Tag Archives: school

“bullying” made me who I am

A few weeks ago I was approached by a young woman yielding a clipboard at a mall.

“Could you take a moment to sign this petition against bullying in schools?”

hmmm…

“You know, no. I believe bullying made me who I am today.”

She looked at me like I had just told her that I strangle puppies in my crotch. I walked away and thought a little more about what I had just said and gave a silent little thank you to every bastard that ever teased me, pushed me down, beat me up, spread rumors about me, wrote slanderous remarks about me on bathroom walls, laughed at me both behind my back and to my face and refused to sit anywhere near me because I was infected with a germ that only other kids can see, a germ that somehow made me stick out like a neon flashing sign that said, “fuck with me.”

I was a relatively normal child until about the third grade. Up until that time I had attended the same school since kindergarten. During my third grade school year my Mother and I moved two times and I attended three separate schools. One of the places we lived at briefly was a senior citizens trailer park in a remote area on the outskirts of a depressing city. I was the only child around for miles. We lived so far from the school that the only bus that came anywhere near us was the handicapped bus. Arriving to school on the short bus is a sure-fire way to get teased relentlessly.

After that the reasons seemed to multiply without any effort whatsoever. I wore dresses every day, that made me an unfashionable outcast. I had frizzy hair, that made me ugly. I had a big gap between my two front teeth, that made me even uglier and obviously too poor to afford braces. I was chubby, that made me fat. I was tall, that made me fat. I was quiet, that made me stuck up. I got good grades, that made me the teachers pet. I read books at recess, that made me a nerd. I fell down when forced to participate in gym, that made me a klutz. I didn’t have any friends, that made me a loner. I didn’t fight back, that made me a pussy. I never cried, that made me hard.

By middle school the teasing had reached an all time high. To make matters worse I was maturing at an incredibly slow pace. I didn’t have the slightest interest in boys and my body was even less interested in developing breasts or anything else resembling that of a normal twelve-year-old girl. I didn’t understand what was going on around me, the girls spoke a language I knew nothing about and the boys uncomfortable laughter made me think there was a joke that I wasn’t in on, would never be in on. The sign that glowed all around me was just as bright as ever, tempting everyone from the popular kids to the outcasts to tease me, berate me and threaten me. I kept quiet, the silence building a wall around me, I was becoming impenetrable.

No matter what they did I never said a word; not to them, not to my teachers and especially not to my parents. When I came home covered in bruises I said I fell down in gym. I didn’t dare tell my parents how I had been jumped at the park near my house, how boys from another school happened to see my glowing “fuck with me” sign and beat the shit out of me for no reason at all. They laughed the entire time, as they kicked me in the back of my head and smeared dirt in my face.

I never said a word about the boy who threatened to rape me every single day for years beginning in the third grade. I had no idea what rape was but the way he would hiss the threat into my ear sent shivers of fear and dread down my spine. I was relieved of his torments for a year or so, after he physically attacked a teacher in the fifth grade. By seventh grade, he was back and I endured his unpredictable verbal attacks well into high school.

High school, I couldn’t bear the idea. I still felt like a child, or rather like someone more ready to be an adult than to be a teenager. I found the entire situation ridiculous. I still didn’t understand the language, the posturing or the general idiotic behavior of adolescents. But there was no way of getting around it and I had to figure something out. I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I had been, quiet and accepting of my fate. Something had to be done, I knew there was no point in expecting the situation to take care of itself, they would always be assholes, I couldn’t change them but I could change me.

I made a dramatic transformation between middle school and high school. I cut off all of my hair and dyed the remaining few inches bright black. I went thrift store shopping and got an entirely new wardrobe of old man clothes; baggy polyester plaid pants, over-sized golf shirts, paisley ties and dirty sneakers. I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time but what I created was a “don’t fuck with me, I am a bad ass lesbian” costume. It worked. I mean, I was still laughed at and the rumors ran rampant while I did nothing to suppress any of it, but I found that it is a completely different experience when people laugh at you for something you have control of. When they laughed at my hair, I took it as a compliment. When they called me a dyke, I laughed because I had fooled them, I was playing a trick on everyone and I enjoyed the spectacle that I had created. This was a way better coping method than being quiet and looking at the ground. I paraded myself proudly and soaked in all the ridicule hurled my way.

My costumes changed over the four years of high school, from old man lesbian to ultra femme frills and lace with a little Morticia Adams thrown in from time to time and I not only kept them guessing at who I actually was but I was constantly figuring it out for myself as well.

For a period I needed the taunts and teases to keep me going, to validate what I was constructing or deconstructing. But near the end of high school I felt a sort of contentment within myself at what I had created, I began to realize that I had accomplished what I set out to do, to make myself inaccessible, impenetrable. The process that began so many years before was complete, the wall was up.

Up until now I have been grateful to have become the person that I am and I always gave some credit to the kids who teased me, taunted me and beat me up for helping to create that hard wall of “you can’t fuck with me anymore” attitude that I have carried with me ever since. But now that I am going to be a Mother, I am rethinking…well, everything. Am I too hard, too closed off, too self-sufficient? My wall that took so many years to build has served me well, perhaps saved my life but it might be in my way now. Maybe as I focus on bringing a new life into the world I should attempt to shed some layers from my thick exterior, not too many, just enough to let a little more light in, let a little more hope seep through and let a lot more love pour out.

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Filed under I am Pregnant, I remember, Something that happened

A soggy mess and the death of a friend

“I’m going to pick you up after school, okay honey”

“Okay, Mom”

She walked out the front door and down to the corner where the school bus picked her up every morning. A few other children were already gathered nearby. Greetings were not exchanged, her presence was not acknowledged. She appeared not to mind as she opened a well-worn book and began to read. The bus arrived promptly and she was welcomed aboard by the driver’s warm smile.

There was a book fair at school that day and she had a pocket full of money, saved up for months from lemonade stands and extra chores around the house. Books were her best friends and she was anxious to meet her new pals.

The book fair took place after school and she would have to be patient through hours of tediously boring spelling, math and science classes. As the teacher repeated herself for the sake of the slower students she thought she might jump from her seat and scream out loud. But she would never ever do anything so rude. She was respectably poised, restrained to a painful degree, back straight, hands clasped and teeth clenched.

At lunch she sat by herself under a tree and opened her lunch sack. She ate her sandwich slowly, with care and contemplation, the way she did most things. The other children watched her and snickered both behind her back and to her face. Most days it didn’t bother her, today especially.

The bell signaling the end of the day finally rang and she walked hurriedly to the auditorium where the book fair was held every year. Book shelves had been arranged in a large circle with tables lined up in the middle of the circle and at one end was a woman with a silver cash box waiting for the influx of knowledge hungry students.

The smell of freshly printed books was intoxicating, the rows of brightly colored book covers was dizzying. At the end of one table she spotted her first pick, the new Beverly Cleary; Ramona, Age 8. A perfect way to start her shopping adventure. Her arms quickly filled up, the sharp corners of each book making red indention’s on her thin pale skin.

The rush of the hunt sent endorphins pulsing through her brain, she was calmly ecstatic. She handed over all of her hard-earned money without hesitation or regret. Her books placed in a plastic bag and handed to her with a smile. She walked out of the auditorium with a slight skip to her step and headed to the corner where her Mother had promised to pick her up.

The last school bus was just leaving and only a few cars remained in the parking lot. She was not surprised that her Mother was late, she had grown not to depend too heavily on the promises of adults. She simply settled down in the grass and opened a book.

The day which had begun sunny had turned gray and dismal. She waited patiently. A light misting of rain began to fall and still she waited, patiently. A few teachers drove by slowly and asked her if she needed someone to contact her parents and she declined, not wanting to be a bother. The custodian locked up the gates to the parking lot as the last car pulled away.

“Hey, sweetie. You need a ride?”

“No, I’m fine.”

And she truly felt that she was perfectly fine, under the tree which provided a bit of shelter from the lightly falling rain, with her books, waiting patiently.

An hour or more must have passed and finally she became uneasy, quickly coming to the conclusion that her Mother had forgotten about her. Her decisiveness quickly led her to the decision to simply walk home. After all, she knew the way, it was a long way but she was sure she could manage. She was sure of most things, especially when it came to accomplishing things on her own.

She began her walk in a light mood, enjoying the feel of the rain on her face and the smell of wet asphalt. Crossing the freeway overpass she paused to look down upon the passing cars through the chain link fence. She had never seen the freeway from this perspective and it made her feel overwhelmingly insignificant. The rain had begun to fall a bit more heavily, soaking her socks, her toes numbed almost immediately. Her walk home continued as passing motorists paused briefly out of concern. She declined each offer of assistance not out of the “never talk to strangers” theory but because she truly did not feel like she needed help, her independence and tenacity both an asset and a hindrance.

She had walked close to a mile when the sidewalk crumbled and disappeared. Weeds and mud lined the busy road, the rain creating an annoyingly slippery surface on which to complete her journey. Dusk arrived stealthily through the gray skies and steadily falling rain. Her shoes and socks were completely covered in mud, her pants soaked to above the knees. Walking became a trudgingly difficult task with slow, thought out steps to avoid slipping in the thick mud.

Her shoulders and back ached from the heft of her book bag, the plastic handles digging into her palms painfully. No amount of shifting the weight from arm to arm alleviated the burden. She began to resent the books she had been yearning for months.

Finally she reached her street, she could see her house at the end of the block, it’s empty driveway and darkened windows. Slowly she made her way home and opened the door with the key she kept tied on a string around her neck. She removed her shoes and clothes heavy with rainwater and mud and left them on the floor of the garage. She would deal with them later, right now she needed something warm and clean.

Cold and naked she walked down the hallway to her bedroom, dragging her sack of books behind her. She slipped on her pajamas, her wet hair clinging to the sides of her face and sat on the floor, dumping the soggy mess of books in front of her. They were ruined, all of them. Pages fell apart through her fingertips, ink smearing across her hands. She held her face in her cold hands and cried, her tears mixing with dirt and ink creating a face like that of a painted woman in the midst of a breakdown. She fell asleep right there on her floor, a sad, wet little girl, defeated not by having been forgotten or for having to walk home miles in the rain but by the fact that she was unable to save her books, as if it were her who had caused their destruction.

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The yard sale

She was a nervous child, she acted out to express her anxiety. Unease and discomfort followed her around like a heavy blanket wrapped around her ankles.

Her parents fought constantly, mostly about money as most adults ill-prepared for parenthood tend to do. She began to worry about the bills, the rent and groceries. This was on top of the already monumental tower of worries that the child carried around with her; the behavioral difficulties of her puppy who refused to be house broken, the daunting organizational predicament she encountered with her book bag that resulted in hours of preparation each school night, the nightly dinner dilemma of a full plate of food that in some unimaginable way was to be consumed fully and enjoyed and most of all was the constant and unyielding worry of the safety of her family and her home.

She felt as though her life and the lives of her family were held in some precarious position, ready to disintegrate at any moment. Somehow she had to protect them and herself from the unknown threat that lingered at the edges of every moment.

After an especially violent fight over the nonexistent rent money the child decided the time had come, she would do something to help. She had seen yard sales in the neighborhood and it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to make some quick money and money was what her family needed.

The next morning was a Sunday and she woke up before sunrise, in fact she had not slept at all that night. She walked into the front yard and felt good about the task before her, she knew for sure that this was the right thing to be doing. She gathered most of her toys and old clothes from her bedroom, glad to be rid of the offending clutter. Arranging her belongings on a blanket beneath a tree she felt like a shop girl, humming a pleasant tune of self-satisfaction. She brought out dishes from the kitchen, knickknacks from the living room, records and books from the shelves, a clothes hamper, a step stool and a spare set of silverware that her Mother kept in a drawer.

Her first customer arrived soon after she had perfectly arranged every item on the front lawn just perfectly. The girl watched nervously as the woman rummaged amidst her family’s house wares. She wasn’t nervous about any possible repercussions of what she was doing, she simply hated seeing the items being fussed with in such a careless fashion. She was proud, possibly the first time she had felt such an emotion, of the work she had done and wished she had a few minutes alone to enjoy the moment. However more customers were filing onto the lawn and she resumed her duty as shop girl. She sold the step stool for $1 and the books for a quarter a piece. People pretty much made their own price as she held open her beaded coin purse, the heft of which pleased her deeply. Within an hour the lawn was a shambles of rumpled blankets and a few unwanted articles of clothing. The books had been carried off by an overweight housewife in a stained bathrobe, the clothes hamper drug away by kids on their way to a grassy hill, the records snatched up by an awkward young man with a bad complexion and the set of rarely used silverware was hesitantly purchased by an older woman with a cranky disposition and a guilty smile.

With a deep breath of satisfaction at a hard days work the girl held tightly to the bulging coin purse as she walked back into her house. Her Father was coming out of the bathroom and walked past her without a word. He put on a pot of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. The girl placed the coin purse in front of her Father.

what’s this?
money
where’d you get it?
I had a yard sale
a yard sale?
yeah, for rent money
what are you talking about?
for the rent… I, I heard you and Mom yelling about not having enough money, I wanted to help
oh my god, what did you sell?
…um just stuff we didn’t need….Mm..my toys and some books
what else!
…uh….I don’t know,….some, some records and some silverware
some what!
the….the silverware that we never use, it was in that drawer….really, we never use it
oh god, oh no…no no no!
I just wanted to help, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….

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