I was bullied horribly when I was a kid, starting in first grade.
See, I was a nose picker. Not that kids really need an excuse to bully somebody, but the moment they have one... all bets are off. During preschool and kindergarten I had been well liked, social, happy to make friends. And then one day, the whole world changed.
Kids laughed at me and pointed and said all sorts of things I can hardly remember now.
Suddenly, other children on the playground were offering to pay me to touch other kids. It was the meanest thing they could think of to do... to each other.
I wasn't even a person to them, I was an object of ridicule, at the very best.
And so I retreated into myself. By the time I was in third grade, I was writing horror stories that featured the meanest kids in my school being found dead in a closet, Murder She Wrote style. In all of those stories, they were my friends, and I solved the mystery and received the love and adoration of all my classmates as a reward.
The summer after fourth grade, I decided to make a change. I cut my hair, I started wearing things I though Claudia from the Babysitter's Club books would like. I decided I just didn't care about what people thought of me anymore. I was lying to myself, but it helped me cope.
In fifth grade, the bullying peaked. My fifth grade teacher was practically a non-entity. Her class went wild around her. So wild in fact, that one girl, Veronica, would halt the class, march the front of the room, and to the raucous applause of her friends, point out each unworthy person in the room, mocking them publicly. Our teacher, Mrs. Burton, would sit on the sidelines with her head in her hands. She didn't even try to stop it. She wasn't the first teacher I had felt ought to do something, who ought to at least try to help.
Veronica went down the line, accusing people of smelling bad, of being stupid, whatever. When she got to me, she burst out laughing.
"You're just a alien. You're not even like a person. You're so weird."
When the class had started laughing, she got started on a "You're SO weird" routine. "You're so weird, your hair has hair. You're so weird, you're from another planet. You're so weird, your whole family lives is a science experiment...." and so on.
I just sat there, eyes down. I didn't cry, I didn't do anything. That was always the advice when you said somebody picked on you- if you don't react, they'll stop.
They never stopped. But after that day, it just got worse. All the kids in the class who had been deemed "good enough" by Veronica felt free to just... let me have it.
I did ridiculous, juvenile things to avoid being bullied. When one girl was made fun of for sweating, I began covering my whole body in antiperspirant. I quietly catalogued all the "wrong" things I could do, and tried to avoid them. It was utterly pointless.
One day, a girl named Kim smashed a wooden wreath across my head. I didn't move. I stayed in my desk. and broke all of my pencils. My teacher, who I still believe was totally complicit in my bullying, sent me to the school councilor's office for my "troubling" behavior.
I began begging my parents to take me out of school. They didn't. Instead, they did something I thought would be even better. They moved to a different state.
I was thrilled to be moving. I was going to start all over. I changed my hair again, I changed my clothes, I changed my name. I was going to be a different person. Somebody who wasn't an object of ridicule. Somebody who wasn't universally loathed. Somebody who's mere presence wasn't a punishment to other people.
And so, on the first day of middle school, knowing nobody, I walked into what I imagined was my new life.
As I walked up to the doors of the school, the students all milling around, waiting for them to open and for the day to begin, people froze and stared at me.
They all looked so... normal.
And here, my parents had promised me that we'd moved to the land of the weirdos, and I was wearing a gold, floor length silk skirt, and a blue faux turtleneck cropped t-shirt.
Having just moved to Ann Arbor, I had no idea I'd walked in as a Maize n' Blue billboard.
During attendance in my homeroom, my teacher said I wasn't on her list. I went to the principal's office to clear it up. He sent me to another classroom. That teacher claimed I didn't belong either. And so on.
By the end of the day, I had spent fifteen minutes being gawked at in every single classroom for sixth grade.
By the end of the week, it became perfectly clear that my life wasn't going to be different at all. People knocked me into my locker, asked me if I was wearing strange clothes because I was a lesbian (it took me a while to figure out that was an insult), called me names.
|True story- my dog ate this project before we could turn it in. It was a disaster.|
There were a few people who took the time to get to know me. They are all in the picture above.
But something else happened during that first week. I genuinely stopped giving a crap about those people who made fun of me.
I cultivated an interior life. I read constantly, I wrote constantly, my poetry improved dramatically and then become incredibly dark and self involved. I began to paint. And most importantly of all, I decided that I did. not. need. anyone.
The next year, I began to make friends with the other outcasts. The other people who were beat up or made fun of for being in any way different. In sixth grade, I was a strange kid with a 50's style bob and a notebook full of poetry about imaginary places, and by the end of seventh grade....
That was me, the goth kid with the necklaces.
I home schooled for eighth grade, but by then I had some friends.
I was determined to just do whatever the hell I wanted, because who gave a crap about what other people thought? It made me selfish, but it kept me from being hurt. But strangers, kids in school, kids from other schools, friends of friends, and worst of all my so-called "best friend"... they still made fun of me. The "best friend" worse than anybody.
She made fun of me for growing body hair. For the clothes I wore. For the people I knew. For the music I listened to. She did so in the guise of "teaching" me to be a good person. A better person. A popular person. And in the few instances I managed to excel at her lessons, to collect friends or even boyfriends, she would come swooping in and shatter my confidence. Annihilate my self esteem.
I had a boyfriend, and after advising me to cut it off, she took the incredibly drastic step (at 14) of going down on him at a party, so he would start dating her. When I finally confessed to her how incredibly hurt I had been, she started having sex with him- again, a very big deal when you're talking about fourteen year olds.. As she confessed to me later, this was to keep him from being interested in me again. This was my best friend. That boy, he and I would silently commiserate with each other from across the room, the trapped victims of her intense bullying.
I started cutting myself. My left arm is still covered in the scars.
When I tried to kill myself as a teenager, it wasn't just the sexual assault that had done it. It was years of planning, years of waiting for that final straw to break the camel's back.
The thing is, I did care. I always cared. I just also believed that never, never for the rest of my life, would people accept or love me. That they wouldn't view me as an object of ridicule, as something to be despised. Growing breasts and hips didn't help- strangers would catcall at me. To me, it was more of the same. More anonymous hate and rage headed towards me because I just simply did not belong. Not in New Jersey, not in Ann Arbor, not anywhere.
I was always sure that as nice as my friends, it was despite my inherent unloveableness. My de-facto strangeness. The fact that I was just plain unworthy, and that I always would be.
I embraced my strangeness so fully, because it was a sign of my survival, despite being taught so thoroughly in middle school how truly pointless my existence in the world of "normal" people was.
Part of me really believed that until I met M, and he managed to convince me that he actually thought I was wonderful. Part of me still believes that now.
So whenever I hear about teenagers killing themselves because of bullies, my heart breaks. I can feel an emptiness in my chest made of the pain that I know. I feel the raised lines on my arm, my own battle with surviving the incredible cruelty of adolescents, and I just wish I could go back in time a few days, or weeks, and let those kids know that their value isn't determined by the "normal" kids. That no kid is "normal." That those people don't know them, let alone have any basis of comparison to judge their value.
So, I'm an adult now, and I'm mostly over it. But I'm never going to be totally over it. I still assume that "normal" looking adults will shun me, will talk about me behind my back, will mock me. I still assume that I am not inherently "normal," that I am somehow flawed. It is a huge impediment to making and building friendships with other adults, out here in the real world.
And I will never, not for an instant, encourage or accept bullying behavior from my kids. I would rather comfort them through their tears and their fears and their pain a million times over than to have the blood on my hands of my children becoming the bullies that I knew, the kids who make a child miserable enough to take their own life.
So, shame on you, bullies of Tappan Middle School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Shame on you.
I hope you're as disgusted with yourselves as I am.