When enough time has ticked away and there’s a safe distance in the rear-view mirror, it can become easier to admit things that are more embarrassing or uncomfortable about one’s past. If there are scars, they become less necessary to hide. Time does that. In fact, there’s a certain sense of pride that comes from having gone through some experiences that didn’t break you. Perhaps they haven’t made you stronger either, but at least they made you who you are. And you’re more willing to accept that.
Many children are bullied when they are young, this is nothing new. Countless statistics account for it. And we can often differentiate who was bullied and who did the bullying based on the behavior of some adults—today.
It is probably fair to say that I did not escape this rite of passage. Not physically, nor verbally, and certainly not emotionally. Being desperate to fit in is pretty much a guarantee that you won’t. Especially when you’re someone who can’t help but stick out. Having moved around a lot, it probably didn’t help that I was perpetually the new girl. But perhaps that was for the best. The trick was to keep moving, and even now, I’m constantly restless.
My experiences with bullying flooded back more recently, when the online mob rose up earlier this year.
It’s strange to realize that many ‘grown ups’ have never really grown up.
As kids, we’re taught that when we’re bullied we must stand up for ourselves. That’s the silver bullet. If you manage to muster just enough courage, you’ll put a stop to it.
Well, that’s a lie.
Perhaps rather shakily, but nonetheless, I have always stood up for myself. The problem is: No one else did.
Now, more than ever, I understand that this is how bullying can go on—no one standing up. After all, what would the incentive to stop be? This was true when I was growing up and it is true today when people cower in fear to loud and aggressive voices—while they pile on others.
I recall one particularly uncomfortable incident—which occurred while I was walking home with two of my former friends. I won’t go into particulars, which to this day are a source of embarrassment, but the thing that stuck out most was my “friends” who said nothing as I was being targeted. Afterwards, they apologized, with one of them saying: “I’m so sorry, but we were so afraid.” The shame was palatable.
I’ve heard similar sentiments more recently too. You don’t always grow out of this either.
But let’s talk about the bullies themselves. It’s often said that they are victims, perhaps of a sad upbringing. And sometimes that’s true. But just as often people can be power-hungry and cruel creatures who derive joy from hurting those targets who will feel it the most. But people are complicated and unique.
Let’s examine one that sticks out within the hollows of my poor memory:
It was middle school and she had studied martial arts. A recipe for disaster. She was rather good at it, too, or at least that’s what I’m led to believe based on the blows she was capable of delivering.
I, on the other hand, was frail and had not yet come to possess any curves.
For whatever reason, she enjoyed spontaneously picking me up and throwing me to the ground. There might have been other tortures I’ve had to endure, but I can’t recall anymore—probably on account of having been dropped to the ground so many times.
As it happens, outside of school, we both belonged to the same youth group. For some reason I was not picked on so badly there. In fact, I even had some social standing in the ever-shifting chain of girl popularity. There, I was untouchable. Probably because I was new.
A sleepover was organized and I was meant to go with a friend, but something was amiss.
“Don’t you see that she wants to go with her other friend,” said my foe, whilst sealing our fates together, “You’ll go with me.” She didn’t say it or do it to hurt me. I realized at that moment that she, too, felt like an undesirable.
And so, we ended up together.
Can you imagine, me and my violent bully, alone. Let’s call her DeeDee, since she cannot protest and I do not remember her actual name—and it’s the little payback I can offer.
Surely enough, when we had settled into our headquarters for the night and the nice family we were staying with was no longer close enough to hear anything, DeeDee began to amuse herself again. She picked me up, too high for someone so small, and tossed me to the ground.
Now, the next moment came as a surprise to us both. Instead of crying from pain (and I assure you that it was both painful and humiliating), I laughed. I couldn’t stop laughing. She did it again, and again I laughed. Even more, this time on purpose, I think.
I don’t know why I laughed exactly. But I do know what emotions I registered in DeeDee’s face. She was sad, lonely, scared, hurt. Turns out, that indeed, accurate to bully tropes, her parents were going through a rough divorce. In that moment, I didn’t see her as a bully anymore, but rather as a person who couldn’t cope.
Eventually, her picking me up and tossing me into fits of laughter became a tiresome game and we began to play other games. Kid games. And we talked, too. It was like we were becoming friends.
When we were leaving the next day there was a silence. Neither of us knew what to say. There was nothing to be said. We had a ‘weekend bond,’ but both knew it wasn’t going to last into the next day.
When we saw each other again in school, we narrowly missed each other’s gaze. No, she did not become my friend. That isn’t the ending to the story. She didn’t even treat me kindly in public.
But she never picked me up again.