I was not the victim of any excessive bullying in elementary school or even high school for that matter. I was however one of those people who is constantly on the fringes, and therefore got a larger share of belittlement than most people.
In elementary school, I was the victim of bullies on occasion. But it wasn’t anything big. I have two brothers who are 2 years younger than me and from a lot of both verbal and physical tussling with them from a young age I learned to hit back when someone tried to trip me or call me a name. So I guess most bullies didn’t see me as an easy target. When I got older and the bullies’ methods became more sophisticated, I was not in such a good position.
I went to an elementary school and high school that were on the same block, in the same town, all my life, so I never had to cope with the stresses of changing schools. Throughout my elementary career I generally had friends, though not many. I generally got along well with everyone in my classes every year, though there may have been a few people I disliked. Most children tend to live in the moment, not worrying too much about how many friends they have or how they look. I was like that.
Not being the target of excessive bullying made me occasionally a party to bullying myself, as I didn’t quite know how bad it was to be one of those victims. I remember one girl who I went to school with from grades primary to 6. She was constantly the butt of jokes and harrassment, which I at times would participate in. This girl was poor, had a distinctive personal odour, and not many social graces, and was not classically attractive. I can’t recall her really having any friends. I was a sensitive child so even though I would occasionally take part in the bullying, I always felt bad about it, not that that made it OK. Like some of your contributors said, one of the hardest things when you are in school is to not fit in. Picking on this girl helped me to "fit in". I remember once my grade 4 teacher, Mr. Donaldson, noticed that I was tormenting this girl because I was sitting behind her, and he took me aside after school, upbraided me and generally made me feel like a jerk. Which was fine, because I *was* a jerk. I remember another time when this girl’s mother came to my house when I was away and asked my mother if I would like to come for a sleepover at her daughter’s house. When my mother told me about it I was filled with dread, not only because I would have to spend time with her but also because I would be mocked if "word got out". The next day I grudgingly mentioned it to her, and she knew nothing about it. I guess it was the classic painful "Mother tries to recruit lonely daughter’s peers to be her friends" scenario. I didn’t realize it at the time.
When I was in elementary school we learned in health class about things like self-esteem. At the time it was a strange notion to me that a person could actually not like themselves, and even to think of killing themselves. I thought about it and I was quite sure that I could never feel that way. Once junior high came, things were a little different. A tendency to play by myself when I was younger and a lack of access to certain mass media (our family never had a TV) meant that I lacked the knowledge - about puberty, sex, and the rest of it - to deal with the changes that were occurring, and to interact successfully with other, more sophisticated youth in my grade. I also didn’t learn anything about what was expected of me as far as being an "attractive young lady" went. I knew very little about fashion or grooming. So come grades 7, 8 and 9 I was a dowdy-looking, uni-browed, pimpled, gawky nerd with "poor", unfashionable clothes. I had a few semi-popular female friends, whom I suspect only hung out with me from pity. I was too awkward, sensitive and self-conscious to use much verbal self-defense so I was an easy target for people, mostly males, to pick on. They were just as self-conscious as I was, but felt that they needed to pick on me to make themselves feel better. My grades didn’t suffer, though - I was an honour student for those 3 years. Some people had at least a grudging respect for me because I was smart, could read and write well, and could draw very well. When I reached grade 9 I met up with a small group of people in an after-school art group - the "freaks". I went to a small-town high school of about 650 people, so this group was small indeed. I am forever indebted to these people for taking me in (I am still friends with them today), despite the trials and tribulations to come. It was different being harrassed when I was part of this group because I was being bullied for being "different" and "rebellious", so it was easier to bear than just being called a loser. After I became friends with these people I started to change - to listen to different types of music, to wear makeup, to wear different clothes, etc. I went through the obligatory goth phase. At this point the insults from the "preps" as we called them changed - instead of "loser", "ugly", it would be "freak", "dyke" etc. I think most of the people who called me a dyke only called me a dyke because I, A. hung around with the only two openly homosexual people in my school, a gay male and a transvestite and B. because I rejected conventional female standards of beauty, IE wore black lipstick, etc. They didn’t have any actual physical knowledge that I was homosexual (incidentally, I am bi). On any given day I would go through the halls to a chorus of "freak", "dyke", "gay", etc. It didn’t come from everyone, but from a certain type of male, this type of male can be found in every grade level in large numbers. For my openly gay friends it was worse. They were always getting called fag, queer, gay, homo, etc. Most of the people who contributed should be glad they were not openly gay during their school years because it would have been 10 times worse. The violence was generally verbal but they got pushed up against walls a few times. They were both spunky, witty people, always ready with a comeback, so at least they had that going for them.
All this harassment made me loathe going to school, and also made me have low self-esteem and contemplate suicide several times. The feeling of low self-confidence persisted throughout high school so that even though I had a few "freak" friends, I didn’t make new friends, and I would become privately agitated whenever the subject of moving to a different school or a different town would come up with them. I would be thinking...oh shit....now I’ll only have 2 friends left!
Now I am graduated from high school for a year. In a month and a half I will be starting college. Reading the accounts in the website about how things change when you get to college has been heartening. I still live in the same town. I have no friends here that I do anything with. Some of my old "freak" friends still live here but I grew away from them. I have many more friends than I ever had in high school, but they all live in a city about an hour away from me. I’m pleased to be moving there to go to college for that reason, among others. I am a wholly different person than who I was in junior high. I can cope with talking to people and making new friends. However, the teasing and harassment I endured in high school remains with me. I have a mild social anxiety disorder. I am painfully shy sometimes when I have to put myself in a situation where I know no one or when I have to "mingle". I am afraid that people will judge me and think I am a loser. I’m working on it though, and I have gained a valuable perspective on life - "enemies are put before you to make you a better person." Now I walk down the street of my town and people still yell "freak" at me, but I no longer care, because I value myself enough to feel sorry for them and their narrow-mindedness.
I just wish I could contact that girl from elementary school and tell her how sorry I am.
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