I was living in Bismarck, North Dakota. I’d just moved from Sterling Heights, Michigan midway through the 5th grade. Over that summer, my parents bought a house in another community and any headway I’d made in the friend department was lost as I changed schools again. I was to attend Grimsrud Elementary School just around the corner and down a long hill from our new home.
I was a short, stocky kid, already wearing a bra by this time, strawberry blonde with a gibbled mouthful of teeth and an unusual name, plenty of ammunition for kids to use against me. I was seated that year near two boys, one behind me, sweet and kind with hair and teeth similar to mine, and the other next to me, chubby, a towhead with freckles, and chock full of sarcastic wit. After our work was finished and we had free time, we formed a triangle of fun, sketching goofy cartoons and passing them back and forth, collaborating and laughing.
This display of friendship got me noticed. There was a group of girls, all slim and pretty and fashionably dressed already, who decided I was a challenge. This awkward, plump, plain girl was horning in on their territory, though the two boys I was fraternizing with were hardly popular girl prey.
It began with the name calling. The only one I can remember is “slut”. I was being called a “slut” for talking and laughing in a classroom with a couple of 6th grade boys. There’s no logic to it, which makes sense now that I know the brain doesn’t fully develop until after the age of 18. Soon enough, they were threatening to beat me up on the way home. I felt confused, alone, hurt, and afraid.
I don’t know how long it took me to do something about it. I didn’t tell my parents and I didn’t have any close friends at school yet, but I had a good teacher. His name was Rick Buresh and it says something about him that I can remember his name almost 40 years later. He was a gentle, kind man and I obviously trusted him. It was a hard thing to do, standing in front of his desk in the portable after the rest of the students had gone, head hung in undeserved shame, sobbing my way through that silly, sad story.
He never questioned the truthfulness of my tale. He asked for a list of names. The bullying stopped the next day. I never heard another mean word from those gals. One of them even apologized to me a year later after becoming my friend. I’m grateful to Mr. Buresh and the parents of those girls for sending a clear message that what they were doing wasn’t okay and needed to stop. I’m grateful that the girls themselves accepted discipline and didn’t lash out at me for reporting them.
This was not the last time I was bullied. I had the same issue in junior high after we moved to Canada. The second time around I was brave enough to ask one of my tormentors what the problem was and she said, “It’s because I don’t like you.”
I also had a brief episode four years ago in one of my first jobs as a health care aide. It’s as if I have “lacking confidence” tattoed on my forehead and a permanent sticky note on my back that says, “Bully me.” Even as an adult, I couldn’t confront the bully, but took it, went home and cried, and then avoided taking shifts on that wing thereafter. Truly, I fear the added embarrassment of looking like a blubbering fool because, if I stood up for myself, I might dissolve into a puddle of tears.
I shared my sorry history with a friend, how I seemed to be a target for bullies, and she made me laugh out loud.
“That’s like being mean to a fairy,” she said.
It appears I need a good talking to, a Polly pep talk. I need to speak with both the timid girl and the weak-willed adult. I know that talking to yourself is considered to be a sign of mental illness, but living in this crazy world is enough to make all of us a little bonkers, so I include you who are reading and anyone who has ever been harassed.
Here we go:
- It’s not about you, it’s about the bully. The bully is broken, suffering, and terribly insecure, feeling small and she’s angry about it. She’s body building, following the program prescribed by her personal trainers, those who have disrespected and abused her. Her meanness seems to come out of nowhere. You think, “What just happened here? What did I do to deserve this?” You did nothing. It’s coming from her pitiable life. It points to a lack of love and if anything, she desperately needs our compassion. It’s her dysfunction, don’t own it.
- Don’t listen to anything she has to say and certainly don’t believe it. Her words are spiteful fiction. She’s poisonous. Get away from her as soon as possible. Give your phone number out to only those you trust implicitly and whatever you do, stay off of social media. You aren’t what people think or say about you. Don’t fill your mind with that garbage.
- Don’t take it. Do what you have to do to get free of it. Gather friends around you who will support you, tell your siblings and parents, tell the teacher, the guidance counselor, the principal, the school superintendent, whoever will listen and do something about it. If your efforts come to naught and the bullying continues, don’t stay in that toxic environment. Ask if you can change schools or if home schooling or online education is a possibility. Find a place where you feel safe.
- Don’t allow the harassment to steal your peace or plunge you into depression. Don’t even think of taking your life. Seek medical attention. Talk to a counselor. Treat your battered soul with tenderness. This is a blip on the screen of your existence. It will fade and pass away. Don’t cower in the shame of it. Get it out in the open. Expose the perpetrator. Stepping on people makes a bully feel powerful. When you stay down she wins. Stand up. Don’t ever stop fighting back!
- I’ll speak directly to those of you who think you’ve brought it on yourself. You’ve made some bad choices and you’re suffering the consequences. We all do and say things we wish we wouldn’t have, me included. No, unfortunately, you can’t take that picture back or undo that impetuous act, but you can love and respect yourself enough to stop degrading yourself. You can allow a mistake to define you or you can learn from it and let it go. When my mind insists on rehearsing some regrettable behavior, I tell it as many times as I have to that I don’t wish to think on that anymore. Do what you can to remedy the situation, but move on with hope and resolve to walk in dignity.
You’re beautiful and intelligent, the only you, gifted in unique ways to contribute to the beautification and betterment of this world. Don’t let some small-minded acquaintance ruin your life or even your day. I’m with you and I’m not the only one! Victims, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, guidance counselors, co-workers, managers, bosses, we all must work together to obliterate abuse of any kind wherever we are. Victims and bullies alike must be heard, helped, and healed. Kindness should never be random and it’s not optional. It’s required of every human being to create a healthy society and we must hold each other accountable.
Complete the experience. Listen to Hunter Hayes’ Invisible.
Posts come out every Monday morning, a poem every third Monday. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. Follow me on Instagram username: pollyeloquent. Thanks for reading. 🙂