In light of all the recent harassment-induced suicides (Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, and Phoebe Prince, to name a few), I’ve actually found myself in a state of uncertainty with regards to the issue of school bullying.
As someone who was constantly picked on from about 6th to 9th grade (sometimes at my own fault, I can admit, but more on those instances later), I’m angered that the media has only now begun taking the problem of bullies seriously.
Maybe technology really is to blame, as some would argue. It is now possible to be bullied 24/7. While I was in junior high, I at least had the refuge of my own home at the end of the day, where I could lock myself up with a book and not be taunted via text, email, or other social media memes.
By the time I hit 8th grade, the internet became popular among my classmates, and I did endure some cyber bullying (but, as I said earlier, I kind of provoked some of this. I gladly gave out my amateur website link and shared my AOL instant messenger username.) My schoolmates sent nasty emails and instant messages my way, so when it became unbearable, I created new accounts and was finally at peace.
But those were the days before Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. I’d be naive to claim I had it just as hard as today’s teenagers.
A while ago, I finished reading Jodee Blanco’s memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me, which chronicles her traumatic childhood bullying experiences. Blanco was beaten, hit, kicked, verbally assaulted, mocked, and insulted from 4th grade to her final year of high school. One of her most haunting memories includes being nearly choked to death with snowballs by a team of male student athletes.
Three weeks ago, I emailed Blanco’s personal account, and she actually sent me back a short but sweet response. Whether or not she read my email, it felt nice to tell someone about my own personal history with childhood harassers. Here’s what she said:
Thank you for your email and for sharing your own story with me. Your email truly touched my heart. If we had grown up together I know we would’ve been good friends.
With warmest regards,
Blanco is on Twitter and her book is a New York Times Bestseller. She also gives speeches all over the country and considers herself an anti-bullying advocate. I’d love to meet her at some point. For the longest time, I didn’t believe that there existed another female who got bullied for so long and so many years.
But, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, I made some mistakes back in junior high. There were times when I think I kind of indulged in being the victim. I don’t live my life by this desire anymore, and it was just a temporary inexplicable want that I had during my rather awkward pre-teen years.
I never hoped to be harassed so much, and more often than not, all the teasing that came my way was unwarranted and out of hand.
At the end of the day, I was an easy target for being nice, calm, bone thin, inquisitive, and kind of socially uncomfortable. As Blanco notes in her book, young people are very perceptive, and they don’t always want to befriend independent thinkers.
Looking through the lens of my own personal history, I’m stumped by the suicides of poor Phoebe Prince and Asher Brown. As much as I feel for Prince, I also recognize that she suffered from depression, struggled with the divorce of her parents, had previously attempted suicide, and longed for her father, who was living in Ireland. I’m appalled by the actions of her harassers, but I can definitely see that they weren’t the only source of her turmoils. The bullies were, perhaps, what ultimately broke her spirits.
I’m sadder for Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Texan who shot himself in the aftermath of being teased for two years. It sounds like he just lost it. Junior high is arguably the worst time in one’s life. I just wish I could have had an intervention with Brown and Prince and said to them, “I swear to you, life will get easier. In fact, it will be fantastic. You can’t even imagine the amount of happiness you will one day experience. People mature and you will grow into yourselves. Just hang in there for a few more years.”
But, when bullied all the time, it’s rather hard to picture any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t even begin to describe all the wonderful experiences I’ve had since the end of middle school, but at age 12, I had trouble believing that I had a bright future ahead.
Sometimes, you just have to pull through. It truly does upset me that I couldn’t have met with Prince and Brown and assured them that they’d eventually get away from their heinous bullies and useless school administrators. That is what devastates me the most. I’m sorry that these poor souls did not contain the inner strength to pull through against all odds. Eventually, their lives surely would have improved. Prince and Brown would have graduated from school and had the choice to start fresh somewhere else. This is precisely what I did, and even though it’s been nearly eight years since I was last bullied, I still often feel like strangers know about my past.
Every time I meet a new person or make a friend, I’m worried I’m going to get “found out,” but of course this will never happen. In truth, nobody cares that I was bullied. In fact, most people express shock when I explain that I was rejected by my entire junior high back in 2000. New friends and acquaintances say they can’t see why anyone would have harassed me, but they’re of course referring to the 2010 version of me, not the uncomfortable, 90 pound, pale, stringy-haired, 11 year old redhead that roamed around school with a broken rolling backpack.
For the longest time, I wanted to be home schooled, which was never an option. My family didn’t have the means to pay for individual education, and my parents also agreed that I needed to find a way to survive at school. Believe me, my mom and dad came to my defense all the time, often to my detriment. When the junior high principal was unwilling to take action against my harassers, my father took the liberty of emailing her boss. I’m convinced that the principal hated me as a result. To this day, I remember her telling one of my main bullies, “You’re an amazing dancer. My daughter says she wants to dance like you someday.” The favoritism was sickening.
So, because I didn’t have the resources to be homeschooled, I often begged my parents to send me to a school in a neighboring city. But even my siblings agreed that this would be running away. So, for about four years, I endured. Like Blanco, I was punched, kicked on the bus, cyberbullied, yelled at, among many other things. One group of people even threw apples at me, and some guy shot staples into my ear, if you can imagine it. All the people who caused me physical harm were males, and none of them were part of the “popular crowd,” if you will, so let’s get their social standing straight. These were wannabe punks, and they donned tight jeans, spiked clothing, Social Distortion t-shirts, and leather jackets. The people that actually hurt me were guys, aside from the girls who chucked fruit at me. We were all very young, but none of it was right.
Sure, there were times when I wanted to escape from it all, but I never considered suicide. I feel very lucky, and it’s my hope that all bullied kids will understand that there is life after middle and high school. I’m heartbroken that so many kids don’t think they can survive their school years. I want to tell every single one of them, “You absolutely can do it. Please don’t give up. Don’t quit on me.”