Have I ever told you about how I was bullied in middle school? (What IS it about middle school? Grades 6-8 are the most painful growth years – physical AND emotional – for introverts, I feel.) I did not enjoy my time there.
I was a weird middle school kid. I read, ALL the time. Literally. I was quiet and shy. I had zero friends. Not a single one. I seriously don’t even remember what recess or outside time was like as I was most likely just sitting off under a tree reading. The years I spent in middle school feel furtive and Dark Ages to me. And bullying is rampant at this age, I think because nobody has a clue who in the world they are. Their bodies are developing into adults but their egos and minds are still in childhood. Eventually we make it out of the labyrinth…most of us. The saddest thing of all are adults who never make it out of the middle school labyrinth, and turn into adults who have no coping skills.
I was bullied. Started in 5th grade but ramped up in middle school. Here’s the definition of “bullying” I always give parents who come to me upset that so-and-so won’t play with their little princess or prince and therefore so-and-so is a bully and what am I going to do about that:
Bullying is insidious. You cannot escape it. It’s not: someone said they aren’t my friend now or I can’t play with them. It’s: someone told me they were going to beat me up on the bus today when no one was looking, and someone says that to me every day and I don’t know how to cope with it. It’s: someone keeps following me on the playground, cussing me out, and no matter what I do or where I go they won’t stop or leave me alone even though I’ve told them they’re scaring me and asked them to stop and I don’t know what to do now.
I was bullied by popular girls who decided they didn’t like me. They’d write notes about me in class saying cruel things about my body or my hair or clothes or whatever and pass them to me, and I had no idea who wrote the note. All because one of their mean girl leaders thought she heard someone say they thought they heard me say something derogatory about her. I was bullied by the unpopular girls who wanted to be with the popular girls. They’d come up behind me in the hallway as I was bent down at my locker and threaten to beat me up after school if I didn’t watch myself. Once, I was walking down some bleachers to go back to class after a school program and someone pushed me from behind, trying to make me fall several feet down. I caught myself, but man that was crazy. I have no idea who did it, but it was a girl. Girls can be so vicious.
This, I learned, is how bullies operate: in the dark, hidden. Because they’re essentially cowards.
In 5th grade (through middle school) I was bullied by a boy named Billy who was friends with a boy named Andy who bullied me on bus rides home and occasionally when he saw me in the neighborhood. Andy lived in my neighborhood and he had a dog that was literally insane; all of the neighbor children were afraid of Sandy (the dog). One day, a group of them I was playing with started taunting Sandy, making him crazier and crazier. I mean, we used to freak ourselves out about Sandy getting off his leash and going on a war path through the neighborhood, terrorizing us all. I was part of the group – I may have been barking with the others, but I don’t remember being mean to the dog. I think somebody threw a rock or something, I don’t remember.
At any rate, not long after that, Andy’s parents had had enough of Sandy themselves and packed him up and sent him off to a farm in the country. Andy honed in on me as the reason that happened, and the bullying began.
…Once, in 3rd grade, a neighbor boy did something to me – I can’t remember what now (Mom, do you remember?), but I remember telling my mom and it upset her enough to talk to him and his mom. I told my side of the story, he told his (which was a lie, basically, a denial of doing whatever he’d done). His mom, of course, believed him and not me. And he was so insistent, even though he was flat out lying. I was a meek and mild child, and so I backed down and there was nothing my mom could do at that point. He won. (But did he really? Because I bet he turned into a douchebag of a “man.”)
(I’m telling you all these stories because they’re going to all connect in a minute. Stay with me.)
So when my mom and dad asked to sit down with Andy and his mom and dad to talk about his behavior towards me on every bus ride home and occasionally in the ‘hood, I remembered that from 3rd grade and I didn’t back down this time – I stuck to my story. At some point, Andy got frustrated and brought up the REAL reason he hated me – I sent Sandy away. I remember Andy’s dad cutting him off and telling him they weren’t ever going to talk about Sandy again, get over it. And then Andy going dark, and sulking.
The bullying never stopped. Because Andy’s real issue was never addressed. From this I learned that bullies always have an underlying reason for doing what they do to others, and it never has anything to do with the others they are bullying.
Billy, friends with Andy, decided to help him bully me. All through middle school. Nasty names, social shunning. Convincing other people I was gross and not worthy. That kind of thing. These things were possibly all reasons I sat under trees, alone, and read at recess a lot. (This, of course, was back in the day when kids – even middle school kids – actually got to go outside and get fresh air for a few minutes each day.)
In Social Studies, I sat in front of a boy who was friends with Billy. Every day, I’d sit and that boy (Rick? Ron? something with an R) would say horrible, reprehensible things about me, knowing I could hear him. For minutes before class started every day, I’d have to sit and listen to all the ways I was not worthy to be alive.
Finally, one day, maybe I was hormonal or maybe I’d just had enough – I was ANGRY. Rick-Ron kept running his mouth behind me and I was getting angrier and angrier. Bullying will do it to you, if you have ANY kind of self esteem. I dropped my pencil as he was mid-sentence, and as I bent to pick it up, my chair’s back legs lifted off the ground. When I sat back down – all angry – I slammed its legs down…right onto Rick-Ron’s foot.
The boy sitting next to him, who occasionally joined in on Rick-Ron’s Social Studies sociopathy, got all mad at me and told Rick-Ron to let the teacher know what I’d done. You know what Rick-Ron did, though? He said no, leave her alone. She’s right, I deserved that. I’d gotten a little vicious and violent, and suddenly that bully had mad respect for me.
After middle school, I transferred from the county to the city high school. I did not want to spend my 4 years of high school alone, being tormented by dickheads with ego issues. The summer after my 9th grade year, I re-took Algebra I in summer school because I’d gotten a D in it and nerdy-geek me couldn’t, COULD NOT, have that on her GPA. (Eeked out a B with crazy Mr. Hoffman.)
Guess who was in my summer school Algebra I class when I walked in, just guess. (Nope, not Rick-Ron. Rick-Ron was perfectly lovely to me after I slammed the chair down on his foot, and he often stood up for me when he heard other boys saying stuff.) Billy. Andy’s friend. Who’d pretty much been a dick to me throughout middle school, but not constantly since he was on the low skills track and I was on the high skills track. Or whatever they called it – Billy was not good at school, let’s put it that way.
He was pretty awful as soon as he saw me; he literally sneered. Fortunately by that point, I’d made friends a couple of whom were in the class with me. Also, Billy was on MY turf – he was from Boyle County, and none of us city kids had any love for those county ones. He was outnumbered, out-manpowered.
From this, I learned that bullies like to get helpers to help them with their dirty work.
Later, I went with my dad to pick up my brother from some Cub Scout thing or something. Anyway, it was from someone’s house. And that house turned out to be…Billy’s. Billy wasn’t involved in the Cub Scout thing; Billy was a gangster-wannabe little no good twerp. His brother was in the thing.
So the boys were all outside running around, waiting for parents to collect them, and there was Billy running around doing Billy things outside. He was going into 10th grade but still looked like he was in 6th grade. I don’t remember what he did, but his father screamed and screamed and screamed at him – called him all kinds of names. I remember sitting in the passenger seat, watching this transpire, watching Billy’s entire body almost turn into a terrified little ball. He was scared shitless of his dad (and so was I, quite frankly).
From this, I learned bullies are always bullied. They’re taught how to do it, usually by the very people who are supposed to protect them from bullies.
So. Here’s why I’m writing about bullies tonight. I had an adult bully. Have one, actually, he’s probably not following my directions and is reading this. Which is fine; I cannot stop him from doing that, just like I cannot stop him from visiting my Twitter page or saying nasty, untrue things about me in private to strangers I don’t know. But what I CAN do is the following, and I did it on Tuesday and Wednesday and I’ll do it again if I have to, because you teach people how to treat you and he’s taught me this is how he wants me to treat him:
I slammed a chair’s back legs down on his foot this past week. I broke the cardinal rule of Stalkees, and I had a conversation with him. But I did it in public, and it did not go as he was hoping it would. (Why in the world someone who’s been nothing but crazy and mean and nasty would even think they had another shot at friendship and access to love after all that is beyond me…but then, I’m not crazy.)
I recognize that he was probably terrorized in his past, and this is how he deals. I recognize that there is an underlying issue not being dealt with that is causing him to behave in these manners. I recognize that he is afraid and lost and stuck in middle school emotionally. But he does not have the right to bad mouth me and spread lies about me because he’s still “growing.” So he can read this blog, and he can read my Twitter page, and he can talk all the smack he wants to about me in private. But what he WON’T do anymore is bad mouth me out loud. He won’t make snide, sarcastic comments that vaguely reference me. He will not use me to boost his own pathetic lack of self esteem. He will no longer be allowed to bully me. He is a bully, along with some other things, and if there is one thing I cannot and will not tolerate, it’s a bully. Life is too short, the world is too full of good and awesome people, to have any time for anyone like that. If he can’t respect me, I’ll repeatedly slam chairs down on his feet until he does.
What bullies have taught me is that they only speak one language, and that language is Bully. I am not a bully, but I’ll bully a bully back any day he/she shows me that’s the only language they understand.
The other day on the playground, a little boy hit a little girl and I thought I was going to lose my mind. That boy and I sat down and had a good long talk about why boys don’t hit girls – one day, he’s going to be bigger than her and if he hits that girl when he’s bigger than her, he can seriously hurt her, even kill her. Boys. Don’t. Hit. Girls. For any reason. (Are some boys abused and hurt by girls? Yes, and I’m not okay with that either, but I’m not going to get into that right now because I’ll totally lose focus. The main point is that, typically, men are physically stronger than women. And therefore, real men don’t hit women. They don’t hit them with their fists, and if a woman says NO then you STOP whatever it is you are doing. If a woman says you are scaring her, you STOP whatever it is you are doing. If you cannot, then you are not a real man, you are a coward and a bully. End of discussion.)
Living a human life is complicated and tough. I don’t think it has to be, but we hurt each other. And we hurt each other because our children weren’t taught any better. Please (PLEASE) hug your babies and say I love you. Yes, lose your collective shit on them once in awhile because children need to know they are not, in fact, in charge and just because Zuri does it on Jessie doesn’t mean it’s okay for YOU to do it. True conversation in our home, all the time. But never ever let your child go to sleep thinking they are bad, or unworthy of love, or less-than. This is what makes bullies, I am convinced. And terrorists, and people open to gang violence. Children who are loved hard know they are worthy. I know this because I come from a family like this. My parents weren’t perfect; my dad could be a scary guy and my mom…well, she’s alive still and reading this, so she was a great and fabulous and perfect mom. But I always knew I was loved. I didn’t go to bed not knowing I was loved and the people who were raising me were proud of me.
I hate bullies. But I also have compassion for them. But I hate them. And so I won’t tolerate or put up with them, and I don’t understand people who do. People who knowingly put up with people who are bullies, who willfully won’t tell them: You need help. You are a problem, seek help.
Anyway. I have no idea how to conclude this. My adrenaline this week is all gone, but I’m still good with slamming a chair down on a foot if I have to.
The things we teach and do to each other.