Bullied: A Short Memoir
I saw something awful today. I was dropping my son off at school, sitting in that line of cars, slowly creeping toward the door of the school, when I saw her. Adorable, be-ribboned, Disney-shirted, mean. That's right: a mean girl. A bully. As she perkily pranced toward the door, she shoved another girl aside and called her ugly. Sigh
I remember her. Well, not her specifically, but her ilk. I remember what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that shove. I'm 35 years old now. I haven't been in school for close to twenty years, but still I remember.
It started for me in fourth grade. Up until then, I was fairly unremarkable in my class. Just a sort of nerdy girl who read books too advanced for my grade level and had serious trouble remaining tidy for the entire day. Nothing particularly special. Until fourth grade. I've never really figured out what caused the shift in my classmates attitude towards me. There wasn't a incident that precipitated them turning on me. They just did. And when they did, things turned ugly fast. They tortured me. They moved their desks away from me in class so that I sat alone in a circle of empty space in the middle of the classroom. Girls who had been my friends for years hissed nasty things at me in the hallway. They even started a club in which the main requirement for joining was hating me. A girl who had been my best friend since I was four or five stabbed me in the leg with a compass point. And I never knew why.
I fought back. When they shoved me, I shoved them back. When my ex-best friend stabbed me, I broke her nose on her desk. It just made it worse. I was punished for fighting, for my attitude, for my weirdness. My teacher joined the fray on the bullies' side. She teased me relentlessly for my messy hair and disordered desk. She sat me in the trash can in the front of the room and rebraided my hair. She dumped the contents of my desk over my head. She called me names.
I fought back again, in a different way. I stopped doing all schoolwork. Instead I read. And read. And read. I read during class, during lunch, during recess. When my teacher figured out that I was doing nothing but reading, she tried to break me of it. For a week she made me sit in the hallway and do nothing but read. It was the best week of fourth grade. She didn't get it. I knew what I was doing. I wanted out of that school and the only way I could think of escaping was to refuse to do anything. It worked. When fourth grade ended, the school administrators suggested I might be happier in a different school. I agreed. And so I moved on.
Fifth grade went just fine. I made some friends, mostly did my work, and moved on to middle school without a bang. And then it started again. In sixth grade, it wasn't too bad. The bullying was fairly mild. Mostly name-calling and a bit of shoving in the hallway. Most of my teachers tried to stop any taunting in the classroom. And so sixth grade passed. And then came seventh.
Seventh grade was fourth grade all over again. Girls calling me names, stabbing me with pencils, pushing me down the stairs. This time was a little different because this time the boys joined in. I'm not pretty and the boys let me know that they had noticed. It hurt but not as much as the physical violence visited upon me by the girls. And again I had a teacher who joined in the bullying. She told me countless times that I brought it all on myself by being strange. It was in her class that a girl cut off a good four inches of my hair. It was misery.
Help Kids Survive Bullying
These bullying incidents followed me throughout my school career, waxing and waning from year to year, even through high school. My parents did try to help. They talked to the teachers, sent me to therapy, encouraged me to fight back, but they never really understood. Luckily I found friends who help make it bearable in high school. Most of them had been on the receiving end of bullying themselves and understood the damage it does. Thank goodness for them. A lot of them are my best friends to this day. I survived. But not without scars.
When I saw that little bully today, it all came rushing back. I could feel the compass point in my leg, the scissors on my hair. It's all still there, inside me. It will never leave completely. But I have risen above it. I have forged on and made a life for myself. I have a wonderful husband and two great kids and I love them all more than anything. And today I can say I am fine. Sure I still carry those slings and arrows with me, but they no longer define me. Now I define me. I choose to like myself and to hell with anyone who doesn't agree. So I can tell you today, definitively: Yes, it does get better.