Bullying Through the Ages

You don't need Facebook to humiliate a kid

All the recent talk about bullying in the media has had me reflecting back on my own experiences with the subject. Although I had nothing happen as horribly humiliating as being broadcast online in a sex act, gay or otherwise, or being publicly trashed on Facebook in high school (thank god we didn’t have Facebook back then), I did, nonetheless, have plenty of low-tech encounters with bullies.

It began in elementary school when my somewhat rough-around-the-edges friend’s tougher and older cousin decided to make tormenting me her after-school pastime. This 12-year-old “girl” was as tough as nails and looked like a really short, butch Jodi Foster (in her earlier movies). She actually had “cronies” like the bully in the movie A Christmas Story, and my tainted recollections involve her possibly sprouting fangs. Unfortunately, my “friend” seemed to be painfully conflicted between defending me and her mafia-like family ties, and I lost. I think I spent about six months running home from school as fast as I could. Sadly, I’ve never been in as good cardio form since.[SIGNUP]

Next came middle school, where the kids made my previous tormentor look like an amateur. This time the chief bully was a scrawny, loud-mouthed boy. This guy wielded an enormous amount of power in my lame, inexperienced opinion, and for two long years he and his sidekick would not leave me alone about my flat chest. “You’re so flat, the sidewalks are jealous,” “walls are jealous,” “two-by-fours are jealous.” He mocked my manner of speaking, chased me home, threw things at me and once left a can of dog food wrapped as a Christmas present on my desk. He seemed to have the support of my classmates, but looking back now they were probably just relieved he was occupied with me instead of them. I truly wish sometimes that I could go back for a day, knowing what I know now. Oh, the psychological warfare would be sweet…

High school brought even more drama with the usual group of mean girls day-to-day, and there was one particular incident at a dance that came to a head in an alley with a group of rather large, scary girls from another high school gathered around me ready to start punching — all because of some guy who wasn’t worth any of the misery in retrospect. Thankfully in that case I was rescued, not by the guy in question, who was standing by waiting to watch his new girlfriend kill his old one. Obviously I had great taste in men back then. Eventually we all grew up and went our separate ways. Thankfully. Somehow all the bullying made me stronger and, amazingly enough, I didn’t wind up on a cheesy talk show at 30, confronting the tormentors who ruined my life.

The thing about bullying is that it never really goes away. It just changes forms. I still know people in their 40s and 50s who are bullies at heart. They divide and conquer, try to take others down socially and are generally mean-spirited. Sometimes I’m almost grateful to my childhood bullies for preparing me for these people. Now I can usually spot them at 20 paces. The school district we live in is all about “No Place for Hate,” and they have a big campaign, frequent assemblies and a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or meanness of any kind. While I’m grateful my child doesn’t have to endure what I went through, I can’t help but wonder if this generation of kids will be prepared for the real world where nobody is punishing the bullies and you have to know how deal with them, cope with adversity and stand up for yourself.

In my adult years I’ve been fortunate and have come to realize that living well and being happy is the best revenge — or vindication, at least. And I did eventually grow the missing breasts — much later than most people, mind you. In any case, I no longer make any quasi-flat surfaces jealous. I’m willing to bet anything that little twerp is in jail now, and I like to imagine the mean girls got exactly what they deserved in life, because doesn’t what you put out there usually come back to you? It’s such a shame for the promising kids who didn’t get to live to see that it all works itself out in the end.