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    Dinosaur, Junior.

            As long as I can remember, I’ve been into dinosaurs. As a kid, I was obsessed with them. I loved to draw them, read about them, write about them, play games about them; I couldn’t get enough.
            Before they built the entire full scale replica, The Boston Museum of Science used to have just a life sized model head of a Tyrannosaurus. Under it, they had a box for donations, claiming that once they got enough money, they would construct and display the whole dinosaur, in all it’s monstrous glory. Every time we visited the museum, I would empty my pockets of change and throw it into the kitty. I would pull on my dad’s leg and beg him to clean out his wallet, or better yet, write the museum a whopping check to cover the cost. I wanted to see the whole full sized model, and I wanted to see it now. For a ten year old, the thought of waiting years to see something that awesome was unbearable. Hell, at that age, waiting an hour for dinner was torture.
            When I was a kid, the Tyrannosaurus Rex was by far my favorite dinosaur. A strange thing happened as I got older, though. I began to favor the arch rival of the T-Rex, the dreaded, hulking Triceratops, who appeared the only dinosaur remotely capable of holding his own against the king of the prehistoric carnivores.
            At first, liking ”Three-Horned-Face” felt like some sort of heresy. Triceratops and T-Rex were bitter rivals. At least in the minds of all dinosaur-loving kids everywhere. This intense rivalry was most likely a fabricated construct, a conspiracy propagated by publishers of children’s dinosaur books worldwide. They knew what they were doing. To sell books, they had to create conflict, so they came up with the idea that these two behemoths regularly duked it out. I guess it wasn’t fascinating enough just to be learning about these absolutely amazing creatures. They had to make it a kiddy soap opera and throw in some pathos. I could have done without the drama; I watched a few epic Shakespearean plays unfold virtually every day within my own family.
            Part of why I resented the whole arch enemy thing was because, in the books I read, T-Rex almost always lost the battle. That didn’t seem right to me. If he got his ass kicked more often than not by Triceratops, why wasn’t the horned dinosaur called “king” instead of the Tyrannosaur? As a kid, I took the T-Rex’s losses personally, the same way I did when a sports team I liked lost. I got really bummed, even depressed, when something I cared about lost. This is because I often felt victimized as a kid, and a loss at the hands of an opponent, even in a dinosaur book, just felt like another episode of victimization. Twisted, but true.
            But years ago, I had an insight about my subsequent favoring of Triceratops. T-rex was all about attack. He was pure offense. Triceratops, on the other hand, was supremely built for defending himself. He was all about defense. Dee-Fense. And this switch, from liking Triceratops over T-Rex, paralleled a change of heart I had with regards to my favorite sport, football. I started identifying very strongly with the defensive component of football, rather than the offense. My favorite position went from running back to linebacker. Suddenly, I would rather be part of a goal line stand and be the dude who made the game-saving, bone-crunching, bell-ringing tackle than be the guy who ran the ball across the goal line, scoring the winning touchdown.
            This whole thing goes deeper (doesn’t it always?). As I’ve said, as a child, I identified with the role of victim. Although I felt victimized, and often was, I couldn’t name it. I couldn’t identify what I was feeling. I didn’t understand it. Most kids don’t. They just know they feel crappy when they get victimized. Lots of shame. I experienced intense feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. But as I got older, I realized that I had become perversely comfortable whenever I took on the role of victim. And I didn’t like being that way.
            In my teens, I started lifting weights, filling out, and getting in touch with my burgeoning testosterone. When I got a little older, in my twenties, I developed some psychological defenses, like the ability to put up walls, to keep myself safe. It all helped me feel less like a victim. As I developed more methods of physical and emotional protection, I felt better about myself, and I began to identify with Triceratops, and with linebackers too. Because Triceratops and linebackers weren’t victims. They could take care of themselves. They, at least in my mind, weren’t bullies either. They minded their own business, but drew a line in the sand and said “Don’t cross it. If you do, things will get ugly.” That’s who I wanted to be. No longer the victim. The defender. The protector. Of myself and of people I loved.
            When in college, I did some boxing. I also became able to summon my latent anger and get my blood up if I needed to. I connected more and more to that ultimate defender, Triceratops. He was a living tank. A living tank with big, sharp horns. He had huge, strong muscles that could drive those horns deep into an opponent. He had a bony frill that protected the rest of his body from frontal assault. He had hard, thick skin that could resist blows and sharp teeth. All in all, he was one tough mo-fo. The linebacker of the dinosaur world.
            But there was something else too. Something just as important. He was a herbivore, so in my mind, he was peaceful at heart. Projecting human attributes onto animals, as humans often do, I saw him as a gentle, sensitive creature who wanted to go about his life without hurting anybody. He may have been tough on the outside, but he was sweet on the inside. He was a lover who, if absolutely need be, could become a ferocious fighter. I identified with that. Triceratops seemed a lot more like me than T-Rex.
            Making Triceratops out to be gentle in nature was just as important to me as his ability to kick ass, because I didn’t want to become a victimizer. I did not want to become that which I loathed. I didn’t want to be an aggressive asshole. I didn’t want to be a bully. I knew enough of those, and I didn’t like them.
            When I got older, I could do something that I couldn’t do as a kid: defend myself against the bully. And I knew, at heart, that the bully is a coward. Preying on those weaker than themselves because they couldn’t beat someone of equal strength. If given the chance, I wanted to call the bully's bluff. And then kick the crap out of him.
            I realize the contradiction in that line of thinking. But it’s where I was at for a long time. I didn’t get in many fights, but I always wanted to defend myself and those I loved by pummeling a bully. It was sort of an ongoing fantasy.
            Through lots of work on myself, I’m not where I used to be with that. I’m not angry anymore. I’m much more conscious. More loving. Happier. Ultimately, more myself.
            But I still strongly identify with Triceratops. And linebackers.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a dinosaur-size tally of Wrongs) Reserved.

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