Everyone has horror stories from their childhood. Everyone has a story to tell about how they got picked on by someone at sometime. Some are worse than others. Well, not everyone has those stories. Some of you reading this will have been the givers, others will have been the receivers. Even so, everyone can relate.
This is gonna be a long one folks, but stick it out. I promise this story has a moral.
I was a nerd in school. I was more than a nerd, I was an uber-nerd. I was the nose in her books, glasses wearing, never cared about fashion, always knew the right answer kind of nerd. Add to that the fact that I made friends with the weirdos, the freaks, the dummies and the outcasts...yeah, I was a beating waiting to happen. You could have just painted a big 'ole target on my ass the first day of first grade and sent me off to the playground.
As the years passed, it only got worse. I got boobs in the fourth grade. Not the "Oh, how cute" kind. The "Jesus, that kid is a freak" kind. The girls were merciless. I mean, sure, I got my revenge in high-school when I grew into them, but at the time it was hell. By seventh grade I had read all of Shakespear's collected works, in my spare time, for fun....painting a picture here? Yeah, not pretty is it?
The teachers loved me, usually....the other kids looked at me as something from a science fiction movie. My locker got stacked. They smeared Vaseline on my glasses. They shoved me in the hallways. I got called every name you could think of. They would surround me in the locker room and steal my clothes, make me beg to have them back. I got followed home everyday with threats of physical violence being hurled at me.
I took it all. I never said a word. I went silently through every single day of torture at school and never uttered a word. I never screamed or yelled. I never complained to the teachers. Not a sound. I just read more books and wrote in my journal. Except for one day in eighth grade. On that day I had had enough. On that day I had been pushed to far. On that day I decked one of the other girls. Just hauled off and slugged her in the nose. WHAM! Down she went. She tried to get up. I thumped her again. They were agog. They didn't move. They stared at me as if they had never seen me before. Then one of them screamed. Very Carrie.
I calmly walked myself to the principal's office. The secretary was confused by my appearance and asked why I was there. I told her. Then I sat down to wait for my mother. I got suspended from school for three days. I was sent to counseling to find out why I had struck out at a fellow classmate in such a violent fashion. When I responded to the counselor's questions honestly I got asked what I had done to "provoke" that kind of treatment. At that point I stopped talking to the counselor and was labeled "difficult". Okay then.
In high school I moved to a new city and ended up in a school where I wasn't the smartest kid I knew. In fact, there were a lot of kids that were much smarter than me. I fit in. I didn't even have to do anything. I just fit. My self-esteem improved. My fashion choices improved. I grew into my boobs. Right about the time my boobs and I came to terms with each other I got a boyfriend and life was good.
I found a voice in that place. I learned to stand up for myself. When I was sent home to my mother three years later, I wasn't the same quiet little nerd I had been in the eighth grade. Suddenly I was the "scary" kid. I was combat boots and safety pins in the wrong places. I was punk rock in a sea full of cowboy boots. This terrified each and everyone of my former tormentors. Not one of them opened their mouths to me. Not one. It was remarkable. Suddenly I was to be feared. I was a thing of awe inspiring gasps. I was "That Girl" and not in a Marlo Thomas kind of way. Girls talked in hushed tones when I walked by and the boys wanted me....oh how they wanted me. Combat boots and big tits will get you noticed in a school full of Wranglers and sports bras. I was sex and parties and sin on two legs. I was on fire.
I promised you a moral to this tale, so here it comes. I spent a vast majority of my life in public school as that kid everyone thought was weird. The one that you hear about in the news. I was that kid. I was quiet. I kept to myself. I never complained. I was friends with all the other weirdos. We sat in our own corner of the lunchroom. We read. We talked about politics. We played Dungeons and Dragons. We were each others shelter from the storm. We were lucky to have even that. We hadn't done anything wrong, we were just different. No one came to our aid. No one stood up for us. No one told the "popular" kids that it wasn't okay to be such complete and total bastards. Everyone just ignored it or worsed, asked us what we were doing to provoke it.
Some of you that read this post will adopt the "kids will be kids" attitude. The "suck it up, life's not fair" approach. Some of you will read it and think that I, and kids like me, could work harder to "fit in". That being different is somehow justification for being targeted. Quite a few of you will shrug it off with the classic, "High school doesn't last forever."
Would your perception of my experience change at all if I added details? How about knowing, for example, that the entire time I was being picked on by fellow students I was being abused at home. Not just garden variety spanked and yelled at abused, but the "Mommy Dearest" coat hanger on the back kind? Let's insert the additional detail that at the age of nine I was sexually molested for a number of months by a neighbor, and that upon reporting this to my mother I was called a "lying little slut"? Up the anty a bit, how about knowing that I went to school on a number of occassions with visable bruises and administrators did nothing? Top it all off with a nice helping of suicidal tendancies brought on by severe and prolonged depression which would later be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder.
Is your perception of the person walking quietly down the hall of that junior high, absorbing all the abuse being thrown at her by fellow classmates shifting slightly?
We brush off how much the bullying that children undergo at school can impact their lives. Not just as children, but as adults. That "weird" kid in the hallway is a person. The "whiner" or the "brat" at your child's elementary school has feelings too. Those children have lives outside of the walls of those schools. None of us is born detached from society. Children don't learn to be social, they learn to be anti-social. They learn it from us. They learn it by watching how we react to situations like the bully on the playground. If we shrug and say, "Kids will be kids," our children learn to shrug and say it too.
Monsters aren't born, they're created. As we continue to make excuses for our own bad behavior, we will continue to see it manifest itself. I was one of the lucky ones, I got out with my soul intact. Not everyone survives. Those of us that do make it out don't do so unscathed. The scars that come from long term, habitual torment at the hands of your peers last into adulthood. It effects the way you form relationships. It effects the way you treat others. Eventually, it has to come out.
Remember this the next time your tempted to pass off school bullies as no big deal: Today's children are tomorrow's adults. What lessons are they learning when you shrug it off?