Note: I began writing this about a few weeks ago, after reading an article about a boy who was suspended for wearing a My Little Pony backpack on the grounds that it could cause him to get bullied. After reading that, Facebook’s “People You may Know” feature coincidentally listed a girl who used to bully me in middle school and high school, and that led me to her blog where a post she wrote gave me an insight I’d never had before. This is my experience, and should you ever stumble across her blog, please know that she and I are okay. I do not want, or need, any comments posted on her blog attacking her for what is long in the past. She was not the only one, and she was not by any stretch the worst of my antagonists.
My daughters pull out my middle school yearbooks, wanting to see what their Mommy looked like as a kid, and my stomach knots in dread. SchoolGirl knows how to read, and KinderGirl is quickly becoming an avid reader as well. I have no problems showing them their mother as an awkward child, but I fear they will read what is written on those pages. For a moment, I successfully divert their attention, telling them that they can look at my yearbooks all they want, if they clean up their room. They scatter off to clean their room, because how often does Mommy say “Sure, let’s take a trip down Memory Lane”?
The yearbooks sit on my lap, and I fear opening them, because while most of the words written are the typical “Have a great summer”, there are other words, words that cut 7th and 8th grade me to the bone. Words that, unlike the cruel barbs thrown at me on a daily basis back then, have lasted, tangible reminders of being bullied. Audible words have faded, but those written words remain, a stark reminder of a past I have tried so hard to forget. The early years of my life instilled in me a need to be liked, a need to fit in. Abandonment issues royally screwed with me, and I think it some way, it must have shown, marking me as an easy target, a willing fool.
It started long before my foray into junior high, probably the end of 5th grade. At 10, I was by no means as overweight as I got at my heaviest…I wasn’t overweight at all. But yet it began. Fat. Ugly. Nerd. Cow. Geek. In 6th grade, it started to get more hurtful. But nothing prepared me for what middle school and the first two years of high school would bring.
I had been a 7th grader for a little under 3 months when I had my first real crush. He was in 8th grade, and I just thought he was the best thing to walk the halls of the middle school. I finally mustered up the nerve to quietly confess that I liked him. It was lunch time, and the cafeteria was packed. I’d slipped him a little note on my way in, and I sat down with my best friend, when he suddenly appeared at our table and he loudly proclaimed “I don’t like you! You’re fat and ugly, and I will never like you, no one will ever like you!” Everyone had heard him, and I can still remember how my cheeks burned with hurt, anger, shame, and indignation. But I said nothing in response. I just sat there, poking at my lunch with my fork, drawing on everything I’d known up to that point to keep the tears from slipping out of my eyes. What a jerk. He could have just said it quietly to me…but he’d humiliated me in front of everyone.
From there on, it got worse. I began to put on weight as I turned to food to give me the comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. Every day I was reminded repeatedly that I was fat, that reading was lame and I was a nerd for loving to read, that I was a geek for knowing answers to questions in class, for getting good grades on tests. I began a desperate effort to ‘dumb’ myself down. I stopped raising my hand in class. I began to refuse to do my homework. I escaped reality by reading and writing. I began to imagine myself anywhere but where I was, being anyone but who I was.
I wondered sometimes, if I just told my peers the things I was going through, maybe they’d understand why I was the way I was, that maybe they’d just leave me alone. I know now that would not have happened. Many of my peers did not understand the wounds and emotional baggage of a childhood they most likely couldn’t comprehend, having had relatively stable early years compared to mine. I know now that I wasn’t the only one holding that sort of pain within me. I know now that at least one of the people who teased me was carrying pain of her own, and reacting to that pain the only way she knew how, much like I reacted to mine the only way I knew how, though our methods were very different.
What hurt the most though, was when the teasing came from my so-called friends. There was a girl who lived near me, whom I considered a good friend…until one day she violated that trust. I had walked to her house. It was cold, and it was beginning to snow. We were playing and hanging out, when she and her brothers cornered me in the basement and dumped glue in my hair. Her words became apologetic, claiming it was an accident, and my heart desperately wanted to believe her, so I ignored the false tone behind her words…and then, on the pretense of helping me clean the glue out of my hair, she dumped cold water over my head. I ran from her house, so upset that I left my coat behind. When I got home ten minutes later, I was shaking badly, from the cold, and from the sobs that I couldn’t hold back. It was a betrayal I never forgot.
I thumb through the pages of my yearbooks, and I nearly cry all over again, because teenage me tried so desperately to disguise the barbs as doodles. I wrote postscripts, diligently imitating the handwriting, that took back the cruel words. “Have a Great Summer…PS, NOT!!!” “I don’t know why you asked me to sign this. I’m not your friend. I don’t even like you.” “Don’t talk to me ever again, you ugly bitch.” The page containing that last one got ripped out and thrown away, but I still remember.
I just wanted to have friends. I just wanted to fit in, I just wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted to have my personhood validated. That’s all.
Being a victim of bullying formed me into the person I am today. I would like to think that maybe I would have turned out to be compassionate, empathic, and kind regardless, but being bullied definitely shaped the immensely bleeding heart I possess today. Maybe I wouldn’t be nice to a fault. Maybe I wouldn’t have lashed out when I was emotionally turbulent at the people who love me most. Being bullied didn’t make me think I needed to go shoot up my school. I held too much respect for the sanctity of life to even think of harming anyone other than myself, even if those lives I held sacred were seemingly dedicated to making my own life forfeit. I still hold that inviolable respect for the sanctity of life.
It did bestow an immense amount of self-loathing and a plethora of insecurities that I still struggle with from time to time. I have yelled, raged, screamed, cried, angrily lashed out verbally at the Mister during those times. While a disagreement or argument may have been the impetus, such a reaction was never called for. In those times, overwhelmed by a massive urge to sabotage any happiness on the unreasonable grounds of my own periodic belief that I do not deserve any of the happiness I have been blessed with, begged him to get my suitcases from storage, screamed at him that it was over. I have said horrible things out of hurt and anger that I can’t take back…but yet, he always seems to know when my reaction is justified, and when it is pain, anger, and misery crashing against me, trying to pull me under. And not once has he picked up the keys to the storage unit. He really needs to be given a lot of credit for that, because objectively I can understand how hard it must be to love someone even during the times when they don’t love themselves.
Sure, we have arguments like any other couple. There are times when he is wrong and I am right and he is just too stubborn-headed to see that, but it goes the other way too. I’m a very stubborn person myself, and sometimes he is right and I am wrong, and it’s really hard to admit when I am wrong, though I usually always do. Pride is a difficult pill to swallow, and sometimes our arguments are just two stubborn people who don’t see eye to eye on something.
But sometimes an argument becomes about me raging and ranting while he scratches his head, bewildered, wondering who the stormy woman in front of him is, and what she did with his usually level-headed partner. There are no words for the guilt I feel over those moments. I can only try my best to notice it in time to stop it. I’m getting better at it.
If you’re being bullied in school, I want to impart some knowledge. It seems like forever now, but it does end. Eventually they either grow up and realize that life is about much more than making someone miserable, or you grow up and carry on with your life. I’m not saying to lie down and take it. I’m not saying that at all. Report it to the necessary people/agencies. Stand up for yourself by doing so. And for the love of whatever you do or don’t believe in, if you are feeling depressed, suicidal, or feel like injuring yourself, tell someone. Reach out for help. I have gotten apologies from a couple of the people who used to bully me. I have found that some of my bullies teased me to make the magnitude of their own pain seem smaller. I hope that in time, you get those apologies too.
But you need to know that it isn’t your fault. You did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment. You deserve to be respected. Everyone is different, and breaking someone’s spirit for daring to be true to itself is wrong, and they are wrong for treating you that way.
Keep on rocking the My Little Pony backpacks, kids. Stay true, stay you, you’re beautiful…
Just the way you are. I promise. Scout’s Honor.