Today is May 4th, and that means two things: it’s Star Wars Day (though admittedly I’m more of a Trek fan, unless you’re including most recent film adaptations), so first things first:
And secondly, it’s Anti-Bullying Day (which should be everyday). Many people show their support of this day by wearing pink…I own nothing pink so this post will have to do.
One in four students will be bullied before leaving grade school, and that’s entirely too high a number when you understand the price being paid. This has been too easy a problem to pass off and tuck away into shadowy corners and turn blind eyes to, but it can’t be a problem left for others to deal with forever. Every generation is subjected to the same trial with the same unfeeling jury of their peers, and without speaking about the damage of the past, we can’t discuss what needs to be done for the future.
I’ve learned a lot about bullying since getting out of high school and in the process of earning my degree in psychology. I know a lot more of the facts and understand a lot more of the processes that occur when it comes to bullying, in both the bully and the victim. But a long time ago, I only knew what I experienced…
I was never overburdened with friends but thought I had a couple over the years. I remember always feeling like I was missing something, that the other kids had a script page that was left out in mine. But fifth grade was when I had my first real taste of bullying.
The dog I’d had since I was born, my best friend, Haley, died over Thanksgiving break. Come Monday, I was still devastated and reached out to the only friend I had at the time, a girl in my class. Apparently other kids were asking her why I was so upset, having been taken out of class to compose myself in the guidance counselor’s office for a bit, and she told them about Haley.
On the playground that very day, they bothered to follow and catch up with me on the usually empty walking trail. They laughed at me and my tears, and they told me that my dog, my best friend, had been stupid and deserved to die….absorb that for a minute as an adult, then try to imagine hearing that at 10 years old. Adding further insult to further injury, the girl I’d told as my friend, laughed along with the others about my dumb, dead, dog that I was still stupidly crying over. She would not be the last ‘friend’ to do something similar over the years.
Taunts and names didn’t take long to follow, and continued. By sixth grade, I’d gained weight and a bit more weirdness, neither of which was much accepted by those around me. I spent only one year in public middle school.
I would go home in tears, begging my mother not to make me go back. Their words were vicious, I was ostracized wherever possible and mocked in between. During class changes, I was shoved against walls, a rolling book bag I’d gotten out of necessity was often kicked off balance and down the crowded halls away from me; I was petrified of being late to class, my first foray into moving locations on a set time had my anxiety levels outrageously high as I chased my bag down and hurried on. No one bothered to help me, student or teacher.
The bus ride became its own special hell, trying to maneuver a bag that weighed as much as I did through narrow aisles with people sticking out their legs and then yelling at me for hitting them. Curses and taunts tossed out like raindrops. It was an indescribable reprieve when my mother began picking me up from school in the afternoons.
Every person I thought was a friend only stayed long enough till I’d served my unknown purpose before casting me off again with more laughter. I remember being 11 years old and sure I was dying inside and that when nothing was left in me, my body would give out and I’d crumple to the ground and scatter away like ashes. I remember telling my mother that I couldn’t keep going back, that I would die. Maybe that sounds dramatic here and now in the safety and security of adulthood, but it wasn’t.
For two years I was homeschooled and it was a fantastic experience. I could and probably should have applied myself a bit more than I did, but what freedom it was. I felt like my soul could breathe again, away from the chittering, hateful, pretend people that didn’t even like to read.
When I returned to public school for high school I hoped things would be different.
Simply though, my high school peers and I did not get along. There were a few people from the most random scattering of social groups that I liked or tolerated and that felt the same towards me. They’d pop up now and then, or I’d meet them in the mornings before the day started and it felt like having friends. To some degree I did have friends on occasion, but I was essentially alone and without a group. The few close friends I had ultimately betrayed me, usually divulging secrets I’d trusted in their care as they went.
I was the subject of ridicule, rumors, cruel pranks and jokes at my expense, usually by those that saw or interacted with but didn’t know me, and even among some that did. The first person to ever ask me out did it on a bet that he could sleep with me within the week. When that didn’t happen, it became a month, then by the end of the semester (I found this out later from the other betting party who seemed quite amused by it all). I guess when the semester was almost over and he realized it wasn’t going to happen, even after trying to take things way too far, he ever so maturely ignored me, as if I’d never existed and wasn’t there anymore, and more rumors surfaced. This is just one example. Is there any wonder why I’ve had some self-esteem issues in my life?
I made and lost what I thought were friendships that bruised a tender and confused heart. I swung between being a victim of the taunts with meek acceptance and crushed ego, and brazenly welcoming the unasked for scrutiny with silence, an icy glare, and a middle finger. Sometimes I’m not sure how I made it out; I was a volatile cocktail of emotions and everything seemed to hit me at once.
Instances like fending off unwanted hands from places they weren’t welcome, and others, only ignited memories I’d tucked away. I started displaying some early symptoms of PTSD, which was only compounded by the abuse from my peers.
The school essentially did nothing, saying its hands were tied. Any action that may have been taken never seemed to change my life in any school for the better (elementary, middle, or high school), if any action was taken at all. The process of reporting bullying to school administrators and teachers usually follows one of two patterns: child is bullied, reports to parents and/or teachers/administrators, told to try and sort things out on their own, bullying continues, reports to parents and teachers/administrators, told if an adult didn’t see it, it didn’t happen, bullying continues, report to parents and teachers/administrators, vague claims of something being done but reiteration of former advice, bullying continues and often worsens – here is when one of two things happens: 1) repeat the cycle until getting out, or 2) a catalyst, usually ending with tragic repercussions; more often than not the victim of the bullying ends up paying some kind of price, often suicide, or the victim finally fights back and it results in their being punished for it. It isn’t a win for the bullied when rules set in place to supposedly protect them applies no logic and ultimately punishes them for what the school didn’t or refused to do, protect them.
A few years ago, a poet that I’ve admired for some time shared a poem and video that says everything else that needs to be said about the experience of bullying. It’s called To This Day by Shane Koyczan
To this day I remember how every moment felt. To this day I have scars, literal and metaphorical, that will always be reminders. To this day, bullying continues, and because of that, I shared part of my story today.
It’s important because I’m still here, and so are you.
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