The Funeral Of My Bully – a personal story
He was dead. Jake (not his real name) was dead. I only knew him as my high school classmate - and my tormenter. Now, he was gone.
Jake’s family had invited my whole class to attend his funeral after school and offered transportation to and from the funeral home. Should I go? I debated the question. It was curiosity rather than any strong need to honor Jake that motivated me. I had never gone to a funeral service before and I was hungry for new experiences.
Nearly everyone from the class showed up in front of the funeral home – the good looking popular boys who followed Jake’s lead in all things, the cute girls who giggled and blushed when he and his posse went by, the smart crowd that appreciated his quick wit, and the faceless masses of whom I was a part.
A few of them looked at me in surprise. “What is SHE doing here?” their expressions seemed to be saying. Guilt pricked my conscience. What was I doing there? Jake certainly was not my friend.
I blended into the surging crowd of mourners that flowed into the foyer of the elegant funeral home. A cry of anguish pierced the soft whispers in the black sea around me.
A young teenage girl was crying hysterically. Her parents rushed forward to support her as her knees turned to jello.
I don’t belong among these sorrowing people, I thought. But then, I was shocked as anyone else when I heard that Jake had been killed in a motorcycle accident. My life had not been impacted yet by the death of another human being. For the first time, I realized that I was not invincible and that death could come for me at any time. The closed casket before me loomed as a symbol of my mortality.
The hundred seat chapel quickly filled to standing room only. Splashes of vibrant white, yellow, red and blue flowers streaked with green stems overflowed from the platform to the side walls. Their heavy scent hung in the air.
The service was surreal. Jake's parents, struggling to walk in their crippling grief. His relatives looking somber and lost. My classmates wiping away their tears.
As I heard the eulogies praising a fine young man, ideal son and loving brother, I wondered how their views could be so different from mine.
As music droned in the background, I remembered first meeting Jake in my homeroom class. Jake was one of the leaders of the “in” crowd - a tall good-looking guy. I had walked into the huge high school with high hopes earlier that year. As a shy, awkward 15 year old, I had been emotionally beaten down by years of bullying.
In my old school, my skinny frame was pushed, prodded, pulled and verbally tormented - the constant winner of the dumbest, ugliest and stupidest girl in the class awards.
A new school
I had hoped that life would be better at my new high school, away from the bullies at the gloomy prison of a school where I was stuck from Kindergarten to Grade 9. No such luck. My reputation as an easy target for teasing followed me.
Jake and his friends started making fun of my last name and pounced on everything - the way I looked, the way I spoke and the occasional ignorant mistakes that I, like most teenagers, make.Jake and his gang plotted to find new ways to humiliate me.
Freshie Queen nomination - almost
One of his most creative endeavors happened when our Grade 10 class held elections for various class positions such as secretary and president. I was nominated for the first announced position. All the nominees had to leave the classroom and wait in the hallway for the class vote. At first I was stunned and mystified. What am I doing there with all the popular and smart kids?
Then, for class president - I was nominated.
Class Secretary - I was nominated.
‘Freshie Queen’ - I am nominated - hey, wait a minute.
What's going on here?
After a vote had been taken in the classroom, we were invited back to hear the results. The position always went to another kid. I noticed that muffled laughter got louder and louder every time I came back into the room. It was almost deafening by the time I came back into the class after the final election – ‘Freshie Queen.’ I could almost hear them thinking, "Carola being ‘Freshie Queen?’ What a joke!" This was just a new way to humiliate me in front of the class.
If I raised my hand in class, Jake or people in his group gave an incredulous snort. After all, in their eyes, I was too stupid to answer a question correctly. I tried to blend into the background by not participating in classroom activities whenever possible. I slinked in and out of classrooms, hoping that no one would notice me and comment or laugh at my ugliness. I hated Jake and his in-crowd. I saw him as a cruel bully who lay awake nights thinking of ways to torture me.
My classmates were grieved by Jake's death. I felt mixed emotions. The leader of the group that hurt me was gone. Another part of me felt regret and genuine sorrow that a fellow teenager should die at such a young age. Without Jake's leadership, my classmates ignored me. I gratefully skulked into the shadows of my school.
I realized my view of Jake was one dimensional. He was a villain - a bully who enjoyed tormenting people. He was mean and cruel. Now my concept of who he was had to change. Could it be that he was a decent guy on the whole who teased me just for he thought of is funt? Could he have thoughtlessly picked me as an object of teasing to appear clever to his friends? Is it possible that he didn't realize how much he had hurt me, thinking his mocking was just some a harmless joke? Maybe he was just too immature or self-absorbed to realize the damage he was doing.
If I was to accept the image that was held before me at the funeral of a loving son, brother and friend, I had to change my perception of him. If I saw Jake as deliberately cruel and mean, that meant that I was a victim. Poor me, always being picked on. Always feeling anxious and afraid of being hurt.
I began to wonder if his cruel pursuit was not personal, and that any other person who was handy would have suited his need to tease and ridicule someone. Maybe I wasn’t stupid and ugly after all. Maybe I did not deserve to be treated that way. Maybe they were wrong about me.
Self-examination and forgiveness
It was time to take a hard look at myself. Am I going to allow others to tell me who I am and play the victim? A voice inside my head said, you are beautiful, smart and you can do amazing things. Stop listening to those immature bullies! They don’t know you. They can’t hurt you unless you let them.
I decided to forgive him so that I could let go of all the hurt, low self-esteem, anger and shame I felt because of his bullying. A door opened to a life journey that travelled towards becoming a confident, smart, outgoing person instead of a fearful armadillo ball that had been cowering in the corners of her life.
Why Jake would feel the need to put me down? My final conclusion was that he probably didn't care anything about me one way or another. I was just a handy object to ridicule at the time. I will never know for sure.
© 2013 Carola Finch