Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This post was hard to write.

When I was in elementary school, I had a lot of friends. I was a safety patrol, got good grades, was in a close-knit group of girls, and was basically a pretty confident and happy kid.  My life was happy and safe and I had no idea that things would ever be different.

That is, until I rolled into the halls of Jefferson Davis Middle School in sixth grade.

Before then, I knew I was a little chubby and that the glasses I had to wear weren't the height of fashion.  I didn't think much about clothing or hairstyles.  I was just a kid who loved horses and riding my bike and having sleepovers with my friends.

But sixth grade changed everything.  Most of my friends ended up at different middle schools so I was forced to make friends with all new girls who had mostly come from the same school and had already formed a tight bond with each other.  Evidently my clothes weren't the "right" kind of clothes and I was developing a lovely case of pre-pubescent acne, so things weren't off to a great start.

I remember two episodes of really, really horrible bullying when I was in 6th grade. I know there were more, but two of them really stick out in my mind when I think back.

The first was a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday because I had piano lessons on Wednesdays and my mother picked me up from school.  She was running a little late this afternoon so I was waiting around for her, my multi colored folders clutched to my chest. I was wearing an outfit entirely of red plaid.  Red plaid button down shirt and red plaid shorts.  I paired the outfit with my red framed glasses, red socks, and black knock-off Keds. Picture it.

A group of girls came to stand around me. They were older, probably eighth graders. They started talking to me, asking me questions. "Who are you waiting for?" "Where are you going?" "What's your name?" 

I answered each of their questions politely as they asked them... but every once in a while I would feel a sharp jab in my behind, like a tiny bee sting.  I didn't know what it was and it would happen so fast.  Finally, I noticed one of them had a safety pin hidden in her hand. They had been poking me with the pins as they talked to me. There was nothing I felt I could do, either. I was so much smaller than all of them and there were at least four of them and just me.  There were no teachers around, no adults at all. I was at their mercy.

Finally my mom pulled up and I quickly got in the car, bursting almost immediately into tears as we drove away.

The second time that really sticks out was on the bus. Our bus was really overcrowded, to the point where we had three kids sitting to each seat.  The bus driver assigned us seats to make sure we'd all have a seat.  My seat was in the middle of two popular eighth grade girls. I remember sitting between them, trying to take up as little room as possible, my arms crossed so they wouldn't encroach on anyone else's space, my legs tightly together and my books on my lap.  It was then that the eighth grade boy who was assigned the seat directly in front of me turned around.

"Don't you know you're too fat?" he taunted me "You shouldn't be allowed to sit anywhere near girls as beautiful as these. You don't deserve to breathe the same air as they do. You're ugly and fat. You're an ugly, fat cow." He went on and on, the whole hot, sweaty, and sticky four mile bus ride. It felt like an eternity.

I hated him, but again, there was nothing I could do. I wouldn't cry in front of him. I didn't talk back to him. I stared him in the eye the whole time he talked to me.  The girls giggled and told him to stop, but they enjoyed it.

There were other small events where I was bullied that year. It got to a point where I refused to ride the bus home at all and started bumming rides from my best friend whose mom was the school crossing guard or I'd walk across the street to my cousin's house and tell my mom I'd missed the bus. A few times I just walked the four miles home.

I never told my mom and dad how bad things were. I was humiliated, embarrassed to be such a dork, ashamed that I didn't stand up for myself. I felt weak and powerless and I didn't want my family to know that side of me.

That year crushed me. I went from a happy and confident kid who made good grades, to a sad, uncertain girl who didn't do her homework and barely skimmed by. I wonder how things might have been if I hadn't undergone that bullying.

Now I'm all grown up, with two kids of my own in middle school. I try to talk to them about bullying, try to ask them how things are for them. I try to give them a leg up and make sure they have the "right" clothes and whatever else they need to feel confident.  So far, I think they're doing okay. They don't seem to be facing the same kinds of torture I faced. And I attribute a lot of that to awareness and education. (October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.) I think the schools, at least around here, have done a lot more to prevent bullying and make schools a safer place for our kids.

I don't deal with bullying anymore as an adult.  Even though I'm still overweight and I still occasionally wear glasses and I often don't wear the "right" clothes.  As an adult the game has changed and if someone were to call me fat or make fun of me, they'd probably not do it to my face.  (I'm sure it has been done behind my back.)

So I was saddened to read about a message sent to a morning news anchor in Wisconsin, a clear case of bullying in adulthood.  Check out her response to her bully here.  Go ahead.  I'll be right here with a tissue when you get back.

What an incredible role model she is to everyone. Not just her daughters, not just young women, but everyone.  If only we could all be as gracious and beautiful as this amazing woman.  If we could all teach our children to be kind and open minded, to stick up for what is good and right. Just imagine how our world would be.


the_happy_hausfrau said...[Reply to comment]

Hate that you went through that crap.

Love that video, and that woman. As a girl who looked like Napoleon Dynamite in junior high (a chubby Napoleon Dynamite) I loved every syllable that woman spoke.

You are awesome Beth.