Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Open Letter to My Bullies

Over the last several months, I've watched a number of those "It Gets Better" videos and read testimonies from people who had endured bullying as children and teens, and have been tempted to offer up my own experiences. Something always holds me back, though -- mainly it's the mindset that I in some way brought the bullying on myself. I exposed a weakness to somebody (actually, two people) that was exploited and twisted for the amusement of others.

Lately, I keep reading news alerts about kids who are killing themselves, and I have to wonder if these anti-bullying campaigns are effective. We can hold candlelight vigils, and Lady Gaga can invoke the names of victims in her concerts, but kids are still dying by their own hands. It's sickening.

Today I read a news story where a ten-year-old killed herself. Ten years old! When I was ten years old I was watching Happy Days and reading The Treasure Trap over and over again. Suicide was the farthest thing from my mind, even during the peak periods of bullying and related crap I had to endure. A friend tells me kids are downright vicious now, and it honestly scares me. I have a girl in elementary school, and girls are especially catty if you don't wear the right clothing, listen to the right music, or start experimenting at an early age. Will my child feel pressured to have a name brand stitched to the back of her jeans so a group of people she will not interact with in adulthood will approve of her? Apparently so.

In elementary school, there were two girls who particularly stood out as being just horrible to me. I attended a Catholic school, so at least I didn't have to worry about dressing for anybody's approval - the uniforms set us on an even keel. Still, I had to put up with Bully A whose disdain of me began when - of all the petty things - she reached for a paper towel I had grabbed in the girls' restroom during break.

You read that correctly. We bickered over a square of rough, brown paper and that turned her against me. She would spend the next five years making my life hell.

Bully B was an especially sad person, I would later learn. Her parents were divorced, and her father was not in the picture at all. She was a latchkey child - her mother was a Navy nurse who worked crazy hours. Tomboyish and athletic - sports were probably the only thing going for her because she wasn't particularly book smart (neither, for that matter, was Bully A). Bully B's desire was to be popular and liked, and to achieve this she needed to put somebody down to make herself look better in the eyes of others. Lucky me, I got the part.

My last year of Catholic school, Grade 8, improved somewhat when Bully B's mother was transferred to Philly. I never saw her again. Bully A went to a different junior high, but attended my high school. Because I was on the honors track, I rarely saw her, and by that time I just didn't give a shit about her. Eventually, I learned, she dropped out of high school - she also apparently lived in a trouble home. I don't know if she ever went back for a GED or equivalent, and while I occasionally think of these two people I try not to care what happened to her.

Yes, thirty years later I'm still thinking of these two people, to whom I gave absolutely no reason to inspire scorn. I was nice initially to both of them, but as I have always been introverted I suppose they saw that as a weakness to put in their pockets for later use. As I grew older, I'd learn things about Bully B that influenced my decision to not say anything before:
  • She was dishonorably discharged from the military for conduct unbecoming.
  • She was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit - I don't know how she fared financially.
One might assume she hasn't fared well in life. I don't know what's going on with her now. For all I know she recovered nicely, invented a social network, and sold it to Google for a billion dollars. More power to her if true. I didn't say anything before because I didn't want it to appear like I wanted to dance on her grave.

In truth, though, part of me does. I feel bad about myself for that.

They say the best revenge is living well. I would love to come on this blog and tell my bullies how well I am living, that I am rich and driving a BMW and traveling around the world. It's not all true, the economy has affected us all, but at this point in my life I cannot complain too much. If I did have a moment to see either one of them again, though, I would say this:
  • I am doing what I want to do.
  • I live near the beach, just as I've always wanted.
  • I have a wonderful husband and an incredible daughter.
  • I got to meet one of my favorite authors of all time, and one of my favorite musicians.
  • I achieved my dream of having a book published, before I turned 30.
  • I have great friends.
  • Don't bother with Facebook friend requests.
  • Goodbye.
As a parent, bullying scares the shit out of me. I will always have concern for my girl and what she endures in school, but more than that I am frightened for myself, and how I might react should I learn somebody has bullied my child. More than that, what do I do if my girl turns out to be the bully?

I don't consider myself a helicopter parent, but there are times I want to rush to the airport, figuratively speaking. Bullying, however, isn't conducive to a wait and see situation - we've waited and watched enough kids die. We need to do something more.

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