When I was in 9th grade, I was bullied. While girls can be cruel, my bullies were boys. Rich, white boys whose parents belonged to country clubs. Boys who are now men with business degrees and jobs and (at least in the case of one) a wife and sons. I've never written about this before because I feel silly admitting how much the experience affected me into adulthood. Also, it's not funny, and inappropriate humor is pretty much my #1 defense mechanism. Still, I need to get this story off my chest, so please bear with me. I promise I'll be funny next time.
I grew up extremely sheltered, and I was a book nerd, so I had no realistic expectations about how to deal with boys when I was 14. My dad, out of what I realize now was an extremely misguided sense of protectiveness, told me the only reason a boy would ever be interested in me was for sex, no matter what they said to the contrary. All I knew was that my father didn't seem that interested in what I thought, but there were boys who did, so I started seeking male attention early. I was lonely and craved validation badly, and I was willing to act out a little to get it, so long as that didn't interfere with my goal of getting the hell out of my parents' house as quickly as possible (i.e., no drugs, no risk of pregnancy). If I could go back and hug myself, I would. I would throw myself in front of a bus to protect my children from feeling the way I felt at that age.
In 9th grade, I transferred from the suffocating fake righteousness of my small private Christian school into a public junior high school. The first day at my new school, boys were crowding around me, asking questions, trying to sit near me, which was something I never experienced at my old school. It was incredibly flattering. Soon, I started dating one of the boys, who I'll call S. He was sarcastic, intelligent, and cute. We ate pizza and saw Karate Kid 2. He kissed me in the theater while Peter Cetera crooned. It was a brave new world.
At the same time, my home life was a shit show. My mom is bipolar, so sometimes she was fine, and sometimes the bottom fell out, and I never knew which it was going to be. My father was always angry. I withdrew as much as possible into schoolwork and books and church and my flute. Sometimes I tried to express some of this to S. Expecting him to understand or empathize was a huge mistake - it was like I hadn't spoken. As much as I was capable, I tried to be a good girlfriend - I listened to him, laughed at his jokes, reassured him when he thought he'd done badly on a test.
When we broke up, S started spreading rumors about me, following me around and taunting me about things I told him in confidence, doing everything possible to humiliate me. The other girls in our grade decided I was a slut based on what he said, so they wouldn't talk to me. Soon the verbal abuse turned physical - he would run up behind me and whap me across the back of the head as hard as he could. One day, we were stacking books in our math classroom - we had almost every single class together - and he took a book and hit me over the head with it so hard I literally saw stars.
One day, S's best friend, W, started being nice to me. It freaked me out at first, but it seemed so genuine, and I was so lonely and naive. W would call me at night and pass me notes during the day. He asked what I thought, and we shared jokes, and I really thought he liked me. One week, S was out sick, and W actually spoke to me in public and held my hand. We met at the mall and made out in a dark corner. I cringe now at how desperate I was for someone to like me. Of course soon after that, we broke up, and the abuse started again, times two. I assume they planned the whole thing.
All this time, I concealed everything from my parents. With my religious upbringing, I thought it was all my fault for having naughty impure thoughts, and after all, my father did warn me about boys. I made straight As and tried to keep it together. I tried dating boys who were big for our age - a football player and a hockey player. I wasn't actually attracted to them, but they would protect me. After each break up, the abuse from S and W would start again. They hit, kicked, chased, spit at, and threw things at me. They stole my stuff. They told me I was fat, ugly, and slutty. I went home with bruises and scrapes many days.
Thankfully, the girls in my grade started to feel sorry for me, and I eventually had a few friends who would stand up for me. The abuse didn't stop, but it tailed off, because S & W would usually only come after me if I was alone. One day, not long before the end of school, S came past my desk in English and hit me really hard when nobody was looking. Before I realized what had happened, I stood up and drove my fist as hard as I could into his stomach in a perfect uppercut. He gasped, looked like he might throw up, and staggered to his seat. A few people applauded. A few days later, W gave me a black eye - before, they'd never hit me in the face. When my father, a former Marine, saw it, he went ballistic. W is lucky that I talked my dad out of calling the police and having him arrested, and even luckier that I talked my dad out of going to his house to settle the score himself. It was arranged that W would apologize to me in front of an array of witnesses. He did, and the school year was over.
The next year, S went to a different high school, and I only saw him once after that, at a football game. W and I went to the same high school, but it was a big school, and we managed to have only one class together the whole time. I didn't tell many people what he had done to me. W was an athlete, an Eagle Scout, and a regular churchgoer. His high school girlfriend was a sweet girl, and I wondered if she experienced anything like what I did when they broke up.
That would have been the end of it, except that during my first weekend at college (30 miles from my hometown), I came home after my first official night out partying to find the bulletin board on my dorm room door defaced. It said, "I slapped you once, bitch, you thought you would be safe in college, but no." I asked around, and several people who'd gone to high school with S had seen him on campus that night, though he went to a different university. No confirmation on W, though I later learned he'd bragged to other people about being there, too. I made a statement to campus police, who called S and his mother to campus and banned him. It was awhile before I felt safe again, but I was so grateful that the campus police took me seriously and made it clear they were on my side.
That's the last I heard of either person, but over the years, they've still managed to haunt me occasionally. During anxious periods in my waking life, they've shown up in my dreams, jeering at me, following me, chasing me. I've faced them down, closing doors on them, hitting them, screaming at them, and on one memorable occasion, pushing them out of an airplane. Thankfully, as my overall level of don't-give-a-fuckness has increased, the appearances have almost ended, but their presence in my subconscience feels so violating.
Recently, two new blogger friends, Lisa Petty from Petty Thoughts and Ashley from Big Top Family, posted about their respective bullies, and I decided to do some Google stalking. It turns out S lives across the country and works as an executive for a food service company. That's all I could find. W lives in our home state and works for a drug company. He's also married with two young sons. I wonder how he treats his wife. I wonder how he is raising his sons to treat women. For all his church attendance (his current church is pastored by a college classmate of mine), I wonder if he ever repented for what he did to me. While I'm a sucker for the idea that everyone is capable of redemption, I doubt either of them have had any remorse. Chances are, if you torment someone for fun for a year when you're well past old enough to know better, and then hunt that person down 3 years later when you're an adult to threaten them, you're probably a sociopath.
I'm not sure what I thought I was going to accomplish by finding this information, and I'm struggling to determine what the takeaway is supposed to be. I can't wrap this piece up in a neat little package. They say living well is the best revenge, but that doesn't capture what I feel. I've had a good, albeit not trouble-free, life, but I can't ride off into the sunset and say all's well that ends well. What S and W did to me scarred me deeply. It wasn't boys-will-be-boys. It was a form of torture. They did what they did because they enjoyed exerting power through fear. It was sick and wrong, and they got away with it, and chances are, it wasn't the first or last time. It bothers me that people like them are out in the world.
So what do I do? I certainly have no desire to ever speak to either of these people again, yet I don't think it's healthy to hang on to resentment and anger. I think that like many shitty experiences in life, the only useful thing to do is to figure out the lessons and move on. So here goes.
- I know the signs of bullying, and if my kids come home with physical or emotional injuries they won't talk about, or if they withdraw into themselves, I will be on it like white on rice.
- I have never done anything to deserve being mistreated, and I won't stand for it.
- No desire for acceptance and love is worth foregoing my dignity and self respect.