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Bullies: The Aftermath

I've just been watching a CNN special on bullying. Halfway through it now, I find myself crying. Crying for the grieving parents, whose children just couldn't cope anymore, crying for the kids whose lives are irreparably damaged by the taunts and insults, crying for the kids who've realised the damage they'd been inflicting on others for no reason other than a power trip. Crying for myself.

Because all these years later, it still hurts. Really, really hurts.

In middle school, I was an awkward kid. I was part-cliche: smart and tall, just not smart, tall and pretty. I was overweight, had acne on my upper arms and wore glasses. I had braces, straggly thick hair and basic "brown" colouring--hair, eyes... Oh, and I had a faint line of hair on my upper lip, and I suffered badly from heavy menstrual periods, which often seeped through my clothes. My family couldn't afford much at all then, either, so my clothes bore the scars of the financial struggle, with the discoloured patches and the mismatched buttons. Yes, if ever any child seemed ripe for abuse, it was I.

It began in sixth grade, when I was tracked into an accelerated section, whilst my best friends were tracked into a so-called average section. My 'best friends' grew closer and began to ignore me at lunch. When I tried to sit with them in the cafeteria, they'd move away. I finally asked what was wrong. The next thing I knew, random kids were coming up to me and calling me a wimp for not wanting to be alone. As I struggled to find a friend, another group singled me out because I'd once 'gone with' a boy who'd suffered an accident as a young child and was left with visible damage. They called me horrible names, including 'slut' and 'whore', all because I'd befriended him back then, and as a thank you gesture, he had given me a pair of earrings.

I was baffled by all of this. How could the best of my two best friends, who'd known me since our mothers served together on a PTA committee and who was my neighbour, allow herself to be dragged into it? I'd go home, curl up on the sofa and cry. My mum would sit next to me and hold me, telling me it'd get better. I believed it. I ignored most of what I was hearing in the halls and the whispering that went on when other girls passed me, instead focusing on what I loved the most: playing flute. I practiced, worked on my technique and then practiced more again. Our school band teacher noticed and encouraged me to take private lessons and consider majoring in music at college. I was thrilled.

Until a rumour circulated that I was trying to seduce him.

Oh. My. Gosh! What had I done to them that they felt the need to go on? I couldn't believe they would spread such a thing. Worse still, I was terrified it would get back to him. What would I do then? How would I face certain humiliation?

Events escalated. More girls were roped into their actions. The crowds became a bit bigger. At one point, I was thrown up against a locker and my shirt was torn. I didn't fight back because I didn't want to get in trouble; it was odd, then, that I was the one called into the teacher's room and given a talking to. For the next few days, I kept my head down. I didn't try very hard in band, either, and I stopped talking to my favourite teacher, Mrs. Harman, after class, just in case they decided to go after her next.

All the while, I was battling yet another group of bullies. This one wasn't especially happy that I had moved into their neighbourhood and thus, onto their bus route. The first day I had to ride their bus, the same bus my best friend took, I was subjected to the classics: backpacks put in empty spaces, mean stares and 'yuck' or 'Ew, don't sit here' mutterings as I passed by. I took a seat with another bullied kid and stared at my own backpack the whole ride to school. These things continued until one day, after getting off the bus near my home, I was chased up the street by two girls who were throwing rocks at me and calling me names. They had the audacity to come up onto our front lawn, by which point my mum took out after them and threatened to call the police. They called her horrible, terrible names, called her Fat Mama and bitch and all sorts, before retreating to the one girl's house. The sad part was that one of the two was the daughter of the people who'd bought our old house, the whole reason I was on that bus in the first place.

Mum went to school about it. She lodged a complaint with the principal, though I begged her not to. I knew it'd get worse. The girls were called into a meeting with me and Mum. Of course, they denied everything and were only made apologise to me. Mum hugged me before she left, stroked my hair and told me not to let anyone get to me. Once she was gone, they came out of hiding from behind a short brick wall and called me a little crybaby. "What are you gonna do now, you little crybaby? You gonna run to your mommy?" I hid in the girls' bathroom for much of the rest of the day. I didn't even go to lunch.

As an educator now, I cannot understand how my next responses escaped the attention of any one teacher in that building. For goodness sake, when my grandfather died when I was in third grade, I was pulled into the counsellor's office immediately. If I see one of my students sitting alone, slump-shouldered, I go ask if everything is okay. Yet, no one seemed to be concerned when I stopped showing up for math class and stopped washing my hair. No one wondered why I was always still in the bathroom ten or twenty minutes after class started, or why I was seemingly always at the school nurse. They didn't notice that I wore sweatpants to school for an entire year (this was before the fashion industry bumped all the sizes up a notch; I was by that point too heavy for children's clothes but too small for women's). They didn't notice, either, the utter despair on my face when the guy I had a bad crush on called me Fatty for the first time during English class. Which is why they probably didn't hear him or his cronies do it every day thereafter.

It got so bad during my eighth grade year that I capitalised on a bout of bronchitis I had and stayed off sick much longer than necessary. Soon I also discovered that the gym telephones weren't manned in the morning before first bell, so I began to sneak in there, ring my mum to come pick me up by ten, and then fake her signature on an early dismissal note for an orthodontist/doctor/voice teacher/insert professional here's appointment. All in all, I missed about fifty-two days of that school year before the district sent a letter that stated any future absence, regardless how short, would require a doctor's note. By this time, though, I was so far behind in algebra that the teacher refused to teach me. And it was only because I'm blessed with a good memory that I aced my other classes and passed to ninth grade.

But that passing made me determined that, come hell or high water, there was absolutely no way I was going to high school with any of them. And that, plus being evicted from our rental home three weeks before the start of the school year, is how I wound up being homeschooled my freshman and sophomore years. And let me tell you, those were some of the best years of my K-12 life.

So I guess what I want to get across is this: It got bad enough so many times that I contemplated suicide more times than I can count. At one point, I went so far as to try, only to chicken out at the last minute. And if my story is a common one, bullying doesn't just end with a few kids or incidents, but becomes progressively pervasive in the victim's life. Given the life I have now, though, and the experiences I've had, I'm so very, very glad I didn't go through with it. That doesn't mean this'll ever go away for me. It doesn't mean that life's successes can erase the pain of daily humiliation and belittling. The scars are permanent. I still buckle when people are pushy with me, I still jump to defend myself at the drop of a hat, and I still get very scared the minute voices start to rise. It has caused me problems in my relationships, in my career, even in my own family. And like I said before, it still really, really hurts.

We will never stop bullying. It's part of human behaviour. That's a sad fact, I know, but one we must face. We can save others who are victims of it, though. Please do it if you can.

Thank you, from one victim to the world.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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The Return

It's time I get back to writing.

For real.

I'll start by keeping my blog again. It's been a while since I've written anything, and I need to remember how that feels.

So here goes nothing.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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Synchronicity

I was getting ready for bed this evening, mulling over the day’s events and how horrible everything seemed to have gone, when an invisible billy club whacked me in the ribs and robbed me of my breath. How had I not realised this? Today was the 23rd of January ...

and this morning, driving up the hill from my house, swerving around the downed tree branches and scattered storm debris, I was halted by the scream of sirens charging down the road. First the ambulance passed, then the policeman and then the fire truck. They raced past—but yet, raced at a snail’s pace. As I made the turn, I realised why they had. My car fishtailed, so I eased up on the accelerator to get it back under control. I made it to the first stop sign on my travels, then progressed through, gaining speed to make the hill at the posted 40 mph only to fishtail again, this time at less than 30. Black ice covered the roads from the top of my hill right the way up to school. When I spoke with our secretary later on, I found out that a car had overturned on a sharp bend less than a quarter mile south of my house. They were racing to that car.

And I was driving a Nissan. A Nissan 4x4. Sliding on black ice. On the morning of the 23rd of January.
It was fifteen years ago on this day that my dad, driving his beloved Nissan 4x4 pickup truck, hit black ice and swerved into oncoming traffic. His head ricocheted off of the frame of the driver’s side door, and thirty hours later, I left Seattle on a plane bound for Harrisburg to be by his side and pray for his life.

Fifteen years ago today. And I’m here, in greater Seattle.

D-Day

I think my desk calendar is trying to tell me something.

I got one of those "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" desk calendars for Christmas. It's a great deal of fun pulling each day off and looking at the next new place, comparing notes with them and figuring out where I've been and where I still need to go. I had Caernarvon, Wales once a few weeks ago and was thrilled to say, as my students stood round me, trying to twist their tongues round those lovely vowels, that I'd been there. (I should've had them try their mouths at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, where I've also been and which I can say!) But some days ago, I got a little town in Denmark that made me think of my friend Camilla. Today, it's the Bodensee, a.k.a. Lake Constance, which makes me think of my friend Joerg and my distant relatives who still live in Bavaria. The lesson seems to be "You're not where you're meant to be," nothing new, mind you, as I've been considering for a while now how I managed to make it back to PA after several attempts to leave it.

Tomorrow, my desk calendar tells me that there's a lovely trail on Vancouver Island, BC that I should try. Of course, my friend Jean, also from BC, springs to mind. Perhaps the lesson isn't that I need to move, but rather that I need to communicate with all of you more?

The Search

I have never enjoyed looking for a job. No one really does, do they? To me, it's akin to being the pale model on the catwalk, envious of the shiny-faced teens walking by you, confident in their stilettos as you stumble in yours. I never feel I'm good enough, despite my accomplishments, despite my education; I hate the actual interview process even more. That's the part where the photographers are snapping photos. You may look great to start, but upon further review, they realise the shiny-faced model has a bit more colour in her face than you do. It's so frustrating.

And in today's job market, at least here in the US, how does one make herself stand out as a cut above the rest? I wrestle with this every day that I reword my cover letter.

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On revisiting novels

I'm coming to view the novel as an old friend, not that I haven't before. Novels are like those folks you meet in the grocery store one afternoon that you haven't seen in years, the ones whose new hairstyles and slimmer or thicker figures are immediately evident. You think you know them on the surface, but upon revisitation, you realise so much you missed. You come across a detail that makes so much more sense now, in this later context, than it did the first time you read it. The thicker waistline is a clear indicator that you paid more attention to the surface meaning upon your first acquaintance.

So it goes with King's The Stand. I haven't read it since I was 15, a ... hmm ... little while ago. Sure, when you're 15 and holding a 1,000+ page novel, you're going to miss some things. You're likely to miss the subtleties, particularly the little ways in which the author maintains continuity (strawberry rhubarb pie, anyone?). You will likely disregard names as names and nothing more. Imagine the wonder I'm faced with now, a few handfuls of years later, when returning to King's post-Apocalyptic dystopia. I'm pleased to report that now, halfway through, I've moved on to less casual conversation with said old friend and have reached the "Oh, really?" stage of conversation.

It's times like this when I think to myself what impact children's novels of yore would have upon me were I to read them now through adult eyes. I did that with Tolkien when Peter Jackson blessed us with the fabulous trilogy, but had much the same level of fascination then as I had originally as a child. So, too, with L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which held up well after childhood. Would the same still apply to Blume? Cleary? O'Dell? I wonder.

I can see it all now:

"And you have two kids now, I see? Well, congratulations! I can't believe it's been that long since we last spoke."

No wonder I can't seem to get ahead.

Crab walk ***
Valid during several weeks: During this time, your opportunities for growth and expansion in life are limited. You may feel that you are moving sideways, if not actually going in reverse. There may be financial problems, especially if you have overextended yourself in the recent past. Another effect of this influence is restlessness and impatience with restrictions imposed upon you. This period requires patience, but unfortunately yours seems to be almost exhausted.

This is a period of readjustment after a period of possibly too-rapid expansion. Certainly it is necessary to examine your recent past to make sure that you have acted according to what you really want to do and really ought to do. This influence can have the effect of getting you back into a path that you have wandered away from. Do not be discouraged by any recent setbacks. Quite likely they were for the best, as you will probably see in a little while.

Make things more secure and more stable, but do not start any new projects now. If your expectations are overly optimistic, you may be disappointed, but at least the reasons will become clear. You will see what aspect of reality has interfered with your ideals, and in the future you will be able to take this into account.

Also at this time personal relationships may go through a period of trial. You often feel as if your personal freedom is unduly limited by others. Separations sometimes come about because you feel that that is the only way to achieve freedom. And, in fact, you are usually better off after a separation that occurs during this time.

This is a time of cutting back and finding a more stable form for your life. It is not a time of growth and expansion. In fact, too much expansion in the past may be the reason for what is happening now. In the future you will have to make plans on a more solid basis so that changes in your life and pressure from circumstances and people cannot interfere so much. This influence is a useful, if not always pleasant, encounter with reality.

Transit selected for today (by user):
Saturn Opposition Jupiter, ,
activity period from 5 October 2010 to 21 October 2010

Reunions

The anniversary of N's passing is soon upon us, if I haven't already missed it. It's hard to believe it's been three years now. If I'm having difficulty accepting that, I'm sure his parents and sister have it worse. My heart goes out to them each year as the leaves lazily drift to the ground. It's my reminder, that visual, though I know he wouldn't want me to dwell on what was. In fact, he'd yell at me for doing that.

So what I'm about to relate is probably the result of his guiding hand, as he was an amazingly social--to my wildly anti-social--being. Roughly a week or so ago, I was musing on autumn and how one of the most beautiful holidays I've ever taken was to New York/New England in early October, the sheer purpose of which was to attend N's farewell service. Sad occasion or no, it brought a smile to my face as I remembered all of the shenanigans of my exchange year, when I first met N and when he became a substantial part of my personal folklore. It dawned on me that it'd been a while since I last tried to search for any Rotex ("Rotards," as N called us) from that year, so I logged onto the 'evil' which is Facebook and went searching.

This wasn't my first time in doing so. As I said, it'd been a long time since last I made the effort. But the last time I tried, I could only locate one of them and only through a picture. No contact information was present on the page and, given that I was looking at a website for a friary, I was hesitant to write to them and tell them I was looking for a long-lost friend. If you're confused, let me add how wildly inappropriate it may be for a friary to receive a letter from a female in search of a distant male friend ...

Facebook proved to be the anchor it always is in such cases. Not only did two Rotex from my year turn up, but so did said friend, once more ensconced in Colorado life and loving it. We reconnected via telephone on Tuesday night. The catching up was wonderful! A face-to-face reunion is in order.

Trees, leaves and branches

A few years ago, I dragged my mother along to a psychic over in Harrisburg who is, sadly, no longer there. My reading was relatively uneventful and nothing I hadn't already heard a number of times from other readers (if you're reading this, Mr. Man, we will be incredibly happy together and I will be the envy of my friends for it). My mother had better luck, with the psychic imploring her to begin writing, as soon as possible. "Anything," she said, "anything you want to, but you have a story in you." My mother scoffed. "I'm no writer," she told me in the car on the way home. "I don't write. That's your job." I tried to encourage her, though my mother has a way of being stubborn without admitting to it. We let the subject drop for a while and that seemed to be the end of it.

Until November. November of last year, we flew to Georgia to spend Thanksgiving [read: American holiday where we eat far too much and watch American football for hours on end after] with my aunt and uncle. We were there for five wonderful days, days spent with the two sisters reminiscing, days spent touring the rural area where they live, days spent recounting family events that angered and elevated many. During one of these days, my aunt broke out her pictures, leading to more stories, more memories and more conversations. My mother asked for copies of them, and these copies turned out to be just the impetus she needed to make her fortune come true. She came home, purchased a few blank books--all the while, forgetting what she had been told to do--and began to jot down some of the things she'd remembered from speaking with my aunt.

After a few months of this, I decided to bring up the fact that she was making it happen, making that fortune a reality by just writing down all of her family history. She had an ironic look on her face. "I hadn't thought of that," she said, and bent back over the book to continue writing the most recent anecdote.

Today, as we were making lunch, she said that she found it ironic that the more she wrote, the more she remembered. I reminded her that this is a fundamental principle of teaching writing to students, particularly writing essays: the more you write, the more you know. We bantered about that for a while until the cheeseburgers were done.

I've been writing my own autobiography for years, off and on, so I'm familiar with the processes she's going through. The questioning of what exactly happened and in what order, of who was present during a critical time in a family's history and who was not, of who would argue that something didn't exactly happen the way that one remembers it did; I have always concluded that one's biography is one's perspective, and it will be debatable. But debate is healthy, as we know, and fundamental to continuing to learn. Learning about one's family is just another lesson that should be taught. So it all circles round in the end.

I note this today because, in seaching for a nail varnish, I remembered something from my own childhood that I haven't yet written about, but should do. I remembered when we sold the last house we would own for a while--we rented for nearly two decades after selling this house--and how distraught I was at the time. I was entering middle school; this was the only house I'd ever known; and I didn't want to leave it. I'd had so many wonderful--and even turbulent--experiences there that I thought, by losing the house, I'd also lose the memories. I couldn't bear to see us leave it. Days before we shut the door for the last time, in the days when neon nail varnish, fish nets and lace leggings were popular, I grabbed a bottle of bright metallic blue and another bottle of bright metallic yellow, and I painted my initials and the date on the wall of my neon pink bedroom. I remember capping them up, sitting on the floor and crying for at least an hour afterward. I've often wondered what happened when the new occupants moved in and saw that. Did they recognise a "tween"'s pain? Did they sense the feeling of being uprooted? Did the see that moving was one of the most traumatic things I'd ever been through then?

Or did they laugh?

Again, it's my perspective, my interpretation of events. But what I wouldn't give at times for the other side of the story.

It's over ... so now what?

If you've been visiting this blog o' mine, waiting for updates that never come, you may (or may not, quite possibly) know that I've spent the last two years undertaking coursework to earn my Pennsylvania teaching certification (grades 7-12, English) and a Masters degree in Secondary Education. There were many reasons for me to do this: a heightened awareness of educational development in students, better teaching methods, refinement in my lesson planning. Those are the altruistic ones. I also considered the joys of deferring all of those student loans that have weighed on my back for years, as well as the possibility of one day reaching a semi-respectable pay grade. The months seemed to plod along like a mule through thickened mud, but at 12:03 am on Tuesday morning, I posted my final paper for a course entitled "Promoting Collaboration, Community and ..." ... ... ... okay, so I don't remember the title. I remember it being loads of hard work, especially for some loquacious as me to write papers no longer than three pages. So, it's done, finished, kaput, ended, finalised, over. The question is, so what do I do now?

The altruistic points are covered: I apply everything I've learnt in these last two years of study to my teaching, making sure that my students know that I wasn't just bluffing when I stood in front of them on that first day. I can also spend a good deal of time thinking about the ways in which I'd like to teach, versus the ways in which that content is best presented to the age group I'm addressing. But the selfish, more personal ones have been bothering me of late, as well as the one lingering regret I have about my life so far. Okay, one of the TWO lingering regrets.

I want to finish my doctorate.

Dagnabbit, I want to be Dr. Spangler! I really, really do! I used to write that on my scratch paper in the Bodleian library when I'd be there researching. Dr. Spangler, over and over again. I wondered how soon it would take me to latch on to the perfect chapter, the perfect mini theme, the perfect thesis. It never came. Five years later, and it never came. I packed my bags and went home weeping. I've had three years to think about that time now. I've come to the realisation that I threw it away for the time being, not for good.

The question is, do I continue to put regret number two--not yet having a family of my own--on hold whilst I reach for that goal?

I wish I knew. Sadly, the answers to the universe are never found in the books sitting on one's shelf. Nor are the found in the professor's comments at the end of one's penultimate paper.