I was bullied for my small size, for my intelligence, for being “teacher’s pet” because I worked hard in school. I tried not to stray too far from the teachers; on days when they weren’t around I paid a price that left me spitting dirt and blood and wishing just once I could muster the courage to fight back.
But deep down I didn’t want to hurt them back. I just wanted them to leave me alone.
The ordinary daily bullying wasn’t the worst of it, though. My worst beatings came as a result of me sticking up for someone else. I stepped between a mean girl and Little Robin once, and was beaten unconscious. The mean girl was so scared she had killed me she carried me home and begged her mother for help. She then took me home and tearfully told my dad what she had done and said she was sorry. That was more than could be said of my daily bullies. I would like to think maybe she wasn’t so mean after that.
I’d like to be able to say that I was never a bully, but it wouldn’t be true. Something snaps in the mind after years of being punched, pushed, kicked, and tormented and some of us just aren’t strong enough to fight off the temptation to take all that out on someone else. Thankfully my brand of meanness wasn’t very physical, owing to my small size.
But I know what a lot of other people know: Words can be worse than whippings.
I lived in two worlds for a while in junior high, mouthing off enough to keep people thinking I could back it up so I could stay safe, and championing the underdog by befriending the girls no one else liked. Two powerful pieces of me warred—walking wounded struggling to be tough enough to survive, and hero to the outcast.
By high school I had left it behind—both being bullied and being Miss Tough Girl. I guess those opposing sides of me finally made their peace.
I prayed nobody remembered me as a bully by name.
I grew up to be hypersensitive to anyone in need, anyone in crisis, anyone needing a hug, a smile, a shoulder, a friend. I grew up to love like I wanted to be loved all along.
I grew up with a longing to lead a life of love and light and grace and hope, and to do whatever I can to help others lead one, too. Through the years I’ve gained a deeper understanding of what makes their hearts beat, both the bully and the bullied.
I’m no hero, but I know what it means to live under fist and taunt. If I can help even one person to live fewer moments of abuse, I’d like to try. Imagine what could happen if all of us who remember our bullies by name turned those memories into empathy and healing for the walking wounded we once were.
A Write Where It Hurts column post