Then. Now.

Oct. 2nd, 2010 09:46 am
misadventure_lad: (Default)
[personal profile] misadventure_lad
There's been quite a bit of talk/reflection on bullying.
I was bullied as a child/young adult. It doesn't stand out as prominently for me, I think, because it was just about as bad amongst the bullies as it was at home. There was a stretch of about three years where I was busing to a school across town, away from my friends and that was the worst time.

At school I was bullied and teased. I distinguish teasing from bullying, but really, it is the same thing but just a matter of degree. I think that my saving grace at school was that I saw that many of the people who spent their time trying to humiliate me were people who were targets themselves. Even as a little kid I figured out that my place in the grade school hierarchy was malleable and that, at best, if I kept my head down, I would be able to go a day without having my life up-ended. Of course, there were days when being a target was unavoidable. Even amongst the bullies that were violent toward me (and there were a few-- a girl punched me as hard as she could in my kidneys in the quad (near the library for those reading who went to this particular elementary school) daily for not having money to give to her. She told me that they were what I owed her in interest because I hadn't been able to get the money from my parents) they weren't the worst. 

At the time, as I mentioned above, I was busing to school and home.  I was maybe ten or eleven. I was obviously not as old as the group of thirteen or so junior high students who were on the bus, but I was obviously old enough to be a target (I imagine that a child under, say eight would have been excluded from this daily experience, but I might be wrong). This was the worst thing. Every time I got on the bus I was holding my breath. This group of kids were relentless. They would ask me humiliating questions (are you a boy or a girl? show us! we'll make you show us! ) they would speculate on whether I was developmentally delayed (hey! HEY! ARE YOU RETARDED?) and when I dutifully ignored their hour of taunts (people say to ignore it when people are cruel to you, but it does nothing to stop them... but what would you say?) would threaten bodily harm and finally, when they got no response? They piled their garbage on me. They'd throw food wrappers and food scraps, they would reach under seats to see if there was left over soda cups and they would either throw them or quietly place them on my body. The bus driver and the adults around them never said anything. When the group would finally file off of the bus I would begin the process of pulling banana peels, laffy taffy wrappers, soda straws and bits of paper out of my hair and clothing. I could start wiping the remnants of sticky melted ice cream off of my skin and think of ways to explain how I got so dirty (usually I changed as soon as I got home, stuffing my clothes into the hamper as far down as they would go). 

Finally, after weeks of this treatment I finally broke down. I cried silently as the bus lurched forward and slowly made its way to my house on the other side of town.

My side of town had my friends who, later when I started junior high school, made all the difference. My friends acted as a shield and I could actually be myself then. I was less likely to be a target because I was surrounded by others and bullies always go for those they perceive as weak.

But I didn't have friends on the bus. I was alone. And I cried. I hated myself for crying. I hated that it would be obvious that I really did hear them. And finally, one of the girls-- who had been silent for weeks during this daily humiliation said "YOU GUYS SHE IS CRYING! STOP IT!"
And suddenly, the jeering and laughter stopped. These adolescents suddenly turned their attention to each other and, for the rest of the ride home I was left, mostly, unmolested.

The other day I was watching Dateline: What would you do. The segment was about "What would you do if there was a dog left in a hot car?" It was elaborately staged and the dog was safe but three adolescent boys (I want to say that they were 11, 13 and 15) called the police. Their mother came along a few minutes after them and the host of the show revealed himself asking the mom what she thought about the fact that her boys were amongst the few who would intervene on the behalf of this dog. She responded with something to the effect: I've always told my boys to just do the right thing. Not to think about it, just to do it. I'm unsurprised but I'm proud.

And for all the things I've learned since then, about how to respond to things, about growing into myself? This is the most important thing that people should be teaching others.

It's all well and good to know that it might get better. For me it did. I was originally a target because I was fat but I did finally grow into my fat (albeit not until I was well into my twenties); my fat shifted into big breasts, wide hips and a round behind with a small waist and flatter stomach. Still, the scars of learning to hate myself because of the way others saw me remained. It's all well and good to have a safe space to return to (I didn't have a safe space then, but I would eventually when I left home). But the best thing you can do and the best thing you can teach your children is to just do the right thing. Step up and say something when you see something that is wrong. You have no idea what impact you might have.

When I think back to those bus trips, I don't know why this one girl didn't say anything before but she could've. She could have said no to her friends and others would have followed her. She might have been a target but she ended up being fine.

People are so concerned about meddling and minding their business; however, during this time I thought about killing myself every single day. I went to sleep every night making elaborate plans to secure something that wouldn't get taken away from me and would actually work when I was finally close enough to make it happen. People are shocked by the amount of youth that take their lives but I was 11 years old. I am wholly unsurprised.  I saw no way out. Between the school day which was miserable, the trip home which was hellish and being at home, which was painful enough on its own-- there was no place of peace and I believed that nothing would ever change.  People just don't understand that meddling could save someone's life. Maybe three days before this girl finally opened her mouth, something that didn't cost her anything but could've, I'd found a box of razor blades. It occurs to me now that they were probably rusty and too dull for me to slit my wrists. They were old and tucked in a drawer and I don't even know if they belonged to us or were left behind by some previous occupants but the main reason I don't know now is because I decided that the brief reprieve that was brought about by my breaking point on the bus was just enough to get me through another day. And another day is just the difference that might save someone's life.

So speak up. Even if it costs you a little, you have no idea the impact you might have. It might cost you some hassle, or some irritation. I urge you to think of it as paying for someone to find the strength to live through another day.

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misadventure_lad

October 2010

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