in Germany, teaching for DoDDS (the Dept. of Defense school system) on an American Air Force Base and had decided to visit an acupuncturist for relief with my Restless Leg Syndrome. The first thing the doctor (are they doctors?) asked was for me to stick out my tongue. I complied and was amazed when he asked, “How long have you been biting your tongue?” How did he know? He could see that? Of course, I was aware of the mass in my mouth but had dismissed it as temporary, not wanting to draw attention to something seemingly trivial lest I appear to be a whiner. His return expression made me feel like a fool. “How can I miss it?” He asked what had started the injurious practice, and, again, I tried to think back to when I was first aware of the self-infliction. The best I could come up with was soon after I moved from Kentucky to Germany to take the position with DoDDS.

What was it about Germany or teaching for DoDDS that would precipitate such destructive behavior? A young widow of nearly ten years, I had sought the refreshing change of venue, though it required my giving up a tenured full professorship at the local college to return to the laborious high school classroom, something I hadn’t done for fifteen years. I realized quickly that the allure of living in Europe came with the high price of giving up the relative freedom we enjoyed in the ivory tower of higher education. Gone was the autonomy of the professor and the sanctity of her classroom and replacing it was a massive chain of command crushing the lowly school instructor. Though my advanced education technically ranked me with Lt. Colonels of the Armed Forces, the reality was I was the lowest man on the totem pole, and not just because I was new to the military environment. Teachers truly were the base of the pole, preceded by the students, the parents, the administration, and, of course, the martial brass. What I did, when I did it, how long it took, what I thought and had to say about it—all were subject to control, the kind of micro-managing I had never subjected myself to anywhere, anyhow.

To make matters worse, the principal who had welcomed me warmly to my new position was forced to move on by the end of my first year, only to be replaced by an obstinate ogre whose only credential was longevity. Every innovation I suggested, every improvement I tried to implement, he barred, as surely as he blocked the doorway with his broad, squat bulk. Blood-shot eyes bulged menacingly through smeared thick glasses, his unkempt gray beard earning him the pejorative nickname “The Evil Santa” by the equally unimpressed but suppressed students. Even the parents and base commanders who generally called the shots—not to mention the FEA and private legal counsel—had little effect against him, so tightly were the wagons the DoDDS Fat Cats closed around their Good Ol’ Boys. It wasn’t that they weren’t aware of his bullying—the term noted repeatedly in his file from years of complaints—the system closed around such irritants like a tree forms a callus around wounded bark. Friends warned how miserable he could make my life if I stood up to him, and they were right, because I tried, to little avail. Ultimately, I could either return to my former life of liberty stateside or, if I preferred living in Europe, I could suck it up. In the end, Europe with all its old-world charms and adventures beckoning outside the classroom won out, and I learned to bite my tongue.


That’s where it started. It’s all coming back to me now.

End Part One. To Be Continued in Next Blog.


3 Responses to “Bully for Me: An Emancipation Proclamation, Part I”

  1. Wanda Luttrell January 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Very interesting.

  2. Luttrell, Jennifer (LRC) January 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    I have the same problem and I always figured it’s because I have a cross bite and we also have tongues that are way too big for our mouths. I am constantly biting mine and now that I have lost a filling, (which was most of my tooth) when I bite it I am also cutting it because what is left of the tooth is very sharp. No fun. I’ve considered having mine whittled down like Gene Simmons and Mick Jagger did, but I’m sure that would be very expensive. Such is life! :O/

    • brileyrebecca January 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      Yes, we do both have cross-bites and small mouths–and maybe large tongues, too, since we both can touch our noses with our tongues! I never had a problem with biting my tongue, though, until I was in Germany. The 2nd part of the post relates to Hawaii, too…! If we were to break our jaws and widen our mouths, it would probably help, but it would cost a lot in time and money–and be very painful….so I don’t know if it’s worth it! 😦

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