By now I’m sure you’ve heard about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide after being the victim of a terrible prank. This incident has caused an onslaught of anti-bullying campaigns, news stories, etc. I was listening to the radio on my way to work and they asked each other who was the bully and who was bullied (as kids). Most said they were one or the other. I started thinking about myself as a kiddo and realized something.
I was both.
I’ve mentioned junior high a few times on here. I typically avoid the topic because holy hell those days sucked. There were teeny tiny wonderful moments for every three or four terrible moments. I cried. A lot. I complained. A lot. I remember days when my mom would sit next to me on my bed, hold my hand and say, “You’ll get through this. You will.” Between hiccups and cries I’d tell her she didn’t understand. Later I found out she understood completely--she went through the same torment. That’s the thing, bullying isn’t new. My mom and I were made fun of for the exact same issues by the exact same type of people. Both of us knew what it was like to want to disappear, and we’d been made to feel small enough that disappearing didn’t seem that impossible.
I was “lucky” in the sense that I was only bullied for a few years. Once I went to high school, all was good. I’m sure I was still made fun of (weren’t we all?) but no one said it to my face. Perhaps it was because I was no longer 4’11” and flat-chested. I was never picked on for my personality, my intelligence, or my morals. Just my looks. But when you’re 12 that feels like everything.
I can sit here and feel sorry for myself or I can think back to 5th grade when I was the bully. A group of us were horrible to one person. And it wasn’t just her looks. We picked on every single part of who she was. I never did it to her face but I was brutal behind her back and witnessed blatant cruelty dozens of times without saying a word. I was just as bad as the ones who outright bullied her.
Almost twenty years later it still haunts me. How I could be that cruel, that demeaning, that repulsive of a person. I was only 10 but I knew better. For the longest time I’ve wondered about her. Is she happy? Is she married? Is she safe? Is she alive?
I guess this sob-story is to say I imagine most of us have been the victim but most of us have also been the perpetrator. There were a few positives to getting bullied, but that’s because I was (eventually) able to learn from it and move on. Made my skin thicker, eyes wider, and gave me a sarcastic, self-deprecating humor that makes people laugh. I think of those who dealt with torment for many years, or worse, refused to deal with it and instead took their own lives. It breaks my heart.
The thing is… my parents didn’t raise a bully. They raised a good girl who made that terrible decision all by herself and later had a healthy dose given right back to her. There is a simple answer to this problem but it’s obviously not the popular answer. And until we figure out how to make simple and popular synonymous, it’s never going to stop.
What a waste.