I was a quiet child from day one. My mom said when I was born, her first words to the doctor were, "Is he all right?" Because unlike most newborn babies, I wasn't crying immediately. That would come later.
I always preferred to play by myself or with my younger sister. To get me interacting with other children, my mom would arrange play-dates with some of the neighborhood kids -- E.K. from up the street, B.K. and B.S. who were best friends a few blocks away. Our town was small, about 2000 people, the sort of place where everybody knows, or at least knows about, everyone else.
Kindergarten and the first few years of grade school were fine. In 1st grade I was the best reader in the class, so the teacher would have me read to the others while she graded papers. I was comfortable around the few kids I knew and tried to be friendly to the others, not just the boys but the little girls as well. J.O. was my favorite, we even had her over for homemade pizza one night. I loved C.H. right away, as soon as I saw her. The first time she came over, instead of toys or watching cartoons, we played in a big refrigerator box my dad had in the garage. C.H. was always the smallest girl in our class, but never got teased for it, everyone else liked her too.
So what exactly was wrong with me?
I first began to notice a few unkind comments in 3rd and 4th grade, but it didn't start to really become horrible until 5th. By then I was the shortest boy, overweight, nonathletic with no interest in sports, and near the top of my class. Not quite at the top, that was B.S., one of the boys I played with. Everybody knew he was gifted. Like me, he was also overweight and nonathletic and was also made fun of sometimes, though it never seemed to be as bad as what I got.
Looking back, there wasn't any one particular person or incident that scarred me. It was a lot of people, doing a lot of little things, hammered into me over and over again, day after day for years of my life. Anything and everything that anyone could think of. My arms were too weak to haul my fat body hand-over-hand across the monkey bars. I threw a baseball like a girl, even my dad told me so. I took such small bites of my food at lunch that I ate like a bird, until I started taking bigger bites to shut them up, at which point I ate like a pig. I had difficulty pronouncing R's and S's, so I ended up being one of only two kids in my grade sent to speech therapy class. (E.K. from up the street was the other, but he only had it for a few months. I was there for 2 years.) Trying out my newly learned methods of pronunciation in class only resulted in laughter at my less successful attempts.
When I fell on the playground and scraped my knee and returned with a fresh bandaid, I was taunted by T.R. and E.S. that, "Only wimps wear bandaids." I was called a girl, a baby, a pussy, a wimp, and for some unknown reason, a "pimp". Kids would kick my lunch box when I set it down, or slam the top of it in the cafeteria to spill my drink all over. T.D. always remembered how in first grade I had lost my favorite pink rubber ball and cried about it, and he'd never let anyone else forget either, and they'd all tease me about it. Everybody would say I was the one peeing all over the toilet seat in the class restroom, even though I always sat down to go.
Every year it got worse. In 5th grade when my parents got me a used bicycle at a garage sale, I rode it to school exactly once, and ended up coming home sobbing because all the kids spent the whole day making fun of how old and beat-up it was. I would come home sobbing a LOT, even once prompting my father to tell me point-blank to "get off this crying jag." One time D.F. and E.S. grabbed me on the playground and shoved me back and forth between each other for several minutes. D.F. was actually a year younger than me, and had his own pals from his grade, D.K. and S.S., who would gang up on me, tell me I "talk weird" or "talk stupid". T.G., the retarded boy, once grabbed my coloring pages from me on the swings and ripped them up. That's right, even the younger kids and the retarded kids picked on me. The older kids would ask me things like if I had VD, or if I ever got horny, or if my mom was "moist", and said I should ask her. Then they'd laugh when it became clear I didn't know what any of these things meant. I developed hair on my arms before any other boys in my class and was called a "gorilla". Rather than have yet another thing to be teased about constantly, I shaved it off, and was subsequently yelled at by my father for doing something done by "queers and homosexuals".
It was rarely physical, but immensely, indescribably damaging from a psychological standpoint. Nobody ever seemed to get in trouble for any of this, and I never learned why they were doing it. I was non-confrontational, I minded my own business, and I couldn't think of a single thing I might have done to bring all of this on myself.
Teachers were a mixed bag. The band teacher Mr S. (his son was E.S. who had pushed me on the playground) would have a talk with the kids who blew their horns as loud as they could in my ear. And Mr R. would try to be understanding. I found out years later that he was gay, so he probably had some idea of what it felt like to be singled out and picked on. But I guess that line about women liking sensitive guys is a lie, because none of my female teachers seemed to feel the least bit sorry for me. Immediately after the incident with T.G. and the coloring papers, Mrs P. scolded me with the rest of the class present and listening, saying that she was not about to "sit here and listen to you cry over some stupid coloring pages." In 6th grade after I'd had a particularly rotten recess and was back in class crying, Mrs D. would write a note and ask me to take it to the office. I wasn't stupid, I knew what was happening. The note would always be something like, "Please keep C.F. here for a few minutes." And sure enough, Mrs D. would get someone else to watch the class and would show up a short while later, and I'd get a little talk about how I just had to "learn to take it", as though I were the one with the problem.
I guess technically that was true, my problem was everybody else in my class. Mrs D. even tried to tell my mom that the kids at school really liked me, but if that were true they had the most awful way of showing it. Why did they enjoy stomping on my feelings, when it was unmistakable how much it bothered me? I never saw them treating each other like this. Only C.H., the little girl who had played with me in the refrigerator box, ever stood up for me. I heard secondhand that she'd told some of them to leave me alone. It didn't work but the gesture gave me something to cling to, a tiny scrap of hope that not everyone in the world was put here just to ruin my life.
Through all of this, my parents tried their best to be supportive, spouting all the standard cliched useless advice. Just ignore them and they'll stop. Tease them right back so they'll see how it feels. They're just jealous of you. Someday you'll all look back on this and laugh. They tried numerous times to talk with teachers and the principal about what was happening to me, but nothing ever came of it. Often when I came home crying they would be waiting for me in my room and make me tell them what happened, force me to relive the trauma while the emotional wounds were still raw and bleeding. Eventually I shut them out completely. We're close now and I consider it a good relationship, but to this day I still don't like talking about personal problems with my parents.
I attempted every suggestion they gave me, of course. When I tried to ignore the other kids, they piled on the taunts even heavier until I couldn't ignore them anymore, couldn't keep my emotions bottled up, then they'd all laugh and rejoice at having gotten me to cry. When we were all filing back in from recess and E.S. started in on me again, I tried using an insult of my own, but E.S. grabbed me and pushed me against the wall. Mr S. (another Mr S., not the band teacher) saw this and made us both go to the office and each tell him our side of the story. And do you think E.S. got in trouble for shoving me into the wall? Of course not. Mr S.'s answer, when I tried to explain how I'd only said something back to E.S. to make him leave me alone? "Well it looks like it didn't work, did it?"
The only time it ever did work was one day when E.S. and a couple of his friends were picking on D.F. (his former partner in the back-and-forth shoving match involving me... Yeah, E.S. was picking on another bully, I don't understand either, no rhyme or reason or logic of any kind). They let me get a few insults in myself, and I've got to admit that seeing D.F. running away across the playground felt good. Just to see someone who'd ganged up on me get a taste of his own medicine. I was so pleased, when my mom picked me up I had to share with her... and what did she say? She told me she felt bad for D.F. Thanks mom. Way to bring me crashing down. And to reinforce yet again that it was somehow acceptable whenever the other kids did it to me, just not the other way around.
This "turn the other cheek" attitude can definitely be traced back to religion. My mother is an absolutely devout Catholic and tried to raise my sister and me to be the same. I was never picked on specifically because of religion, but it sure left me with unequal footing on the battlefield. They were free to hate me all they wanted, but God said I wasn't allowed to hate them back. I was supposed to "love my enemies". I was supposed to forgive them, despite the fact that these people were not the least bit sorry and would just pull the exact same shit again the very first chance they got. There's no comfort in hearing about how great heaven will be some day, not when you're trapped in inescapable misery right now. After awhile I began to doubt it was even real. Heaven was just a self-deluding promise created by the downtrodden to give their worthless lives some shred of meaning.
As bad as grade school was, nothing could have prepared me for junior high. They had six grades, 7th through 12th, in the same building in the middle of a cornfield between my small whitebread town and another. A lot of farm kids were bussed in from around the county as well. Now just imagine what happens when you put a young, overweight, already emotionally devastated boy into a den of rebellious, sexually charged teenagers who are six years older. It's a predatory environment on par with a maximum security prison.
The first day of 7th grade, the very first DAY, I was singled out by S.M., D.P., and J.F. (older brother of D.F., the younger kid who picked on me in grade school). They decided I somehow resembled the unpopular science teacher and started calling me by his first name. On the bus they would open my backpack and take things out, pretending to study them with interest as if it was their own schoolwork. I soon learned to sit as far up front as possible, to try and be in better view of the bus driver, but I still got off in tears about once a week. I dreaded going back there every morning. Sunday nights were the most depressing thing in the world, because I had only a few precious hours left before facing another five solid days of degradation.
Once again, none of the other kids in my grade seemed to get it nearly as bad. A few of them even joined in with the juniors and seniors in harassing me. The worst were S.R., a mean, obnoxious little prick from the other town; and E.Z., who had been in my class for one year, then went to the other grade school, but was now back and remembered me and every little thing about me he could make fun of, and did. The torrent of ridicule was relentless. People would try to trip me in the halls, or knock the books out of my arms and then tell me to get out of their way while I was picking them back up. Nothing I said, no little mannerism or personality quirk, escaped their notice. I ended up with a new nickname about every month, either a mockery of my real name, or something I had said or done, or someone uncool they thought I resembled, and people would use the names to call out to me in the hall, so everyone could hear. When I was eating alone in the cafeteria, the seniors would make snorting or pig sounds every time I took a bite. I had bad seasonal allergies and would get jeered at for carrying a "snot rag" around in my pocket. At one point, out of a sick curiosity, I kept a tally of all the mean things that were said to me throughout the day, and it climbed into the hundreds per week. When 8th grade rolled around, D.F. and his pals D.K. and S.S. were back in the same school as me, adding their insults and intimidation to the mix.
Naturally none of the girls wanted anything to do with me, or if they did they wouldn't show it. Except for a few snotty mean ones like A.S. and J.H., who would try to make fake sexual advances, saying how much they "wanted my body". I was an utter loser, and to be associated with me would make them one as well. Even when a few of the older, not-so-popular girls seemed to express some interest in talking to me I pushed them away, believing it was all a big set-up trick. I never went to any school dances or parties. I didn't even talk to C.H. anymore.
I needed glasses but refused to wear them at school because everybody said I looked and acted like the dorky character in a comedy movie that was popular at the time. This led to a long-lasting nickname that I was shouldered with until the day I graduated. So instead of wearing glasses I'd sit up front and squint at the board, blinking and trying to decipher what was written. I still don't know how I managed A's and B's.
In high school I started getting mean prank phone calls at home. Boys would call up doing fake foreign accents, claiming to be from the local clinic and asking if I were sexually active. Or they would ask for me by one of they countless nicknames they'd given me. Or they'd get some girl to call up and pretend to be interested in me before everyone busted out cackling. It was funny to them no matter what I did, if I told them to stop calling, if I just hung up, if my dad took the phone yelled at the kid on the other end. Once I received a package in the mail containing several boxes of condoms, and had to endure the embarrassment of having my mom ask me if I knew what they were. A few days later a bunch of them were laughing about it at school, including B.S., my former kindergarten friend.
Today I consider B.S. the worst of the lot. He was the smartest kid in the entire school and, like me, had been overweight and somewhat of an outcast. But B.S. lost a bunch of weight one summer and got accepted into the popular crowd. Belying his superior intelligence, he quickly forgot his own experiences of being teased, and became one of them. Some of those kids were born assholes, but B.S. chose to become one of his own free will. He was able to come up with some really hard-hitting, heartless insults to hurl at me. Once he invited me over with some of his real friends for a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and they ended up locking me in the bathroom and wouldn't let me out. Unlike most nerds at that time, I didn't even have D&D as a fantasy escape. I couldn't enjoy the game anymore after that. B.S. and his friends ruined it for me.
For a long time I broke down in tears at least once a day, without fail. The other kids would tease me until I cried, then tease me BECAUSE I cried. As T.S., the biggest sleazeball ape in the school, once put it, "He's a fuckin' baby! I bet the first time he gets laid off he starts bawlin'!" You'd cry a lot too, if you got picked on every single day of your life simply for existing. T.S. would ask to borrow my pen, and I was too nice to say no, so he'd give it back with the cap all chewed up and I'd just throw the whole thing away. When he saw this bothered me he'd break into my locker just to chew up all my pen caps. I changed my lock multiple times that year. When I was upset or crying, J.V. would come along with his camera and aim it in my face, claiming he was going to put that picture in the school yearbook. One young history teacher even half-laughed along with them sometimes. Somebody would make up something about me that wasn't true and everyone would pretend to believe it. I had gum thrown in my hair, got jabbed with fingers and pens, got spat on right in the face by J.S. while going to the bus... Later he re-enacted the scene and imitated me crying, even though that was about the one time I didn't cry.
As usual, everyone else was adjusted and normal, and I was the one with the problem. Principal B. sat me down in his office once and asked me how he thought we could fix things. I said I didn't know, I just wanted it to STOP. I began to withdraw from the rest of the world. I avoided class field trips and had to be coerced into participating in the 8th grade Science Day, where we all went out to a local ranch to conduct biology experiments on the pond water. Everybody gave me shit because I never wanted to do anything with the rest of the class, and none of them seemed able to figure out why that was. I didn't want to go anywhere with my parents, or even out in the yard, out of fear that someone from school would come by, see me, and start in on me. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, at my computer, which contributed to my being overweight.
Now, you would think that since over half of our country is overweight, heavy children wouldn't be targeted quite so much, right? Well in my school that was true. I was the only fat kid who ever seemed to get picked on for being fat. J.C., the actual fattest kid, once "explained" that it was because I was short and fat, whereas he was tall and fat. I got "chubs" (poking and pinching my fat) and "titty-twisters" on an hourly basis, every time somebody passed me. They would make up new "styles" and "techniques" for doing it, giving each one a name, and whoever thought it up would demonstrate for the others. They'd even make special trips across the room just to do it to me. There were jokes about how I needed a bra, what bra size I should wear, and which girls I surpassed in breast size. E.K. from up the street would flick me hard in the middle of my back and tell the others he'd just "snapped his bra". I had to explain to my father that the kids at school were making fun of my "boobs", to which he replied, "You don't have boobs, you're a boy." Yeah dad, just try telling the other kids that, see what good it does.
What I never understood was, how did anyone expect me to lose any weight or try any harder at sports when they would mockingly imitate the way I walked, ran, kicked, threw a ball? They kept telling me I was too fat, but did they really think that constantly putting me down would somehow motivate me? Of course in gym class I was always picked last or next-to-last. It was an unbreakable cycle. I wasn't any good at sports, so nobody wanted me on their team, so I didn't even bother to try, so I never got any better. When we had to do calisthenics I would get tired long before everyone else, and they'd laugh, and I'd cry, and they'd laugh some more. I learned to despise any form of exercise or team sports, and would sit out when Coach H. wasn't around, or stand around pretending to barely participate if he was. He never gave a crap, it was the jocks on the baseball and basketball teams he cared about, the ones who did something positive for the school's name.
Volleyball was the worst sport. To this day I refuse to play that game in any form. At first I would try to hit the ball back over the net, but soon the more athletic boys would decide I wasn't playing well enough, and they'd start running over and hitting balls that came toward me. So I'd assume that's how they wanted it, and move out of the way to give them room... and then they'd suddenly choose to leave it up to me again, and the ball would hit the floor, scoring a point for the other team. And they'd yell at me. They always yelled at me when I did poorly, despite the fact that it was just a stupid gym-class game, it didn't even matter who won.
I showered after gym class exactly ONCE. Afterwards, when I'd earned the nickname "Little Guy", and been told it looked like all I had down there was a couple of balls, I refused to completely undress in front of them again. I would wrap a towel around my underwear and stick my head in the shower just enough to get my hair wet, or I'd just change into my street clothes and not bother at all. Fortunately Coach H. was a drunk who often sat in his office nursing a hangover, not caring enough to check on us. Of course since I did sweat a little I kind of smelled the rest of the day, so I got made fun of for that.
But my absolute worst gym class experience was the day J.T., a senior, decided to try pulling my shorts down while we were running laps. I was slow and tired, the other students were already finishing, and I was going to be the last one. The girls' class was starting to come in from outside. As J.T. was coming up behind me S.D. stopped him, told him to leave me alone, and got into a near fistfight over it. I immediately realized what J.T. had been about to do to me and was horrorstruck. I quit my laps early, garnering taunts from the rest of my class, and fought back tears in the locker room. Why would someone get so much enjoyment out of trying to humiliate me in front of everyone? And I knew I would have to be on the lookout for more of the same every single day from now on, just something new to stress over and worry about. At the time I was grateful to S.D. for stopping it, but S.D. would still come up to me and whisper snide comments, then walk away. There was no rhyme or reason to any of it. Someone would unexpectedly do something nice one moment, only to turn around and be mean later. It's no wonder I suffered socially, as there wasn't a single person in my life I could figure out.
I entertained suicidal thoughts for awhile. After praying as hard as I could for God to end my life while I was asleep, I would lie awake in bed thinking of ways I could kill myself that wouldn't hurt too much. I finally decided the best way would be to ride my bike to the bridge that arched over the river late at night and jump off it. I would imagine how bad everybody who had been mean to me would feel when they saw me at my funeral, and cry myself to sleep. Of course since I'm writing this now, you know I never actually went through with it. I guess I knew deep-down what my suicide would do to my parents. Plus, just imagine how the kids would laugh if I tried and failed, if I was so pathetic I couldn't even kill myself right.
One winter a really bad snowstorm hit, and rather than run the buses in that weather, the school administrators discussed the possibility of having all the kids spend the night there, sleeping in classrooms and the gym. Of course this was after E.Z. and S.R. had had a go at me all day. I decided that I was absolutely NOT going to get stranded there, surrounded by all the people who made my life such a constant horror. If they announced the stay-in, I told myself, I will walk the 20 miles home through the blizzard, just let them TRY and stop me. In the end they did bus us home, so I never had to go through with it. I would have, though. I was fully prepared to freeze to death rather than spend the night in that Hell.
After 11th grade things finally, mercifully, started to ease up. Most of the older assholes had graduated. S.R. and E.Z. had moved away, meaning I was rid of two of the most annoying (though not the meanest) pests in my life. T.S. had ignored the guidance counselor's advice and dropped out of school. She seemed very saddened by this, something I couldn't for the life of me figure out.
The music teacher Mr. S had gotten me into the drama club with a small off-stage part in the school play, and over the years it had grown into me having the lead. This man probably saved my life. He encouraged me, got me interacting with the other kids, and before I knew it I had friends. Some of the kids were amazed, saying they saw a side of me I'd never shown before. (Gee, I wonder why?) I graduated 6th in my class, just shy of the top 10% (small class). I went to junior college, then regular college, and am now employed in a somewhat mundane, yet steady and well-paying, office job. On the whole I'm very content with my life the way it is, but I can't help but wonder how far I could have gone if I'd had the confidence to move far away from home, to really go after dreams. If I hadn't had my self-esteem ripped down day after day.
I have passable social skills, enough for day to day interactions, but I'm introverted and keep to myself most of the time. Aside from going to work I am practically a shut-in, bitter and cynical. I don't volunteer or help people, since nobody ever helped me. I'm reluctant to talk to anyone when I have problems, since I was taught from an early age that I have to deal with them myself. People in positions of authority either can't or won't help me. I'm nervous about meeting new people, and instantly suspicious of anyone who reminds me in any way of the people I went to school with. It takes a long time to earn my trust and really get to know me. I rarely give people second chances and I never give thirds. I hold grudges forever, because I never had any practice forgiving, because no one who said and did those awful things to me was ever sorry. I have a very short, selective list of people I will allow to pass through the wall I've build around myself, to protect myself. I can count the number of people I consider friends on one hand.
I'm probably in the best shape of my life now. Years ago I lost 45 pounds and have kept the weight off. Still a little heavy for my age and height, but I ride a bicycle (brand new one) to work most days, can run 4-5 miles, walk 10 or more, and play aerobic video games several times per week.
I never found out what became of C.H., the little refrigerator box girl who stood up for me. I heard she was going into nursing school but don't know where she is now. If you read this, C.H., I want you to know I still appreciate what you tried to do. You're the only one from my class I'd still talk to.
Karma has already caught up with a few of my former classmates. B.S. was class valedictorian and ended up going to MIT, but he had a devastating failed relationship and in his depression put a ton of weight back on. D.F. was killed when he ran his car into a power line on a wet night, then was electrocuted when he got out. Is it wrong that I still fantasize about urinating on his grave? I read in the paper that T.S. had been jailed for sexual assault. I chuckle when I imagine him getting raped in prison. Just this year E.K. from up the street hung himself after a fight with his girlfriend. Lots of people from our school went to his funeral, including my parents and sister, but I didn't. I kept a neutral face when they told me all of these things, but inside I was absolutely howling with laughter. I know that's a horrible way to think, but I can't help it. It's as close to closure, as close to justice, as I will ever get. These scars never heal.
After moving out on my own, I went to church off and on for several years before more or less renouncing it entirely. I guess I still believe in a God, but I'm convinced he's a heartless asshole. What kind of supreme being would simply sit back and allow the injustices and indignities I suffered to occur? Try reading the book of Job: Just like the school kids seeing how long it would take to make me cry, God does all kinds of horrible things to a man to see if he'll lose faith. God himself is a bully. God is the clueless school administrator who doesn't seem to care.
I don't cry anymore. When I can't deal with my problems, or when day-to-day annoyances in my life pile up and it starts to remind me of the helplessness I felt in my formative years, it outwardly manifests itself as anger. I yell, and sometimes I throw things or punch walls. People at work have expressed reservations about working with me because they know how I get sometimes. This knowledge doesn't bother me nearly as much as it probably should. I've talked with a counselor about my more recent bouts of anger, but I refuse to speak about the real root of the problem, my years of victimization at the hands of the public school system. I'm convinced no therapist will be able help put it behind me. They haven't been through this, they can't relate. Some of them in their younger years were probably jerks just like everyone in my class. I don't believe in the concept of "anger management". To me that sounds like "crime management" or "racism management" or "terrorist management", having to learn to tolerate things that shouldn't even be here in the first place. Instead we need fewer situations that make anger EXIST.
Plus, in a sick way, I must admit I actually like having this ball of rage to carry along with me. It's comforting to know that I have a secret weapon I can unleash when things are going badly enough, something to make people finally look up and start listening to me. I've never been a violent person, but I'm never certain of what I might do if I'm ever pushed too far. That's part of why I avoid people as much as possible. And I will never, ever permit myself to own a gun.
I also know that I will never have kids of my own, for three reasons. First and foremost, I am not through being a kid myself. I had a miserable childhood and I plan on spending the rest of my life doing fun things I like to make up for it. Raising a child myself does not sound like fun. Second, I remember with perfect clarity what it is like to be a kid, and I will not inflict that on anyone. And third and last, if I did have kids and I ever caught them bullying, I would probably beat the living, breathing SHIT out of them. Some people are not meant to be parents, and I am smart enough to realize I am one of them.
By now, unless you've been through similar torture, you probably think I sound like a dangerous person, a "crazy loner", a "ticking time bomb" just waiting to erupt. I assure you I'm not. Even when I'm as angry as I've ever been in my life, I have never come close to doing anything like what we see in a TV news frenzy. Because I know myself. I've had years of being alone to get to know myself. But the lingering anger is there, always below the surface. Most of the time I can forget about it, but it is a part of me, and it will never completely go away.
For years I would imagine running into someone I grew up with, and wonder how I might react. Could I be cordial? Would I lose control and yell or physically assault them? Or would I immediately revert to the role of tormented child again?
Last week I got the opportunity to find out.
I was in the checkout line at Wal-Mart when I heard someone come up behind me. "Excuse me," he said, "are you C.F.?" It had been a bad week at work anyway, and I was tired and just wanted to get my groceries on the belt and check out, so I didn't immediately turn around to see who it was. But I confirmed that yes, it was me.
"I'm M.W.," he said. One of the people from my class, 15 years later. Not an especially big asshole, just an average one, indistinguishable in my memory from all the others.
Now, if the first words out of his mouth had been, "I'm really sorry", I might have had some interest in talking. But they weren't, so without really even thinking I fell back on my instinct of saying as little as possible, to give him less ammo for making fun of me. Short, noncommittal answers. "How's it going?" I've been better. "So what are you up to these days?" Not much. "Where do you live now?" Around here.
I didn't know if he worked at the store now, or what. Since I didn't actually turn around to face him I didn't see if he was wearing an employee nametag. Perhaps he was back in the area for the 15-year reunion? If there was one I never heard about it, which is fine, because I'd never go to it anyway. M.W. took the hint after three tries and left me alone. Maybe he's really changed, I don't know. I don't want to know. I don't care.
Is it still any wonder that every now and then, someone with less self-control or an even bleaker situation that mine finally decides they've absolutely had enough and goes on a killing rampage? This sort of thing does not happen overnight. It takes years of anguish at the hands of peers, years of neglect by school authorities, years of feeling utterly helpless, before a bullied student reaches the last option left. For eight years I was a walking, living, breathing JOKE to my classmates. That's more than enough to firmly establish a pattern in your mind, that this is what the rest of your life is going to be like. To kids in this situation, it's about simple survival. Their lives already seem ruined. ANY change will be for the better.
The only way I can think of to prevent this is for every school to have some sort of anti-bullying staff to quietly monitor and observe students' behavior. Preferably former bullying victims themselves, who would be better able to recognize it. Then, when a bunch of kids decide to make life unbearable for another, you SUSPEND their asses for a week and give them automatic failing grades on any assignments or tests that occur during that time. Start ruining the bully's life instead of the victim's. Then when they've been flunked back for the third time, they might start to get it through their thick Neanderthal skulls that maybe harassing other people for no reason isn't worth it. Of course nothing like this will ever happen because of expenses, a refusal to hold kids back a grade because of "self-esteem issues", and lawsuit-happy bully parents who refuse to believe their "precious little angels" could ever do anything to harm anyone. It's always the same problem, no one is willing to admit that there IS a problem. Until the bullets fly. Then everyone is shocked, horrified, outraged, looking for answers... until quietly putting the grief behind them and going back to maintaining the status quo.
The worst part is, I'm sure by now M.W. and everybody else who picked on me has forgotten everything they said or did, maybe even the simple fact that they were cruel to me. The excruciating details are mine alone, burned into my memory and left there for me to agonize over until the day I die. Everyone else probably remembers high school as a great time, the whole "best years of our lives" cliche. If I confronted them about what was done to me I'd be told to just let it go, get over it, it all happened years ago, it's not important anymore, I can't believe you still remember that. Would anybody say something like that to a Columbine victim? A Katrina refugee? A 9/11 survivor? Those are public tragedies, shared tragedies, the sort of thing people are allowed to grieve over forever, together. My private tragedy is different. I was the only one affected. Just like before, my feelings are not valid. To everyone else, my feelings do not exist.
Years ago, after running into M.W. I would have avoided that store forever. But now I plan on going back as if nothing happened. Those people have already done the worst to me that they ever could. I am no longer afraid of them.
I survived, and I continue to survive.
I am fragile, yet invincible.
I am surrounded by others, yet I am utterly alone.
That is what I learned at school.
© 2007 by C.F.
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