A couple of posts ago, I told a story about a girl who invited me to her house on the day of her birthday party, only to tell me in front of twenty kids that I wasn’t actually invited and to turn around and go home. We were in grade 6. And really, that was only the beginning. What followed were four years of hell on earth. Until the end of grade 9, I was bullied mercilessly. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and stay there forever. I was withdrawn, anti-social. I did have a few friends, but we kept to ourselves and didn’t want attention drawn to us.
I didn’t make sense to the popular kids. I grew up what I guess you could call “well-off”. In a small town, I had the right clothes, what people would have considered the right last name. This is all what I see now, looking back. I never cared about any of that. I never wanted for anything, that I know. But I also come from people who worked hard, and raised my brother and I to treat others with respect no matter who you are. I learned early on, that not everyone is like that.
The kids that were popular, they wanted you to suck up to them. They wanted you to need to be one of them. And I had no desire for any of that, if it meant I had to be like they were. I wasn’t selling my soul to them just to fit in. If fitting in meant that I had to beat others down, I wanted no part of it. Because I already knew how it felt, and I couldn’t bear the thought of doing that to someone else. I paid for it. Oh, how I paid for it. They didn’t understand my choice to be a wallflower, instead of begging for a spot with the in crowd.
There were others, though, who got it worse than I did. And there were times that I put myself in harm’s way, knowing what was going to happen. There was a girl who was new to town in grade 9. In a small town like ours, that’s a rough go to start with, when most of us had known each other since we were little. And she was a different girl, eccentric. Came to school in high heels, wore strange clothes compared to us. And truth be told, she had quite frizzy red hair. She was just different than the rest of us, and of course, immediately became a target. I felt horrible for her. I was one of the only ones who was pleasant to her, and she was a nice girl.
One day, I had forgotten something in my classroom, and I went back in to see that she was sitting at a desk writing. One of the boys in my class was standing behind her, holding a bottle of White Out over her head, waiting for it to pour in her hair. With her hair being thick and frizzy, it would have taken a few seconds for her to even know it was there…and I was suitably horrified. I ran over and knocked the bottle out of his hand, and it spilled on the floor. She was startled, she hadn’t even known he was standing there. He was angry at me for ruining his prank, and I was angry at him for even wanting to do it in the first place. He looked me dead in the eye and said “You’ll regret that.”
When the teacher came in later when class started, neither she or I fessed up to how the White Out got on the carpet. After school that day, that boy followed behind me while I walked home and yelled insults at me the whole way. All because I didn’t let him pour White Out in an unsuspecting girl’s hair. What on earth would possess him to even want to do that, I still have no idea. To me, it wouldn’t have been funny. Even at fourteen. All I could think of was how she would even get it out, and how it was going to make her feel. If I had to go back and do it again, I would knock that bottle out of his hand ten out of ten times. It was the right thing to do.
The walk home that day wasn’t fun. It was only a block, thank God. But I didn’t let him see me cry. I kept my head up, and walked straight ahead, pretending I didn’t hear him while he called after me. I walked in the door of my house, closed it behind me, crumpled to the floor, and cried. My brother, who would have been 11 at the time, came to the entry because he heard me crying. He looked scared, not knowing what to do. He just came and sat on the floor next to me. A few minutes went by, and I stopped crying. And he said “Can we have a snack now?” and I just nodded at him, and we got up and went to the kitchen. I doubt he remembers that. But I always will.
Here’s the thing about that day, though. Once I got home, I was home. I’d escaped. There was no social media to check, no texts. Sure, it was still on my mind, but at the very least at home it was just me and my family. The people that loved me, knew me, wanted the best for me. It’s such a different world we’re living in now, where as soon as kids are exposed to the online world, they’re connected to each other constantly. There’s no break from contact. Even though I don’t have any children of my own, there are many in my life. And I hear and see the things that happen.
I’m reminded of stories like Amanda Todd, a girl from Port Coquitlam, BC. She was cyber-bullied after a photo of her flashing was circulated, to the point that it drove her to drugs and alcohol, and ultimately led her to suicide. She was fifteen years old. I’ll link an article at the end of this post if you’re not familiar with the story, but heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it. The pain that bullying caused her, and in turn what the outcome caused her family is nothing short of agonizing. Even when she was at home, there was no escaping. It’s just different now. Parents, if you’re reading this, be vigilant. Know what your children are doing online. Limit their phone and screen time at night, even as teenagers. It may save their life.
Days like today, Pink Shirt Day, matter. Absolutely. But if we’re not all conscious of how we’re treating people on a day to day basis, then we’ve already lost. The bullying I went through when I was young had lasting effects on me, I can’t say that it didn’t. It’s like when you throw a rock into water, that initial splash is the worst of it, but the ripple effect goes on…sometimes infinitely. The disturbance of that water, it changes you. In some ways it can even change you for the better. It strengthened my resolve. It solidified my view of right and wrong. And these are things that I apply to my everyday life.
The pain felt unbearable at the time, but I was lucky enough to have family support, people who loved me no matter what. This isn’t always the case for everyone, and that breaks my heart. I’m also going to post a link to the Kids Help Phone charity. Resources for our children who don’t have support at home are invaluable, and it’s a cause that’s important to me. Times are hard right now, though, and I get that, too. The pandemic has caused us all stresses that we couldn’t have expected on top of our already stressful lives. I think it exacerbates everything, and just makes it all the more important to make days like today, and mental health focuses for all of us a priority.
If you’re still with me, thank you for taking the time today. Much love, and be sure to take care of yourselves, and each other.