This is a long one, so buckle up.
Yesterday I was farting around on Facebook, when I came across a story about a 13-year old boy who committed suicide a few days ago. The boy was bullied for being a male cheerleader, and, after getting into a fight to defend himself against the bullying, was suspended. That beautiful, strong, vibrant boy felt like there was no way out of his bullying, other than to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
Every day we see reports on the news of more and more kids that are killing themselves because of bullying. My heart breaks for each and every one of those children and their families. I am at a loss for words to describe how much my soul aches every time I hear about another bully-related "incident."
I think we can all attest that our teenage years weren't all that easy. It's easy to look back and remember all the good things - the newfound freedom of a first car, the first kiss, the freefall of adolescence. I remember hating high school, but now I look back wistfully at those bygone days. For me, I was pretty lucky in high school. I was one of only 800 kids or so, and we all knew each other. I wasn't popular, so I remained fairly off the drama radar. No, it was in middle school that I was tortured. I guess that's why I'm not surprised to see so many bullying suicides occur in kids from 12-15. Those years are the WORST.
I don't think about my personal bullying much anymore. After all, it was fifteen years ago that it all happened. It's easy to put those memories on a shelf, to sweep them under a rug, to nearly forget about them. But I can tell you from experience, it is impossible to ever let them go.
When I was ten my mom got a new boyfriend. He seemed like a pretty nice guy, and he had two kids that were around my age. His daughter was two years older than I was, and his son and I were only three days apart. My own brother is five years younger than I am, so I was thrilled to have some kids my own age. Our families moved in together, and by the time I was 11, my mom and stepdad had gotten married. I know you're thinking that this is all going to turn out with sunshine and roses, like we were the damn Brady bunch or something. If only.
I was so excited to finally have siblings. As the oldest of the kids in my family, I had always wanted an older sister. And now I had one! Not just that, but she was pretty and popular. And a pre-adolescent girl is generally only occupied with two things: her looks and her popularity.
That first summer we all got on fine. My stepsister let me tag along with her and her friends, but I wasn't ever really accepted into their clique.
It was in September when the trouble started.
I don't remember the first time it happened. I can't remember if it was a gradual escalation or if it just started happening all at once. I just remember the misery.
My stepsister was my bully.
I started middle school with my step-siblings. My stepbrother was in a different class, and my stepsister was in the 8th grade, so we didn't really see much of each other at school. We did, however, live in adjoining neighborhoods, so we did ride the bus together. The morning bus ride to school was always quiet. I think that was the biggest part of the head game - if I had known that I had to start my day in agony, I could have at least prepared for it. But no, there was always that tense 15 minutes at the bus stop, where she and her friends were actually nice to me. They would compliment my hair, how I looked, that song I sung at the school talent show. There was the quiet, uneventful ride to school. There was hope that maybe, just maybe, today wouldn't be like every other day.
It is a cruel person, who knows how to manipulate hope.
The bullying always started on the bus ride home. She and her friends would sit behind me, and make nasty remarks. I was fat/ugly/hairy/worthless/a slut/etc. She talked about my family. Words hurt, but it's easy to get a pair of headphones and tune yourself out. When I did just that, she started getting physical. At first, she'd "accidentally" bump into me. She'd "accidentally" hit me with a textbook. Then she just started hitting me. Her friend actually spit in my hair once.
We got off at two different bus stops, but her friends got off at mine, so I got to walk all the way home with them behind me, shouting. At first it was catty bullshit. Then they threatened to beat my ass. Then they threatened to kill me.
She had a friend who went to the "bad school," and for a while rumors went around that she was going to jump me with a baseball bat. I was terrified to leave my house.
I don't think I'll ever forget those bus rides and those walks home.
Then, as if that weren't enough, she figured out my school schedule.
In sixth grade, we had one bathroom break, where we could take ten minutes of free time. She learned when that was, and always managed to show up in the bathroom during our break. She would pin me to the wall and threaten me. I think the worst part was the humiliation that happened in the bathroom and on the walk home, because it was in front of my friends. The shit on the bus was pretty quiet, and I could deal with that.
My parents tried everything. My mom was all about taking the high road, so I was never allowed to say or do anything back. She told me that if I just held my head up and showed that it didn't affect me, they would stop eventually. I wasn't allowed to fight, because that would get me in trouble with school, and we were a new family and we were trying to make it work and blah blah blah. The school wouldn't do anything, because there was no proof of what happened in the bathroom, and there was no proof of what happened on the bus, and after we got off the bus it wasn't their problem. My stepsister's mom was a harpy viper bitch who refused to even talk to my mother, so that wasn't going to get us anywhere. Desperate, my mom asked my dad to make the 15-hour drive down from Michigan, to pick me up from the bus stop and scare some sense into this girl. My dad is ex-Army and my mom was hoping he'd put on his best drill instructor face. Can I just take a moment to say that my dad is probably the most passive person I know? Clearly that route was a fail.
Because humans are easily influenced by the mob mentality, and because adolescents suck in general, it wasn't long before the other kids caught on. One boy in particular really got into the game. He started like everyone else, shouting at me as I walked home. When he didn't get a response, he started throwing twigs and pine cones at me. That escalated into larger sticks - the biggest was one that was an inch in diameter. Finally, he took an orange out of his lunchbox one afternoon and threw it at me as hard as he could. It hit me in the back of the head with so much force that the entire orange exploded.
As soon as I got home, my stepfather, enraged, dragged me over to his house - orange pulp and all - and made I don't even know what kind of threats to that kid's parents.
It was the one time my stepfather ever stood up for me. Too bad he couldn't stand up to his own daughter on my behalf. I know it isn't the case now, but as an eleven-year old child, that sent the message that, even though I was important enough to save from the neighborhood kids, I wasn't worth saving from her.
I felt so totally crushed by all of it. This girl was supposed to be my sister. These kids were supposed to be my friends. I wanted so badly to be liked by them all, but all they did was hurt me.
After I became an adult, my mom said, "I wish I'd have just let you beat the shit out of her once and have done with it." But because I was never allowed to fight back, I internalized all of the anger. I remember having vivid fantasies of taking a chainsaw to my stepsister's face.
To this day I have a serious anger problem. I feel like Bruce Banner - my anger is a pot that is waiting to boil over at any moment. There are days when I wake up and feel like my chest is going to burst from all the rage. When I get angry, I see red. I want blood. I want to destroy everything in front of me. It scares the shit out of me, that I am this way.
Years later, my stepsister apologized to me. As with most bullies, she externalized her anger and projected her insecurities and frustrations onto another person. She told me that she had been scared; her dad had married a new woman and she was afraid that my family would replace hers. She was just another scared, lonely kid with screwed up parents.
I forgave her. What else was there to do?
Fortunately, the next year she went to high school, and the bullying stopped, for the most part. I got really into music, and did a summer program where I met other artsy kids like me. I was twelve and all of my friends were sixteen - and they liked me for who I was. I also learned that if you're funny, you're usually likable, and likable kids are less likely to get picked on. So I developed a sense of humor. I also learned that if you develop a mean left hook and aren't afraid to break a boy's finger because he tried to grab your ass, that people generally don't fuck with you. So I toughened up.
And now you know how I developed and distilled my particular brand of sarcasm.
But that doesn't erase the pain, or the memories, or the damaging effects. I am a twenty-five year old woman. I am intelligent, educated, accomplished, strong, and attractive. I have a husband who loves me, a family who adores me, my dream job, and an amazing network of friends. And yet, every day I struggle with feelings of worthlessness. I still feel as though I'll never be enough. That no matter what I do, I will never be anything. Because that message was drilled into my head every day for a year.
It still hurts.
It will always hurt.
I pray that my future children will never be the victims of bullying. Let my kid come home with an orange busted on the back of their head. Because the kid that did it - well, I can't really speak to what would happen to him, because just thinking about it makes me see red.
But even more than that, I pray that my future children will never be bullies. Because that thought makes me sick to my stomach. I pray that I can teach my children compassion, and love, and acceptance. I pray that my kids will be the one to befriend that little girl with spit in her hair and blood on her lip. I pray that my kids are stronger than I was, and stronger than my bullies were.
We are here for such a short time, what is there for us but to love one another? And if we can't teach that message to our kids, then really, what are we teaching them?