Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bullies Can Bite Me

As I'm sure you've heard, if you haven't been hiding under a rock or too busy growing fake crops on Farmville (damn your eyes), that bullying in schools is getting national attention - especially after several young victims of bullying committed suicide.

And, as a (self-proclaimed) Responsible Favorite Writer, I thought it was about time I weighed in on this topic. Because it matters.

Recently, a friend of mine chose to keep her kid home when the 9 year old didn't want to ride the bus anymore after a much older child had threatened to harm them (I'm using non-gender-specific plural pronouns for a reason here)(don't tell my professors, they'd weep with shame) and harassed them daily. The school's answer was that the other child had "anger problems" - well, and pardon my non delicacy here, NO SHIT. I would say that most people who target others for ridicule, harassment and violence have, uh, anger problems. And probably self esteem problems. And parents who don't bake them cookies every single afternoon or massage their fragile egos with fluffy compliments either.

(Shhhh, that sound you heard was mah soap box clunking into place...)

I don't know about you, sitting out there, basking in the cool glow of your flat screen monitors, but *I* dealt with bullies, sucky kids, jerks; whatever you call them, they're all of the same stripe. Most of us did. We don't need Katie Couric telling us national bullying statistics; we can just think back to junior high gym, or high school math, or the bus ride home - whatever and wherever we faced our own Self-Appointed Demons.

My personal hell? French class - years 1 through 3. It was a small class, probably ten kids total. For whatever reason, a group of girls, (and not what I'd call the popular Mean Girls, but just, uh, mean and girls) decided that I was going to be their personal kick ball. For three years. It didn't help that I set the grading curve, or that whenever the teacher ran out of anyone to ask, she asked me. They probably thought I was a smart ass. Guilty. Or a dork. Still am. I was an unabashed Good Student, and I genuinely tried to be nice to that class. Didn't matter.

Every day, when French rolled around, I would walk into the class, plop down next to my BFF (and future maid of honor) JM, who would shoot me a sympathy glance and I'd try to ride out the barely audible jokes, the unsuppressed snickering, and the utterly oblivious glance of my French teacher.

I would answer, with a sigh, when she inevitably settled on me for some conjugation, and wonder how she failed to notice one entire section of a class who, just, HATED ME. And then I'd settle in for a miserable hour, fantasizing about mowing them all down with a shotgun - years before Columbine made such horror REAL. I mean, we had the Jeremy video from Pearl Jam, but no one really *did* things like that. I just wanted them to leave me alone, more than anything else. Just leave me alone to my verb struggles and figuring out the past tense usage.

And like typical bullies, once separated from an audience, they'd lose their power. Individually, they would talk to me like anyone else. The ring leader, a girl I not-so-affectionately dubbed as "The Big Head Girl" (for obvious reasons)(seriously, she had things orbiting that dome) walked into my pizza place one night and talked to me like we were old friends, and not like she spent hours each day tormenting me. I was confused, but I went on with my shift.

The next year, one of the other girls sat behind me in a different class, and spent half a semester gabbing to me about her boyfriend problems. As if I gave two shits. I couldn't, however, break my People Pleasing habit long enough to ask her why she'd joined in the fun for three long and painful years in French. I still don't know.

When she Facebook friended me, I accepted, just long enough to let her see that I was doing fiiiiine, happy, and frankly (if this is wrong, screw it, I don't want to be right) thinner than she was. Oh, and I even restrained myself from mentioning that I knew her husband through my ex, and people sold him cheap weed for a lot of money. Because he sucked then too, so = marriage made in heaven. Very, very big of me, I think.

When I deleted her, I felt the sad satisfaction that (true story) Al Capone must have felt at Alcatraz, when he crossed out people on the book list instead of being able to have them whacked. A small victory is sometimes all we have.

And honestly, a LOT of people carry these scars. I wasn't an obvious target; I had (as my therapist calls it) a "healthy sense of self" and still do. I mourn for the kids who saw no way out other than to kill themselves and end it forever. One of those kids was from Indiana, and was bullied viciously for being perceived as gay. I don't know if he was or wasn't, but Indiana isn't a happy place to be gay. Sure, there are (God love 'em) small pockets of support - and Bloomington (second highest per capita population of gays next to San Fran baby! Woo!) is one of them. Teeny, tiny, uno-stop light Ellettsville where if you throw a rock you might hit a guy wearing Carharts? Notsomuch. That's where *I* grew up.

I saw the picture of the boy on the local news, before it went national, and thought, I would have been your friend. Give me an underdog with a personality, and you have a friend in me. I wish someone could have held his hand, told him it didn't matter who he loved or didn't love, and that things would get better. The sun will shine again, even in those dark days of bullying when you lose sight of everything but the endless dark.

My best friend for YEARS (also in my wedding)(and ps he's visiting me today! YAY!) is gay. He was lucky because he knew who he was from an early age and was unapologetic. He's also a big guy who was able to (literally) stand up to the rednecks who called him a fag. I distinctly remember riding in his old red beater, nicknamed The Snatch Mobile (for reasons lost in the sands of time), and having a gigantic truck full of hardcore white boys following us, yelling at him and calling him names. I also remember crawling out the window while we drove (no one said I'm brilliant) and yelling back. It was easier for me to defend my friend, than to defend myself.

(Plus, I'm sort of weird - I'd rather go toe-to-toe with a guy than deal with a girl. Women are treacherous. Plus, I grew up fighting with boys. It's mah comfort zone.)

Today, that truckload of intolerance is a mildly humorous memory. For some kids, that truck load is there to greet them at school, every single day.

And to them I say: have hope. Stand tall. Know who you are, and never let anyone take it from you. The time will pass, it will get better and someday, someday, when those idiots want to reminisce with you at a reunion, or friend you on Facebook, you can choose. You can choose because you've made it out of that particular circle of hell. You've emerged better, forged from the fire of anger and hate, and you're okay. You're already okay. And even though I don't know you, I would sit with you at lunch, buy you a Coke Zero, walk you to class, and climb out a window to yell at someone for you. I would try out for theater or band or cheerleading with you, and when someone called you a fag, or a lesbian, a goth or a dick, a bitch or a skank, I would unleash years of Verbal Assassin power on your behalf. Because you, whoever you are, deserve the defense. You are AWESOME.

And your bullies will go out there and have to live in a world without an audience, a world that demands bills to be paid, and child support to be garnished, a world that doesn't care if they were homecoming king, or the soloist in show choir, a hard nasty world that doesn't think they're special at all, and that doesn't find it funny to put someone else down.

And you, special friend of mine, you'll do fine. Because you've already made it. You are worthy. You are ALL so worthy.

Comments, questions, what's your story?