Friday, February 19, 2010

Nobody Wins

photo from


I didn't remember her name until a few days ago when something triggered the memory of a day in the 6th grade that had long been pushed into the farthest recesses of my mind. I went to my old yearbooks and found her there, frozen in time. As the details simmered about in my mind and certain specifics began to rise to the surface, I could vividly recall how each of my senses played a role. I could feel the fear, the uneasy rhythm of my breathing. I could almost even hear the squeak of my blue Kangaroo sneakers on the wet pavement.

I'm not sure who put her up to it. All I remember was that some of the so-called "popular" girls had decided to instigate a fight after school. Someone told Haddas that I had been making fun of her accent or her clothing or some such lie and convinced her that a sound beating in the ball fields after school was the only way to resolve it.

A small group of girls found me in my quiet corner during lunch, my own hidden place behind the Resource Center where I would sit and read by myself. I will never forget the words I heard which caused me to jerk my head up and wonder why these girls would come to find me.

"You better look out after school, Helicopter Head," they taunted me, using the cruel nickname they had gifted me on the first day of school because of the braided ponytails I had been so proud of. I will never forget the exact words which were spoken just then... "Haddas is going to wail on you for bagging on her." Stupid, silly sixth-grade words that have remained etched in my memory. They snickered as they turned and left me there, paralyzed.

I had never been in a fight before. I had often heard the whispers among kids throughout the day of a fight that would take place or the chanting of "fight, fight, fight..." on the playground as one erupted during recess but I had never imagined myself in such a predicament. I lived to be invisible. I kept to myself whenever possible. How had this happened?

By the time the school bell signaled the end of the day, I had formulated a plan. Rather than walking my usual route home through the baseball fields I was going to take a longer route, one which kept me in neighborhoods with plenty of homes, where traffic was busy. I stayed in my classroom as long as possible and then made my way towards the front of the school.

To my dismay, it had started to rain. People would not be out in their yards today.

Still, avoiding the fields seemed to be the best plan. I held on to the hope that the drizzle from the heavens had deterred the crowd from waiting for me to show up as I made my way through the neighborhoods, silently praying that all would be well.

I was rounding the corner just a half block from the middle school campus when I first heard the footsteps from behind me. They were deliberate, coming faster, and I knew almost immediately that I had been followed in my attempted escape.

My tormentors corralled me back around the block, into the waiting crowd. A wide circle was formed around Haddas and myself and I noticed something in her eyes that was familiar... fear. "I don't want to fight you," I told her. Everyone laughed as if I had just made a joke. For a moment I thought that she might agree with me, call the whole thing off and let me leave. But instead, she stepped forward and pushed me to the wet grass.

I started to silently cry, knowing I could not escape my fate. "Get up!" the crowd yelled at me, but I continued to sit as I tried to gain some composure. I was already an outcast in the eyes of those gathered here, I could not bear the thought of being known as a crybaby as well.

"Get up!" the crowd chanted as I looked to Haddas. Her eyes still reflected fear. I decided then that my best option at this point was to run. I grabbed my backpack and quickly turned just as someone shoved her toward me. We both fell, face forward. The crowd cheered, but I jumped to my feet and ran.

My legs carried me past the fields, through the chain link fence that surrounded the school and almost to a safe haven behind a cinder block wall before they gave out on me. I collapsed to the ground beside a parked car as great, heaving sobs escaped me. Why were they doing this? What pleasure was there in forcing two frightened social outcasts to come to blows with each other? I did not understand and was not sure I wanted to. I only knew that it was terribly wrong for anyone to have to endure the anguish and torment brought on by bullies.

When my sobs had ceased, I wiped the tears from my face and stood to make my way home.

I dreaded going to school the next day. I fretted and worried all night about what would happen when I returned to this place I was quickly learning to loathe. I debated faking sick but knew that would only buy me a day, maybe two. I determined that the best thing to do would be to follow my normal routine and do my best to remain invisible.

I tentatively walked towards my middle school that morning, alone as usual, and frightened. I remember how I had dressed myself in neutral colors that day, hoping to blend in with the walls and be unnoticed. At first, I thought it was working. But eventually I realized that the fact of the matter was that no one cared. The excitement was over, the whole thing was forgotten; it was almost as if it had never happened.

But I didn't forget. I will never forget.

I remember how those same girls mocked me years earlier when I had been so excited to wear my brand new, homemade clothes to school and again when I wore my shiny black church shoes because my tennis shoes no longer fit.

I remember every time they threw my lunch onto the roof of the school and laughed as they dared me to tattletale to a teacher about it.

I remember being reluctantly chosen last for every kickball game played during P.E., being banished from four-square and jump rope and a turn on the swings at recess.

I remember being followed and mocked as I walked home from school and every pebble thrown at my backpack.

I remember changing the way I dressed, the route I walked to school, even my posture - all in an attempt to make myself less noticeable to these kids who sought out targets for their cruel words.

I remember how excruciating it was to endure such intimidation and loneliness.

I may have forced the memories of this part of my childhood into places which are far-reaching, but I haven't forgotten.

I remember every name of every bully, every malicious word spoken and cruel action targeted towards me.

I like to think that I am a more kind-hearted, sensitive and loving person because of all I was made to endure. I am doing my best to raise kids who have the self-confidence to avoid being prey for bullies but also the courage to look out for and befriend those who are not so fortunate.

As I come to the part where I attempt to draw a conclusion with this post, I'm not sure what to say or what point I'm trying to make. However, it has been good to work through the memories and release them from the place I've kept them locked up for so long.

In my adult life I am saddened to see that bullying continues. Sometimes it is in the form of power over another, sometimes it is evident in the cliques which, despite my advancing age, still exist and exclude others, but most often I see bullying in the words people choose to use as weapons against another. Words are not as innocent as people may think. They are powerful.

In one final attempt at closure, I would like to add something for all of my childhood bullies who will never read this and never care...

I don't know what you may have endured or why you gained such pleasure from the anguish you put me through. I hope you look back on your childhood with regret towards your actions - but regardless of any of that... I can honestly say that I forgive you.

But I will never, ever forget.


Gina said...

Aghh! How sad is that? That is wrong. Unfortunately, we have far too good of memories for things like this. Why is that? I guess there are lessons to be learned. One more lesson to teach our children. Thank you for sharing.

Michelle said...

This just broke my heart.
And somehow you didn't let it stop you or change you from the good person you are--I always admire the way you are making life better for everyone else.

Rachel said...

Did we go to the same school? Seriously? The only difference is I was able to get out of the fight. And the girl who wanted to fight me....was WAY huger than me and did't fear a fight because she had an older brother she fought with all of the time. Me. Eh! She could take me anyday. Wanna know something terrible? I actually want to go back to my 20 year reunion. To see everyone? No, to show them The SM and The Natives and say, "In your face!" Obviously, I've still not grown up and you Gerb, are way ahead of me. I admire your being able to forgive. Most of the time I think I've forgiven and can look upon the bullies, the popular ones, and feel sorry for them. Then other wanting to go and show off my family rears its ugly head......

No, I've much growing up still to do. You and me. We'd have been good friends growing up I think. We'd both have been sitting in the same corner trying to be invisible.

Anaise said...

That is just gut-wrenching.

I read a similar story by a friend--only her story included a near-suicide.

You are bright and beautiful and funny and genuine and loving and wonderful.

You are a success in every sense of the word.

Way to be a great example.

Richard & Natalie said...

If they could only see you now...
I was talking to a realtive once who said she would rather her kids be the ones doing the teasing than the ones being teased- I was shocked and disgusted.
Gerb, I only know you from the short time we've read each other's blogs and the little time I've spent with you at school functions, but you are a great person, in every respect. You emanate greatness; so much, that it draws people to you. So if my kids had to go through years of bullying to grow up and be like you, I would say it would be absolutely worth it.

Cafe Johnsonia said...

Oh...this brought back some painful memories! I'm so glad you have been able to forgive the bullies. I'm hoping I get there someday. Even though it's been 11 years since I've last seen any of my tormentors, I still dread the day I do see one. (Hopefully they won't recognize me!)

Great post, Gerb. Thanks for writing it.

Robin said...

This was painful to read. I started a daily blog on facebook about six weeks ago. I really liked it. Not long after I started, wayback week came along and everyone changed their profile pic to an old picture. Accordingly my blogs went back and I found myself in junior high. And it awful and painful... a lot like this blog. A lot of my friends from jhs/hs read and commented and it became this huge group therapy thing I never could have forseen.

I guess what I am awkwardly trying to say is that it doesn't matter if anyone from your school reads this. A lot of people lived on one side or the other of the bullying in school. I think that whichever side you were on left a mark. A person who was bullied will read this and feel less alone. A person who did the bullying will understand the damage they inflicted and that may be the beginning of their journey. Either way, it's all good.

It was brave to share this story. For all that happened in that schoolyard, they didn't break you.

Cara said...

I can honestly say at my daughter's school I see a huge improvement with bullies. When I was a kid it was sooo bad!! I was bullied so bad...I still hate April Fool's Day....anyway, my daughter is a red head and I think if she grew up when I did she would not love school like she does! Kids don't ever tease her and she has lots of friends. But I still tell her to make sure she is nice to everyone!

Corine said...

That is such a sad story. I can I send a hug your way, for extra measure? For whatever it's worth, thank goodness you were the one bullied, rather than the bully. I'm with you there, and in good company! ;)

Emily said...

Though I didn't have to deal with bullies through school, my daughter is going through this right now. It seems to have tapered off, but one girl in particular seems to have it out for her. I'd like to meet her behind the bleachers and teach her a thing or two! (Okay, I really wouldn't do that, promise.) We may forgive but perhaps we don't forget so we can do our part to change the world, even just a little bit. Powerful post--thank you for sharing!

Tormented said...

I feel like you opened up a tunnel into my past. I was teased because I couldn't swim, my poor posture because of a curved spine, and so many other things. Like you, I can remember the faces and the names of these tormentors just like this stuff all happened yesterday.

I am still angry at these people.

They were mean.

They were cruel.

I hope that they can one day understand just what awful things they did, and how they made others feel.

I think I agree with the maybe being able to forgive, but the forgetting part is going to take some work.

Thanks for being strong and brave enough to blog about this.

Shannon said...

How incredibly inspirational - not only for those who may have been bullied when they were young, but also for some who may have to deal with the very same ugliness in their adult life.

Mrs. Black said...

You are so brave and amazing and strong and I love you. 'nuf said.

Brown Thumb Mama said...

Wow. Thank you for writing about this.

I guess one of the few good things about Catholic school was that there was no fighting. There was all kinds of other, more subtle bullying...but nothing compared to what you had to deal with.

I just gotta say: karma comes around!

Farscaper said...

There's a lot I could say... I'm just not up to more saddness at the moment. I do want to say that I'm sorry people are dumb and selfish and stupid sometimes. You are an amazing woman and you have awesome kids!!! You're definately doing something more than a little bit right.

Gerb said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. This post was difficult to write and I debated whether or not I would even post it.

Thanks for the compliments and encouragement. And to any of you who were forced to remember your own similar experiences while reading this post, I am sorry. I know they are not the kind of memories that anyone enjoys dredging back up.

Rachel said...

You know, they are hard memories but they are just that. Memories. And though they leave their mark, hopefully they make us that much more sensitive to others so that maybe we can lift, brighten, and help someone along the way. Hopefully they haven't made us bitter.

By going through the experiences we've gone through in our lives, it is what makes us who we are today and Gerb, I didn't know you then but what I know of you're pretty terrific!

Chelle! said...

Thanks for sharing!! Thanks for being an awesome friend that I can trust. Thanks for being the great example that you are to me. Thanks for being just plain wonderful!! I just love you tons!!