On Bullying

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month so I have been seeing and reading a lot about this topic and thinking about my own role as both a mother and someone who was severely bullied as a child.

First, my own story.

In middle school I was bussed from my low to low-middle income community and into a much wealthier school in another part of Reno. The benefit was that it was much closer to my Mom's work and they had good honors classes that I could enroll in immediately due to my having been enrolled in honors classes at my previous schools. The bad news was that I was going to school with only a quarter of the people I had gone to elementary school with (but really, I had only been going to that school for a year and a half, so I guess in hindsight it wasn't that bad); but the really bad news was that I was around a bunch of kids who had already made up their minds about what kind of people came from where I came from.

See, I was born in beautiful San Diego, California and spent two years in scenic Truckee (near Lake Tahoe), California before we moved to Sun Valley, Nevada. This is not Reno, this is outside of Washoe county limits and is known for two things: trailer parks and methamphetamine. Like a living, breathing country song, except when you are an awkward twelve year old, it kind of sucks, unlike a good country song.

The fact of the matter is that kids are mean, like really mean, and they don't give a shit about the fact that you actually are not dirt poor (not that that even matters) and you have two hard working parents who don't make meth in their bath tub. Couple this with the fact that I was a weird kid that liked to dye her hair purple and listen to punk rock and you have the perfect target for bullies. And bullied I was.

There was a group of kids who would pretend to be my friend individually but collectively would spend their time calling me names "purple headed warrior" (which I had no idea the meaning of at the time), "trailer trash", "slut" (even though I had yet to kiss a boy for more than a frightening second) and on and on. They made fun of my clothes, my name, my braces, my neighborhood, and anything else they could find out. If they had nothing new they would just make things up, like the time they told the 1% of ethnic kids at the school that I was a racist and then those kids decided to punch me and slam my head in a locker. Never mind the fact that my best friend I had left behind in San Diego was black and I had mostly hung out with her and her siblings my entire childhood. Racist wasn't even close to something that would describe me, and yet it was something they could use to hurt me, and so they did. They threw snowballs wrapped around rocks at me, spit on me, and one time even ran around me with a spool of string tying me up and making me trip and fumble at myself. All because I was me and they were them.

It hurt so bad. Even now, at 30, it makes my eyes swell and that feeling of absolute pain takes over.

Those kids were so fucking, unnecessarily cruel to me and I cannot even put into words the pain it caused me. I told my Mom everything; I am lucky in that way, that I have a parent I can talk to about anything and she took it very seriously. I cannot tell you how many times my Mom marched into that principal's office and demanded that he keep those "fucking rich brats" away from me. By the time I was beat up the principal knew my Mom pretty well and that day, when she came in guns blazing to fight for her baby girl, he knew he was fucked. My Mom demanded that all of them be suspended and she threatened immediate legal action if it didn't happen and even worse if it continued to. My Mom, the fighter. She never doubted me or made me think I was somehow to blame, no she just kept on sticking up for me, going so far as to have one of her younger friends meet me after school everyday just to scare the shit out of them.

I may or may not have learned what a fist pack was that year.

Eventually those two years in middle school ended, but the impact of what I went through will always be a part of me. It has shaped who I am and may be one of the reasons that I chose a career path in which I get to help the most down trodden of folks and choose to volunteer to improve and assist people's quality of life. It may also be a factor in my anxiety diagnosis and struggles with self esteem as a young woman.

 I wish I could say that the bullying completely went away and they all repented and we became best friends; actually, I don't wish that. I would never want to be friends with people so mean and narrow minded. I can instead tell you what really happened:
 I continued to get great grades in middle school and dye my hair purple and listen to punk rock, I went to high school and decided that wasn't my scene so I went to another, really cool charter school instead. I graduated high school with an entire year of college completed, went to the University on a full scholarship, got two arms full of tattoos and dyed my hair red, blue, black and pink. I moved out of Reno and attended grad school in Boston where I graduated with honors to end up in a career where I help people who are in the hardest times of their lives. I married a wonderful man, had a beautiful baby girl and live in a city I love surrounded by all sorts of amazing friends. As for the bullies? I see them pop up on Facebook now and then, some of them started dying their hair and getting tattoos and some of them ended up being drunks, drug addicts and losers. Some of them had kids and seem to be living nice lives. None of them seem to be doing anything remarkable and most of them seem to be doing pretty mediocre in comparison to my own life, but I don't wish ill things on them, I only hope that they have stopped bullying people, that they aren't like the men who yell out of their car at me while I am trying to run in the mornings, that they aren't the mothers who encourage their daughters to be mean girls and that they aren't the people at work who try to work their way up to the top by stepping on people's reputations. I hope that they have grown up and thought, at least once, about what cruel actions they took against another person, and I hope they are sorry.

As for me, I am doing a-okay and I fucking love me a good country song. And, most importantly I will make sure that I raise my children to know that bullying is NEVER okay and that being kind is the coolest thing you can be, especially if you have pink hair to go with it.

A former bullied kid


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