Recently I had a conversation with a friend and fellow parent about classmates teasing. She relayed the advice she gave to her son who was teased about a bad haircut. She said, “I told him next time something like that happens, you tell him (or whoever it is) something like ‘my hair will grow back but you can’t fix your face.’” We laughed about the nice comeback. But then she went on to say something that triggered a funny feeling in my bones. She said, “see, I used to be a bully, so I know how to nip that in the bud. A good comeback is key to shutting a bully down.” My husband relates similar stories of him getting teased at times, but because he is quick and witty, his retorts always stopped a potential bully in his tracks.
A couple of weeks before this conversation, I ran into one of my bullies at my kids’ school. It just so happens that her son is in my daughter’s class. We had seen each other a few times last year and she hugged me and was very friendly. Shocked and surprised, I responded in kind. But this year at curriculum night, she said something that caught me off guard. We were laughing about how we keep running into each other when she said, “even though we didn’t get along when we were in school, somehow our kids insist on being together!” I chuckled in agreement, but in my mind, I was thinking, what did I ever do to you?
Yesterday, another friend posted one of those retro pictures of where we grew up on facebook. And it just so happened that the photo was of a department store that was on our way home from middle school. The parking lot of that department store is where seemingly everyone in my school would congregate to watch me get beat up. There was a mean girls clique at school (some would say cool girls) and if I happened to do something to piss one of them off, the rumor mill would begin to swirl that they would be waiting to “jump” me in the May Company parking lot after school. The news bubble would swell with each passing period and culminate in the crowd waiting to see the fight. I was fortunate that my best friend’s mom would pick us up if we called and asked her to. On those days, I’d ask her to.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t notify teachers. My teachers said there was nothing they could do since it was just hearsay and because the fight was planned off school grounds. As you might imagine, it was pretty difficult to learn when you feared getting your ass kicked after school and had all day to think about it. I was always looking for protection. My parents would tell me to ignore it and supplied me with dog spray if anything were to go down. (My dad was a mail carrier and kept the dog spray supply fully stocked.) It was then that I turned to religion. I learned to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘seek God first’. So, I prayed a lot and hard, and while the bullying didn’t stop, I never was jumped in the May Company parking lot.
But getting back to my friend and what she said, it made me reflect on my time being bullied and caused me to wonder if I’ve gotten over it? There’s plenty of research that talks about the long-term effects of bullying from low self-esteem and depression to anxiety, panic attacks and even suicide in adulthood. When I was going through it, my grades definitely suffered. I was often angry and contemplated suicide. I also contemplated homicide. Years later when the Columbine massacre happened and it was reported that the killers had been bullied, I knew exactly how they felt. If I had access to guns at the time, I might not be sitting here writing this article. Instead, I threw myself into my religious studies and waited for God to take care of it. I believe that God gave me the strength to endure so that I could learn from it and use it to fulfill my purpose.
There’s a Frederick Nietzsche saying that goes, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Do I wish I was never bullied? Hell yes! But none of us can change our past, we can only create our future. Being the victim of bullying bothered me for most of my life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that turmoil made me approach the world from a place of compassion. It made me want to stand up for others. It’s probably what led me to work in social justice; to protect those not capable of protecting themselves. But I also know that going through that experience is what contributes to me being an awesome parent. It made me a fierce advocate for my kids and any other kid I come across who might be bullied.
Sometimes I think about looking my bullies up on google for a confrontation, telling them, “you know what you did, and I’m here to find out why.” I have wracked my brain trying to explain why I was picked on, why girls hated me, why people wrote “slut” on the bathroom wall next to my name when I was clearly a virgin, why people squirted ketchup all over my brand new pink jogging suit. The bottom line is at this point in my life, I don’t need to know. Because I love the person I am today and everything I went through, both wonderful and heartbreaking, contributed to who I became. Life is much too short to carry around heavy ass hate and hurt baggage and I have made my peace with it. So, to my former bullies who I may or may not run into, I say namaste and I hope you are happy with who you’ve become.