Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Thanks to The Bully Project for sponsoring my writing. Visit their website to join the movement and learn more.

 It is hard for me to look at Lola, ten years old, and remember myself at that age. When I look at Lola and see beauty- true beauty, that is, illumination of the soul- joy, sensitivity, big dreams, big smiles, big laughter, an eager mind and unselfconscious self esteem, it's painful to imagine her feeling as I did. Stupid, ugly, not funny, not shining, the world growing smaller instead of larger. 

I had been bullied.

In first grade it began, I do not remember the day to day. I remember flashes, ragged edged details. The children who said I had cooties and passed them on to one another as I sat, uncomprehending. What had I done to be singled out? I could not understand it. The brothers who taunted me and the one who tripped me as I ran inside at the recess bell; I broke my wrist. I don't know what, if anything, happened to him. I don't remember if I told. I just remember that he tripped me on purpose. The girls who would line up to play tag and refuse to ever tag me. The lunch line and pushing, shoving, snarky faces. The lonliness. The sense of 'other' that had already begun to grow in me and at school, under the scorn of my classmates, blossomed sour and cold.

Second and third grade passed, much the same. I escaped bullying in fourth and fifth grade, and fell back into the nightmare in sixth grade- Middle School.  Middle School. To my ears, those words sound like Voldemort's hideout in Harry Potter: He who cannot be named is alive and back in Middle School My tormenter for the entire year was an orange haired and lashed, freckled face, sweater wearing boy named Toby. He honed in on me- a transplant to a new school at Christmastime, someone who hadn't formed a social group- and set out to spew as much hatred toward me as one thirteen year old boy can.  Every day I winced under his insults, timeless ringers: dummy, ugly, stupid... I came to despise the sight of him so much that his coppery glow from afar gave me a stomach ache.  

In seventh grade, I had more friends, was settling in, when the mother of bullying moved in.  I had a friend named Jill. Jill was short, smart assed, sloe eyed and looking back, miserable. After I became good friends with another girl, Jill was so jealous that she gathered a group of girls who were in a quasi-gang- as gang-ish as seventh graders in suburbia can be- and these girls terrified me. There were maybe ten of them, and half of them were a good four inches taller than me and forty pounds heavier, they wore thick black swords of eye makeup and dark red lipstick, they sprayed their dark hair out far and wide and they laughed as if they had never been anything but mean. 

Lunch. A time of hanging out became complete torment. They threw trash at my head. They called me slut and bitch and fucking hoar and retard and stupid ass white girl. They drove away all of my friends except one, and then even she was too afraid. They followed me as I tried to hide. They spit at me. They screamed at me across the halls, unabashed, unafraid. The tsunami of anxiety that hit me every morning when I awoke was unbearable, and yet I continued to wake, dress, and head to school. I could not tell anyone, I knew the timeless code. Telling would make it worse.

Then they told me that after school, while I walked home, they were going to hide in bushes and jump out on me and beat me until I bled. Months went on like this. At lunch one day, they gathered around me in a half circle in the courtyard. I don't know where the adults were. Jill was in the middle, tiny and fierce with her hairspray and mean, curled mouth. chickenchickenchicken, she called out to me over and over. The sun beat down on my head. I carried my backpack. My shoes were too tight. Everyone was watching. Jill yelled, the gang girls laughed, the sun hurt. I snapped. I leaned forward and hit her in the stomach with my fist curled tight, and Jill made a short, barking gasp and doubled over. I burst into tears. I ran away. 

I told. My mom contacted the office and they had Jill write me an apology, and after that she never talked to me or looked at me again. In high school when I was 'popular' and she was alone and silent in our mutual biology class, I left her alone. I could see the pain inside of her and I knew that she had done to me what someone else had done to her.

The damage that was done to me will never leave, as far as I know. I am thirty seven and the memories of my helplessness, fear and self loathing still bring tears to my eyes. The thought of this- anything remotely like this- happening to my daughters.... completely, totally and irrevocably NO. 
I would do anything to protect them from this. I would live with roomates to stay home and homeschool them if that was the only solution. The effects of what happened to me were not only to my psyche,  but my ability to learn in school. I went from being a straight A student to struggling in sixth grade, and I never picked myself back up all the way. My daughters, your children, all children, deserve a safe environment to learn and live.

It is up to the adults around children to SPEAK UP when they see or hear or suspect something like bullying going on. It is so simple, and yet most people around me do not. I see things, I say things, and I stand back and wonder how the other adults remained silent. Children need our protection from bullying as much as they need protection from molesters, hepatitis or whooping cough. Not only consequences,  but serious discussions about lashing out at others and why people- kids- even DO so. Meeting the emotional needs of those who are bullying is just as important as those who are being bullied. Stop the cycle.

The movie Bully addresses this issue- something once thought of as a rite of passage that has rightfully been turned on it's head, viewed now as emotionally scarring and damaging our children in ways that effect them not only now, but as adults. I can't wait to see it.

 I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. Find showings in your area for The Bully Project and buy tickets here.
Chrissy said...

Thank you for speaking up, beautiful Maggie.

I'm Katie. said...

I suffered through a single year of hardcore bullying. Just one school year, yet the effects still haven't worn off almost two decades later. Have you read Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood? Your story reminds me of it.

lulumarie said...

Lola glows, inside and out. It is so obvious that she is loved and nurtured.

YES, all children deserve a safe environment to learn and live.

Maybe this is your legacy, Maggie, being the mom who makes sure that her children have that self-esteem that you somehow missed out on.

LUCKY THEM, your children.

And may this movie be seen by all the children and adults who so desperately need to see this truth.

Caroline said...

Maggie, something similar happened to me in grade school (but not quite as severe as the bullying you experienced) and then my parents moved me to a private school. Now, THIS goes to show that bullying knows no socioeconomic boundaries because once they moved me to the private school, I was bullied even WORSE.

Like you my worst fear (and the thing I will work hardest to prevent) is the jul;lying of my own children.

Great article. This is a wonderful project! Thank you for sharing your story. xo to you and the fam.

Fousty said...

Aw, man. I was bullied, too. I never considered it bullying, until reading this, though. I just said, "You know, I got picked on. Just like everyone."

Except I was too sensitive. Way, way too sensitive, and it broke and scarred me.

I have only one child, I work full time, and my husband stays home. We are going to homeschool her, because he was bullied too. I was never physically assaulted, but he was. (And what's really funny as I write this, is suddenly remembering a girl that used to pull my hair all of the time, and knocked me to the ground once, holding her hand over my mouth and nose. My brother taught me how to kick and punch after that, so I kicked her in the stomach, and she hit back harder. I gave up after that. I just tried to avoid her. But I rarely remember this.) He was stuffed in trash cans, someone knocked him out and stole his new shoes, someone knocked him out and kept beating him after he was unconscious.

Fuck, man. It's really hard to think about.

Your kids, they're so lucky to have a mom like you. Someone that knows. That remembers and pays attention to what's happening in their lives.

I think about the way I never told my parents what was happening. I don't know why I didn't tell. I just let myself go on, thinking I was ugly, and I was stupid, worst of all I was weird. I didn't have friends. My mom. I wish my mom had been aware enough to step in, but she just had no idea. Maybe I hid it too well.

Also, what's kind of funny? That your one bully had red hair. I have red hair and was taunted because of it. It was the worst part of my existence until i was 16 years old, and boys started to tell me it was pretty.


I feel it. Protecting my daughter from this. From those people that scarred me. I mean, I was lucky. I was just way, way too sensitive.

And I just hate that things are this way. Grown-ups need to pay closer attention, and they do need to speak up, yes.

Annie said...

I experienced three instances of childhood bullying that adversely affect me to this day, but particularly the boy who called me "ugly" every day during lunch when I was in seventh grade, for what felt like all year, and I had no one to help me. I didn't know this boy, had no classes with this boy. It was not a case of teasing; it was vicious and intended to wound. All I could do is pretend I did not hear him, but I heard, and I feel less than beautiful to this day, because of him; only believing, as I have always believed, that I am beautiful on the inside. I was bullied by a girl, too, a grade later, but even then, I could understand her reasons why: I was not the friend of hers who had moved away, and she displaced her feelings of loss into anger against me. And another girl, when I was in grade school, liked to punch me in the arm repeatedly when we stood in line at Catholic school, but I usually managed to stand up to her. I stood up to bullies, too, in grade school, by not letting them bully another girl, calling her names and refusing to play with her. The boy who called me ugly had an extremely big nose for the size of his face.

previous next