I am a 44-year-old male, originally from the central USA. I was bullied relentlessly from my earliest school years virtually until my high school graduation. Some of my personal experiences from my school years (primarily with regard to not being aware that I was gifted) appear here on a Website devoted to gifted children. Fortunately, I was taller than most of my classmates, so to a large extent I was spared being a victim of physical violence. Mostly I suffered a daily relentless verbal assault from my classmates, as well as vandalism against my personal belongings, for merely being a naive and vulnerable, unathletic and somewhat overweight honors student.
Posessing an unusually keen memory has been for me a very mixed blessing, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, easily remembering things that I learned or studied or experienced allowed me to do very well in school and remain an honors student throughout my school years. It has helped me in life to recall important information when I needed it, as well as to make insightful applications in new areas of information I learned in an entirely different context. On the other hand, posessing an unusually keen memory has also meant that bitter and painful childhood memories even from nearly 40 years ago are as vivid in my recollection as if they had happened earlier today. It is like my entire childhood has been videotaped, archived and indexed, ready for instant retrieval and replay in my mind upon being triggered by any vaguely similar event of the present.
It all started with my very first year of school. I had learned to read at the age of 3, and soon eagerly devoured the contents of every volume of the encyclopedia set that my parents had bought for me. I certainly had a lot of time to read, as I was frequently ill as a child. So by the time I started school, not only was I completely inept in sports and had no knowledge of the rules of the games the other children played, I also related far better to adults than to children my own age. And as a result of doing so much reading prior to starting school, I posessed a much deeper general knowledge than the majority of my peers. This was all a recipe for utter childhood social disaster, which was very swift in coming, and persisted all throughout my school years.
I always tried to be fair, balanced, unselfish and altruistic in my dealings with other children. But these qualities were little valued by my peers. Indeed, they made me all the more vulnerable to the attacks of children less scrupulous than myself. One particular wealthy, popular boy quickly organized and became the ringleader of what amounted to an "I hate Howard" club. All of the other boys who craved his friendship followed his example in tormenting me in every way they could possibly think of. This "club" remained in existence throughout most of my elementary school years. I still vividly recall one particular occasion, even after 35 years, when I was chased around the school grounds during recess by virtually my entire class. I ran to a teacher for protection, but instead she repeatedly rapped me on the arms with her wooden ruler for 'bothering' her, as she chanted, "Go out and play! Go out and play! Go out and play!" Such a credit to her profession!
One of the major lessons that I learned as a victim of bullying was that it was utterly useless to look to the school staff for protection. For the most part, neither the teachers, nor the principal, nor the school administration seemed to have the slightest concern or interest in protecting their students from being victims of bullying. In fact, there strangely even seemed to be a conspiracy among the school staff to shield and protect bullies, while punishing and stigmatizing the victims for complaining or seeking help, or even worse, daring to defend themselves. Apparently, bullying at school is a dirty little secret that the school administration would rather quietly sweep under the carpet rather than deal with in a forthright manner. What other conclusion can a bullying victim draw when the teachers and school staff profess ignorance and remain utterly oblivious when repeated blatant acts of bullying are performed right under their very noses? And yet, should the victim ever despair of looking to them for help and dare to take matters into his or her own hands, the response from the teachers and staff was always dizzyingly swift and painfully decisive.
On one occasion in the 7th grade, a bully with a long record of causing trouble at the school decided to beat me up while the teacher was out of the classroom. I never knew how to fight, and I didn't want to know, either. I just wanted to protect myself from a beating. Somehow in the ensuing battle I managed to get my arms around the bully's neck, and I hung on for dear life until the teacher returned and I could safely let go. I had no idea that I was choking the bully, I was just very scared and wanted to protect myself from being pummeled by him. But by the time the teacher returned to the room, the bully was beginning to turn blue. We were both sent to the principal's office for fighting. So, was I exonerated for defending myself against a bully who had a long history of being a troublemaker? Ha! Not a chance! Instead, the principal reprimanded me severely for unintentionally choking the poor, dear unfortunate bully, instead of passively letting myself be beaten to a pulp like a man. In fact, he even went so far as to suggest to the bully that his parents could consider taking legal action against such an uncooperative and troublesome victim. Such was the school system's totally warped sense of justice and fairness when dealing with bullies and their victims.
Fortunately, things got a little better for me in high school. For one thing, I went to a large school, where it was relatively easy to fade into the background and lose oneself in a sea of faces. Also, the school had an effective policy that strongly discouraged physical violence. Oh, the verbal abuse was still there. I never understood how classmates who hardly knew me and scarcely had any contact with could hate me so intensely! Many of the brightest kids in my classes would leave no stone unturned in search of ways to embarass, humiliate, mock or discredit me in front of the rest of the class. Whenever I attempted to take part in class discussions, they would ridicule me and roll their eyes and laugh at every word I tried to speak. One year, bullies took my copy of the school yearbook and utterly trashed it. But it was rarely physical the way it often was in elementary school, except for the time a classmate pulled a knife on me when I caught him vandalizing my science project and tried to stop him, and the time a kid threatened to beat me up simply because his sister didn't like having me in one of her classes. I was still, for the most part, an outcast, however.
I graduated high school ranked 4th out of a class of 852. I chose not to attend the graduation ceremony. I threw away my invitation to the homecoming festivities, as well as my invitation to the 10th anniversary class reunion. I have never posted my E-mail address on any of the Internet Websites devoted to contacting former classmates. It was such a bitter time of my life, I have positively no desire to relive it. I don't harbor any ill feelings toward any of the former classmates who tormented me. I simply want to leave the past in the past and do my best to get on with my life.
Unfortunately, having been bullied throughout my school years has continued to affect me profoundly to this very day. I still have to constantly battle with extreme shyness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. I always feel I have to "prove" myself to others. One cannot experience having one's human dignity and self-esteem systematically shredded on a daily basis by one's peers during the most crucial and vulnerable formative years, and yet emerge entirely unscathed emotionally. But my experience has made me keenly attuned to the suffering of others, and filled me with the motivation to do all I personally can to alleviate their suffering. So for that reason, my bitter experience with bullying is not without at least something positive resulting from it.
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