Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Own Bullying Experience

I was bullied.  I can openly admit it.  It wasn't one isolated incident. Nope, I was what my mom called an "easy target."  She coached me on every possible response to ward off these attacks, to no avail.  My young age (I was a year younger than my classmates), combined with rule-following, know-it-all, teacher's pet, crybaby tendencies just made me that easy target.  The incident that could make headlines today occurred was when I was in eighth grade--just 12 years old.  My family acted on what we felt was the right thing over cheerleader try-outs, trying to act in the spirit of integrity.  I was horribly uncoordinated (still am), but wanted nothing more than to be a cheerleader, for in a small town this was the penultimate accomplishment.  Finally, I would be liked.  When the score sheets showed evidence of changed numbers, my mom acted in good faith.  It is quite easy to look back in hindsight and for either of us to second-guess that decision, but it happened and second-guessing doesn't change that.

The outcry in the school was over the top.  People I had previously considered friends stopped speaking to me on a dime.  Someone I didn't know took the liberty of handing out our family phone number at the high school, with instructions to either hang-up or make foul comments.  Trust me, people followed directions well.  We shared a phone line with my grandparents--a party-line, which is truly an archaic concept these 20 years later.  The prank callers said mean, vile things to my grandfather, a man with more integrity in his pinky finger than these kids would ever know.  I distinctly remember running laps in gym class, only to look up and see 'friends' using their hands to mimic a hand-gun, and aiming it at ME.  At me.  The message was that my life was worth nothing over a complaint about cheerleading? It made no sense to me.  I withdrew into myself, my self-confidence taking a hit beyond belief.  The entirety of my high school career, I looked sideways at my classmates when they were unexpectedly kind.  I no longer socialized with people with whom I had spent hours on the phone, going to the movies, spending the night at each others' houses.

Painful is an understatement, but I didn't kill myself.  I never even considered it, to my recollection.  What made me different than these kids of today's headlines, bullied until suicide seemed the only option?  I can think of several possibilities, but 22 years has dulled me saying for certain.  Some things seem to be quite obvious and must play a part.  My parents were, and remain, married.  My parents, both of them, were what some might call intrusively active in my life--they knew my friends, knew my school assignments, knew my teachers.  I heard daily how proud my family was of me.  My grandparents and aunt, uncle and cousins lived down the road from us.  We were active in our church, members of which couldn't have cared less about the insults being hurled from small-minded peers.  I maintained my participation in softball (I wasn't very good at that, either).  I had several friends who remained by my side, not caring about the hullabaloo at school.  All of this is to say that my parents had made my village quite strong.  Interwoven in many directions, my pain was buoyed by support in many directions.

That bullying left its impact on my psyche, I can't say that the impact is erased, even now.  BUT I know my parents taught me integrity, demonstrated it, and acted in best faith.  I went on to make other friends, participate in other activities, earn a Master's Degree, get married and parent my own children.  Even with age I don't understand the mind of a bully--I don't understand finding joy in causing someone else's pain.  My parents may have made mistakes along the way, but somehow it all worked to keep my sister and me going, persevering and succeeding.  It is overwhelming to take on the challenge of doing the same for my children.  I read the devastating stories of these children who see no option but to end their lives and hope with all my heart that the village my husband and I are constructing for our children will be enough--enough to see the worth in their lives and carry-on no matter the disappointments they may face.

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