- Posted October 11, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Bullying awareness: Your story
Bullying - Notes from a Survivor
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
I wrote this back in 2010:
Bullying has taken center stage once again. It is as much a part of growing up and evolving as a human, as posturing is to the development of other animal species. I say this not as a way of excusing those who do Bully. I, for one, do not believe that there is a plausible excuse for Bullying. Though the focus at present is on sexual orientation, there will be always some human quality singled out: Obesity, socio-economic standing, special needs, too smart, too slow or, in my case, your style of dress.
I have, to my mother's dismay at times, worn boots, jeans and western attire, since I was a toddler. I learned to ride a horse around the same time I learned to walk. Subsequently, I never saw the need to learn to ride a bicycle until I was close to twelve. Mark Klinger will forever be my hero. He convinced me that if I learned to ride a bicycle it would be one less thing I would be teased about. That bicycle would become my means of escaping throughout Junior High School and well into my Junior year of High School.
Shumaker Elementary, Magee Jr High School, Sahuaro High School, for ten years, these places of learning taught me so many lessons. I was the smallest kid on the playground for much of those ten years. I learned early on that whether I called attention to myself or not, someone would find a reason to taunt, tease, ridicule and point out my every flaw. Apparently, I had many: I didn't dress like everyone else, I wore glasses, I had buck teeth, I was too skinny... I kept putting one foot in front of the other, finding, in myself, a champion & cheerleader. I never told my parents. I never told anyone other than my babysitter, Mrs. Klinger. She was my cheerleader. "God made everyone in his image", she would say, "You just remember that." I took that on as my mantra, my protective chant.
Bullying has many forms and I have seen them all. Last one chosen for dodge ball, tag, flag football, the heavy sigh as the "captain" realized that I was the only choice. Being the "easy" target for the other team and used as a shield for "my" team. Only child in the class with no study partner and having the teacher select one, again that audible, heavy sigh, along with sidelong glances to their cronies, snickering and sotto voice remarks. "Friends" who turned out to be anything but once the group homework project was over and done with. The list goes on, intensifying as I transitioned from Elementary to Jr. High School and then to High School.
I began to learn that there were victims and survivors. I made a conscious choice to be a Survivor. I found people at school who, like me, were considered misfits. We stuck together, cajoled each other through all of the BS that was thrown at us, sometimes literally. The dog barking and biscuits being tossed at me started in sixth grade and didn't cease until after High School ended. A victim would have burst out in tears, making things much worse. I gathered up the dog biscuits, put them in my backpack, told them "thanks for the snack" and took them home to my dog. In Junior High, I was taunted about my singing voice, my alto was closer to Bass, until I gave up Chorus altogether. My yearbook was taken from my desk and cruel things written across all of my other, positive messages. In High School, forced out of the cafeteria and snack bar, I brought my lunch from home.
The Klinger family moved away and I found my niche at Church. I was the first one there in the morning to set up the donuts and coffee sale, open the nursery and go to mass to sing in the youth choir and later, the folk choir. By High School, I had two religious education classes during the week nights and the Church youth group activities to look forward to on most weekends. I had my involvement in Rodeo, my love of dance, my poetry and my music.
Yet, even with these outside activities, I still dreaded going to school. By High School, my Bullies had morphed from school yard taunts to physical shoves, group harassment and other threats. I was backed in to a school yard fence and groped. I came in to find my locker had been "decorated" with used condoms and dog feces. I learned that they, being Jocks, were untouchable. I learned that the "popular" girls were to be avoided at all cost. "Nice hair, borrow it from Bozo the Clown?" or grabbing my glasses from my gym locker, "Wow, no wonder you dress the way you do, with these glasses you really are blind!". Survival meant ending my retainers, braces and jaw retention gear with a year left to go because the dentist told me I would have to wear the head gear to school. Nope, Not going to happen! I could hear the taunts already in my head. By my senior year in High school, binge drinking on the weekends was my escape. I would never drink during school, as a matter of survival. I was always on my toes and quick with a comeback. I took pride in never starting a fight. I wouldn't back down but someone else would have to throw that first punch. They rarely got a second.
To survive, I made alliances with teachers, school monitors and counselors. God Bless Mrs. Moses. She was my go-to-person when I felt like I was coming undone. Yet, even she seemed powerless to do anything about the bullying. Back then it was "kids will be kids!". "You need to remember that you are gifted in many areas", "Just keep showing your sunny side, they will come around eventually." So I learned to put up walls. They were sunny, bright, carefree walls. I let very few people within the ramparts. I never cried at school, that would show a weakness that I didn't want exposed. I became the "mother hen" of my little band of misfits. I became involved in dance classes and sign language. I was sweetness and light and, inside, I fought to understand what made them hate me so much.
I look back now and wonder how I survived. I am also thankful because through all of the darkness that is Bullying, I learned compassion and tolerance. I learned how to better read people. I won't say that I was a perfect teenager. I was a normal teenager, trying to survive and trying to find my place in the world. I tried to be a friend to everyone or at least offer my friendship. I have carried some of the residual effects of Bullying into my adult life. I see this now, as I reflect back on three failed marriages. In each case, I married some type of Bully, passive aggressive, manic-depressive or in the case of the last, a sociopathic Bully.
I look at my own sons, now adults, and marvel at two diverse personalities. My eldest was bullied throughout school. He has very few friends, preferring the company of his parents and grandparents most of the time. When I became aware that he was being bullied by his last stepfather, I moved him out of the house and in with his grandparents. It was a matter of safety and survival. My youngest is outgoing, gregarious and brooks no nonsense when it comes to others picking on those less fortunate. His focus is on fun and friends. The eldest focuses on school and a goal of becoming a Fireman.
The point I am hoping to make is that you can survive Bullying. You have to make a conscious choice to be a Survivor over a victim. I am Forty-six and I can tell you that there were lonely nights in High School when I thought I would never see twenty-six years. I learned to tap into a deep reserve of strength. I learned to be proud of who I was, created in the Creator's image, and to let my diverse talents shine.
It has been a long road to get to this point. It has been dark, narrow, steep, twisted and rocky. I have wanted to throw my hands up and say "Uncle!" In fact, I have done so on more than one occasion. Yet, here I am, forty-six, surrounded by that small band of misfits and Church friends that I have had since high school. We haven't always stayed in close touch but we have always known that we had each others backs. Maybe that is what is lacking today.