Next week I have a book coming out that deals with the aftermath of, and healing from, bullying. This week I'll be running a three-parter on the topic of bullying. Here is Part 1.
A few years ago, when the anthology Dear Bully
put out a call for submissions, I didn’t participate. It wasn’t that I
didn’t have a story to tell: I did. I just I wasn’t ready to tell it
At least by then, I had accepted the idea that this was something that could be talked about, written about—even if not by me, not at that time. At least I sensed that it was something I would write
about sooner or later. That in itself was progress, because very early
on, the whole subject was wrapped in so much shame that I only hoped
nobody would ever know.
For a while, I thought I was the only
person it had happened to. Of course I’d seen kids mistreating other
kids. I knew about individual bullies who might go after one person one
day, a different person the next. But the systematic abuse of one kid by
an entire classroom—and later, by other large groups—was, I thought,
unique to me. And there had to be something wrong with me—especially
since this happened in two different states and at the hands of three
different groups of kids.
The worst of it ended with eighth
grade, but my life became a quest to make sure not only that it never
happened again, but that anyone who met me later would never know it had
happened in the first place. Of course, since I didn’t know what had
caused it, my quest to prevent it was crazy-making. I became very good
at listening to people, at watching them for danger signs. One part of
my writing that has always been praised is my ear for dialogue. I’m
convinced that my ear for dialogue developed as a direct result of my
obsessive attention to everything anyone ever said within my hearing. My
mental repetition of their words and tone. My dissection of their
statements for any sign of sarcasm, ridicule, or threat.
first crack in my wall of secrecy came in the summer between tenth and
eleventh grades. I had gotten into the writing program of a summer camp
for the arts. Although the classes were rewarding, nothing I wrote there
and nothing I learned about writing was as valuable as the social
experience. For the first time, I found a welcoming community of kids my
own age. For the first time, I felt I belonged in a group. (Although I
had friends at my high school, some of my former tormentors also went to
school there, and I never completely relaxed.)
One day during
that summer, when the writing students were reading our work out loud to
one another, I was shocked to hear a girl read her account of being
bullied by her classmates. I no longer remember the details of her
story; what struck me was that she was willing to talk about this in
front of everybody. In doing so, she did not accept her bullies’ version
of her; she was claiming the story. She did not have to keep her mouth
shut about it because she had done nothing wrong.
to her after class, thanked her, told her a little of my own experience.
To this day, I am grateful to her because she was the first person to
show me another way of looking at the situation, and a way to express
it. Not that I was ready to take that path then, even though she’d shown
me the trailhead. It would take an unbelievable number of years before I
could fully accept, and act upon, that knowledge.