I Was Bullied

I was bullied horribly and it was terrible. It’s not something I talk about. I turn forty this month and I still have not talked about this to anyone other than my mother and sister. My mother’s gone and my sister generously does not bring it up. I buried it in the back of my mind and deliberately didn’t think of it until I had children of my own and watched the social game begin.

I tried to remember when it started and I realized that I couldn’t much remember a time when it wasn’t going on. I remember when it ended clearly because it took a lot of work on my part. I believe it started in first grade and continued through third grade when my mother transferred me out of a small Catholic school due to bullying. It was a small school and I clashed with some girls my age. I really don’t remember it but my mother said I came home everyday and threw myself on the floor sobbing. So, she put me in public school.

I don’t remember exactly what happened but I do vividly remember the feeling that comes when you realize people are making fun of you. At first, you try to talk yourself out of it, but you realize that there are a group of people and they are all talking about you. I used to try to ignore it – pretend I couldn’t hear it. Meanwhile, my stomach would sink into my shoes and I’d begin to wish that a car would explode or the teacher would faint – anything to distract people from making fun of me.

I think things calmed down for a few years but in junior high, it got worse again. I felt self-conscious and freakish and every time someone made fun of me, my discomfort in my own skin became worse. There’s no one reason. My weight was normal and I was reasonable-looking. Not a model or anything but you’d certainly think I could blend in if necessary. Yet, I couldn’t seem to. There is something about me that makes other people uncomfortable. It’s been an asset in some ways but as a kid, it was a nightmare. My mother thinks it’s because I was perceptive and hyper-independent. I wasn’t likely to go along with the crowd even when it was in my best interests. I can assess a person pretty quickly and clearly and this really bothers people who feel insecure. I think some of the people with the biggest insecurities are the ones most likely to bully. They’re so afraid of being singled out themselves that they find other targets.

What actually happened? Let’s see – groups of people laughing at me, people passing rude notes, trying to trip me – the basic stuff. One boy started harassing me sexually when I was in junior high. He would grab my boobs and my butt constantly. I told my parents, who complained to the school. However, it didn’t change. The principal had more than one meeting with him but it was the 80s – no one really cared that much. I think they felt that I was a bit of a whiner. It seemed to get worse and sometimes he grabbed at my crotch while other kids egged him on. One day, my grandfather gave me a 5 pound lead weight to stick in my purse and advised me to whack him with it. That, finally, helped.

One girl put a pig sticker with a giant “oink” on my back one day in class. I was friends with this girl in later years. I often wondered if she remembered or how she’d react if I brought it up. Of course, I didn’t. I was far too protective of the social ground I’d gained to risk it in a conversation like that. I was bullied often enough by enough people that they had to remember it. We seemed to have an unspoken agreement. My little sister in my sorority was the same girl that used to do imitations of me in 8th grade gym class that entertained scores of people.

How did I get out of it? Several ways. Life is rarely as shitty in high school as it is in junior high school. People have more pressing concerns than singling someone out for hazing. My sister, who has always been a social success, sat down with me and helped me map out a strategy. Over the year of ninth grade, I slowly identified people on the “fringe” of more socially acceptable groups and managed to form friendships with them. After 9th grade, we were all in high school and the change of scenery allowed me to act like it never happened. There were enough new people that it shook up the social scene.

I never gained ground with some people. I suspect they remembered. I made friends with some people who were my worst bullies. As you might imagine, these were not the most rewarding friendships. It took me a long time to understand that these people weren’t worth being friends with. I was so terrified of being bullied again that I tended to be overly compliant and extremely reluctant to engage in conflict.

I am trying to force myself to remember all of this and how I got out of it. I have kids now and I’m sure they’ll run into social minefields because being a kid is tough sometimes. My son was in a minor conflict with a kindergarten bully last week and I had to remember to be positive. My mother, who was bullied as well, always said things like “You’re like me. You won’t make friends.” I don’t think she was trying to sabotage me, she just had so many bad memories that she had trouble thinking clearly. My son got past the problem with the boy at school, mainly because my husband and I told him not to take any crap from that little boy. We also pointed out that there were other kids to play with and why on earth would he waste time with a jerk like that? I will have to figure out a way to encourage the kids, as opposed to exacerbating the situation. I am very much open to suggestions on this.

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