I am on Team Bullied

I had injured my knee when I was in basketball in seventh grade, and was on crutches with a hip-to-ankle leg brace the day I got on a bus and rode ninety minutes from home with other students from my school to attend a Student Council leadership conference. It turned out to be one of the worst days of my life. I was, for reasons still unclear to me, the target of vicious bullying in seventh grade largely led by two girls who took every opportunity to demonstrate their hate for me. The teachers did nothing, other students did nothing. For months and months and months, nothing. The bullying was so bad at one point an incredibly inept guidance counselor told my parents we should consider moving.

I had no friends in seventh grade save one, a girl who is still my friend today. I got on that bus with the feeling something bad was going to happen, above and beyond the usual daily crap I took from the kids at school (like “slam books” being passed around with horrible things written about me or having obscenities scrawled with my makeup all over my gym locker or people kicking my crutches out from under me and laughing as I fell to the floor). The high school this conference was held at was an enormous school in a suburb of Milwaukee. After the final sectional of the day, we had to hurry to get back to our bus. The kids from my school, led by my main bully, took all these confusing turns and hallways intentionally trying to lose me as I struggled to keep up on my crutches. I could hear them laughing at me and taunting me. I heard my bully say, “She’s been like a dog following us all day. Let’s lose her!” And they did, they took off running and I couldn’t keep up with my crutches and after not too long, I couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore. It was winter and had become dark outside by the late afternoon, and I was completely lost inside this giant high school. I let my crutches fall to the ground, then my body followed, and I began to sob. I was lost, physically and emotionally. I had no idea why these kids hated me so, so much. Where did their cruelty come from?

My teacher came looking for me, and found me in a teary puddle on the floor. He sat down next to me, put his arm around me, smoothed my hair, and hugged me. And then he said, “Missy, they hate you because you are better than them.” I never told anyone what he said to me, but it stopped the suicidal thoughts going through my head. He helped me up, we walked back to the bus in silence. I rode home in the seat across the aisle from him in the front of the bus, crying quietly and just aching to get home and fall into my mom’s arms. When we got back to school, I quickly and quietly hopped down the stairs of the bus and walked into school while he stayed on the bus and gave the kids some wrap up notes for the day.

I was trying to get my books and back pack and get the hell out of there, but my leg in the brace was throbbing with pain at this point and I couldn’t move fast enough. The kids started filing up the stairs to our hallway of lockers, quietly staring at me. The teacher must have said something.

And then it happened.

My bully came up to me, put her hand on my neck and made a motion like how you would take a leash off a dog. She said loudly, “There  you go you bitch dog, you are free of  your leash and don’t have to follow us anymore.”

Where she touched me on my neck felt like fire. I saw white and my ears rang. And then I exploded. I dropped my crutches and in one swift motion grabbed her by her throat with one hand, lifted her in the air, and pile drove her into the bank of lockers. I slammed her into the lockers, as hard as I could. I held her in the air by her throat, and hissed at her through clenched teeth that I may be a bitch dog, but she was nothing but dog shit and that I hated her more than she hated me. I said I was done with it, and tomorrow, she had better leave me alone. Then I threw her to the ground and left her there in a snotty, crying mess. And I heard everyone laughing at the bully who had terrorized our entire grade for a year.

I collected my things and began the long, cold, crying, painful walk to my house. When I got in the door, my mom hugged me and said I wasn’t in trouble. She must have gotten a phone call. My dad hugged me. My brothers checked on me later that evening. I had people around me who loved me and showed it, which is why I didn’t kill myself that night. But I wanted to. I didn’t really want to, but this was my breaking point. I just couldn’t take one more day of being made to feel worthless. Mostly, I didn’t do anything drastic that night because I loved myself and I knew that what the teacher had said was right. I was better than them.

The next day when I walked into school, kids were smiling at me and saying hi. Not just hi, they were saying my name. Like I was a real person. I had people to sit by in lunch and study hall. Things changed very quickly for me. I was instantly liked by my classmates again and by the beginning of 8th grade, I was popular and remained so through high school.

What became of my bully? She was largely ostracized and bullied by most of the school until the day we graduated. So, I did what I had been brought up to do – I befriended her. We became very close friends, actually. I stood up for her. I stood up for other kids being picked on. I had words with boys who were bullying my younger brother. I broke up fights, and had secret therapy sessions in the bathroom with girls who were where I was that horrible winter day. I kept everyone’s secrets, still to this day. I was in every club and every sport, and enjoyed being friends with all the kids jocks to band geeks. Because no one has the right to make you feel small.

My senior year of high school we studied the Holocaust for many weeks, culminating in a large display of mixed media art. We had two Holocaust survivors acting as mentors for our class. One warm spring day, I was designated by my teacher to walk the woman back to her car. She was elderly and walked slowly with a cane. She had parked really far away from the parking lot, down the block and up a hill. It took us forever to reach her car, but I was so honored to be in her presence that I reasoned it would totally be worth the inevitable detentions I was about to get. She told me about her sister and mother and father who had been killed in the camps. She didn’t tell me about their deaths, she told me about their days spent alive. She told me about her favorite dress, and how dirty it had gotten on the train to the work camp she was deported to. She told me about the children she had birthed in America, and what a lovely place America was. I couldn’t speak the entire time, I just held tightly to her arm wrapped in mine as we walked. The sun was warm on our backs.

We reached her car and she said to me, “Your project is one of the best in the class. Do you know how I know this? It made me cry. Not a lot of kids understand this. What happened. You do. You touched my heart and now you need to promise me, when you see injustice, you are to be not silent. Repeat that to me.”

I stood there for an unknown amount of time, dumbstruck. I found my voice and I said, “My promise to you is that whenever I see injustice, I will always be not silent.”

I have always kept my promise to her. I always will. I will always be not silent. Those words are burned into my heart.

 

I don’t feel like making a video about my bullying experience for Team Bullied, because I can write better than I can talk. But I did make a video about bullying and my friend Carrie Goldman’s new book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know To End the Cycle of Fear”, and you can see it here.

Tomorrow I’ll review her excellent book, and tell you how I’ve dealt with bullying as a parent, and how I am teaching my children to create a culture of dignity in their school and with their peers.

No one has the right to make you feel small. When it does happen, be not silent.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Janet Davis says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Melissa, thank you so much for putting yourself out there, for exposing your painful and ultimately triumphant history with bullying. You are a true survivor — resilient and brave– and I am proud to be your friend and colleague. Carrie

  3. crying. Touching and sad and wonderful and beautiful.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you.

  5. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. It was touching and well written.

  6. Stephanie Alford says:

    I work amongst misogynistic, chauvinistic bullies. I do not use those words lightly. They are in power and every decision they make is to promote one of their own even though most of the people who do the actual work are all women. I have never known how to deal with this sort of bullying except in silence and plotting how soon I can find another job. One man had the audacity to tell a co-worker that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was, even though he had promoted a man to a level below her and are forcing her to give up her office which they refused to remodel when she asked two years ago but will be doing now.

    • Hi Stephanie – I am in a nearly all-male workplace and have experienced this sort of behaviour myself. There is an excellent book out there, “The Bully at Work”, which I found very helpful. It might not solve your problem, but I think it will help you identify what you’re dealing with and perhaps find some peace and a way to handle it within yourself. And it helps just to understand that you are not alone!

      Melissa – thanks for sharing that painful piece of your history with us.

      • Stephanie Alford says:

        Oh Nicole thank you for the recommendation. I will order it today. Even if it “only” helps me learn to cope that’s worth while.

    • Stephanie –
      That sounds awful, I am so sorry that is happening. Does your company have an HR department? Hopefully Nicole’s book recommendation might be of help to you. Keep your chin up, Girl. I know how full of awesome you are!

      • Stephanie Alford says:

        Hi Melissa,
        Unfortunately the small university I work for does not have an HR department and our ombudsman is completely powerless. I have to be looking for another job anyway, because they think they can make my job halftime and still get the work done. (HAH!)

  7. Stephanie Alford says:

    Sorry Melissa, I forgot to say that you totally rock!

  8. Samantha B says:

    As someone who was bullied from K-11 (at Catholic school), this post made me want to cry. I wish I’d had half your strength (as well as parents who wouldn’t have punished me for trying to fight back).

    Bless you, Melissa

  9. Lois Smith says:

    I wanted to let u know,that your story touched my heart so deeply!! You seem to have such a warm& kind soul… The world could u a lot more ppl like you!!!! Thanks for what u have done,& thanks for all the wonderful things that I know u will still do in this world!! God bless you & your family….

  10. Tears and more tears…thank you for sharing and for not being silent.

  11. Beautifully told! And thank you for being such an incredible inspiration for speaking up. You have been a tremendous influence on me as a parent!

  12. Stephanie, you know that is illegal right? I hope one of you ladies gets the courage to talk to a lawyer. It’s high time your workplace was sued for discrimination and sexual harassment.

    • Stephanie Alford says:

      Hi Ella, it’s really insidious and difficult to prove enough to make it actionable. But thank you for your encouragement and strength.

  13. What an incredibly powerful story; thank you for sharing and fighting the good fight:)

  14. Marianne says:

    I was followed around by one girl for an entire year as she said awful things behind me, about me. Loudly. I had never even spoken to her before – she just decided that she hated me. I was pretty terrified of her because I’m sensitive and the idea that someone hated me was very upsetting to my 12 year old self. I finally decided to smile and say hi to her every time she was behind me…some of it was done with a degree of sarcasm (“Oh hi, Lori. I thought I heard you behind me.”) but I just decided I could kill her with kindness. She went away when she realized I didn’t care (I did care, I just acted like I didn’t) Years later I wonder what happened to her and I hope that whatever was broken within her got fixed by maturity. Or therapy. Or a good old-fashioned ass kicking if she chose the wrong person to pick on! But the degree of mean-ness that is happening with bullying today is very disheartening and as a teacher, I always do my best to seek out both the bullies and the bullied to talk with them. It can’t just be a parent thing – we all have to put an end the viciousness that has pervaded our society.

  15. Wow, what a powerful story of bravery and love. Love really is all we need! You are such an inspiration and I am so glad you are in this world fighting the good fight! You are so full of awesome!

  16. I applaud your courage and strength with tears streaming down my face. The tears are not just for your experience with being bullied, but also for the transformation that took place when you “had enough” … and how that empowered you to help others. I only know you through your writing and your products but I feel like we are good friends who just haven’t met in person yet. I’m so proud to call you a friend and share your good work with others. You are AWESOME!

  17. Kimberly says:

    My parents used the law to stop the bullying I was going through. Parents need to remember if something would be a crime off campus, it is still a crime on campus. As long as the bully is of the age or reason for your justification, you can bypass the school staff and press criminal charges. You can sometimes even get a TRO that will keep the bully off campus.

    Unlike your bully, my bullies never reformed. Their fathers were much the same, and my Mom suspected their mothers were abused. The bullies stayed clear of me, because they knew we would press criminal charges. They continued to torment others, and their parents wouldn’t press charges. The bullies were sociopaths – and a couple are now in jail for beating and raping women. Since they were graphically describing how they would rape us in primary grades, someone should have done something to save them and their future victims. Because of this experience the phrase boys will be boys makes my head explode.

  18. I was bullied K-8 and it was awful. Your post really touched me and I’m glad you’re fighting the good fight. I am too and I have to say that your posts and organization really give me hope as a person, teacher, and mom.

  19. I read this poignant post of yours and had a combination of wave of memories wash over me. It takes me back to 5th grade where I was bullied in secret, with things stolen from a locker I shared with a friend, nasty things written about me in bathroom stalls, artwork done by me and hung in the classroom mercilessly torn. And the list goes on. Years have passed since this happened, and yet the memories are still so vivid. The worst bit for me was, this was all being done by one of my so-called best friends. May all little girls and boys have the courage to speak up against injustice. And may parents have the insight to recognize that bullying is universal and comes in all forms.
    Also, I think some bullies continue on in life, because they don’t know how to live any other way. Some grow up to bully/harass their coworkers, students, people of different socio-economic backgrounds, or even their peers in weird, underhanded ways. I’ve met my fair share. I think the only difference between then and now is, we are better equipped to deal with it as adults.
    I too, am on Team Bullied.

  20. This was a really beautiful post and every word resonated with me. I am Team Bullied and now I’m very proud of it. Unfortunately the biggest mistake I ever made was befriending my bully – I’m glad it worked out differently for you.

  21. Sarah Dillingham says:

    Wow. I’m sorry you had to deal with such horrible people. I was bullied in school by one girl but it was no where near as bad and most of the time I could avoid her. We only had lunch and pe together so I was lucky not to be around her all the time. To this day I wonder why she singled me out and why I was someone she even cared about. I hope she grew up to be a better person and is living a kinder nicer happy with herself life.

  22. Sarah Dillingham says:

    I also wanted to say there is something about middle school that really seems to bring out the worst bullying. I mentioned my one main bully, but there were also others and all of them were in grades 4-8. These other girls picked on everyone so they didn’t hurt me as much as the girl who singled me out, but I do think there is something about this age range that brings out the worst in some kids.

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