There have been a few defining bullying moments in my life that have shaped who I am today.
I suppose in many ways, I’m thankful to be so much more self aware. You see, when someone you’ve never spoken a word to hates you, it’s impossible not to internalize that. Something about me made someone else want to punch my lights out.
So I learned how to tread lightly. I toned myself down. I made myself a little more scarce. I only let go to my friends and even then, felt keenly aware that my behavior could be off putting.
Along with that comes the constant apologizing. I’m sorry I’m taking up space, breathing your oxygen, making an appearance, affecting your thoughts and feelings.
What can I do to make you like me? Or at least, what can I do to take the negative attention away from me?
Sometimes it felt like I was fighting an invisible war. In seventh grade, some girls from a different elementary school picked on me mercilessly. Once I was shoved from behind in the hallway. In music class they’d throw things at me when the teacher turned her back. It was agonizing, unable to defend myself, no one sticking up for me. Then one day, I broke down crying. Inconsolable, I was brought into the vice principal’s office where I explained what was going on. When the girls were questioned, they said a girl from my elementary school had put them up to it. I don’t know what I did to that girl, but she had it out for me.
I thought moving would be a good thing, but instead I became the target of a different group of girls.
What do you do when you’re in eighth grade and someone leaves a message on your answering machine saying “I’m going to fucking kill you, bitch”?
My parents wanted to put me into the Catholic school across the street, but I refused. I didn’t want to start over again and there was no guarantee I wouldn’t experience worse there. Besides, as an already outspoken atheist, I couldn’t imagine religious curriculum being taught side by side with math.
I often wished I could ask these girls “why do you hate me so much”, “what have I done to you?” But knew I never would.
The closest I ever got was my senior year in high school. A secret superlative list went around, circulated by some unknown crew of popular kids. That year, someone turned one into the principal’s office and it identified a few of the perpetrators. One day in class, two of them appeared at the door, telling the teacher they needed to speak to me. I identified them right away, wondering with quickened heartbeats why in hell they were there.
They explained they were ordered to apologize to everyone on the list as punishment. I stared at each of them and then asked flatly “So. What’d I get?” They paused, then one of them said they weren’t allowed to say.
Knowing probably would have made things worse. But I wanted to force them to say those nasty things to my face.
Recently, a girl in high school who never liked me and had no problem letting me know, sent me a Facebook friend request. This is not the first time this has happened and I still don’t understand it.
Maybe they remember the past differently than I did, but frankly, I’m not interested in their side of the story. And I certainly have no interest in giving them access into my life, even if it’s only to peruse my photos and read dumb status updates.
I may be an adult now, but those memories are painful and unforgettable.