Well bully for you
In a way, bullying is an ordinary evil. It’s hugely prevalent, all too often ignored – and being ignored, it is therefore condoned.
The first time I remember being bullied until I was in hysterical sobs, I was four years old. Several little boys sat on their porch with their BB guns and announced to tiny me that they were gonna shoot my eyeballs out, right then and right there.
Tiny children are taught not to lie. The big people say lying is bad and not to do it, so of course, people don’t lie, right? If they said they were going to shoot my eyeballs out with their BB guns right then and there, they were going to do exactly that.
I believed it completely and ran home, sobbing in terror, waiting for the first shot to rip through my head and tear out my eyes.
That was 58 years ago.
If you are a person of value and people try to harm you, depending on the degree, those people can suffer consequences. They can get arrested, even go to jail for it. They call it harassment or assault.
If you’re a person who doesn’t matter much — and I was soon to discover that my place in the world was with the utterly valueless — you are told that they are just joking and to ignore them and even when the threats become harm, you’re supposed to shrug it off. It’s too much trouble to intervene. Take your lumps, kid.
Perhaps that’s what triggered my family to pick up on this and join right in. My brother was the worst. He was perfect and utterly gorgeous, the indulged, adopted boy child of my southern belle mother (devoid of accent or not, she sure as hell was just that) who, like her sisters, lionized the boys in the family and ate the girl children whole, like guppies. He knew just what hurt, knew his privilege and ground it in my face and did everything he could not only to make my life hell but made sure our parents kept torturing me and adoring him. He admitted it when we were grownups — I didn’t imagine a bit of it.
School wasn’t bad at first. It was great in Holland — I went to the Montessori School in Amsterdam and everybody there was just nice. I was lulled into a false sense of safety until we spent that year in Eugene where I was popped from first to second grade in the middle of the year because I was reading at a college level at 7 — and had a vocabulary to match it.
Keep in mind some of it made sense. I am neurodivergent — still finding out just how — and never had that gut sense of what people wanted from me and still often don’t. My attempts often misfired. I used huge words, wanted to discuss problems logically and thought about stuff like infinity and was stupid enough to talk about it. This should not be grounds for being tortured, but we know humans — it was blood in the water to the little sharks swimming around in the pool with me.
Somehow I continue to hang on — despised in my adoptive family by all but one grandmother (literally, everyone — not kidding), loathed at school. It was so bad that I never really trusted the few friends I did have — I kept waiting for them to suddenly turn on me like everybody else — which alienated them, too.
My first impulse to suicide came at six because if I was the worst kid ever born, wouldn’t the world be a better place without me?
Yeah, bullying does that to a kid.
The worst I remember was fifth grade.
She’s grown up now, and although I have it on good authority from an old schoolmate since elementary school that she was pretty vile in high school, too, I’m not going to give out her name. It’s been over 50 years. Maybe she changed.
One day we were playing contentedly at her house. The next day, it was on.
If I had committed suicide, she would have considered it a goal met.
She was organized. She gathered both fifth grades together in a concerted effort to bring me down. They shunned me at lunch. Whispered cruelties behind their hands, grinning, while shooting me looks. They swirled close to me like schools of malicious minnows, then ran away screaming at my dreaded approach. It never stopped.
One day, it was I who stopped. I just folded. Sobbed out “I can’t!” over a school lesson, folded my arms, lay down my head and howled. Right in the middle of class.
My parents, ever clueless, took me to shop to get fixed. They tested my IQ to be sure I wasn’t innately defective (genius IQ — not stupid. Sorry to disappoint.) They took at EEG to ensure there were no worms or antlers lurking anywhere. They got me super strong medication for those times that I was inconvenient (my expressions of hurt, sadness or anger were, for years, followed up with a parent coldly asking “Do you need a pill?”). Then they turned me over to an accidentally wonderful counsellor.
Mr. Carton — so young, rather handsome, great with kids — actually liked me.
I was suspicious at first. Nobody liked me. Was he up to something? Pretending? Was it because they paid him? But no, he really did like me. He liked my mind, my curiosity, my huge vocabulary. We talked like people. He really listened.
Slowly, I began to breathe again. To stand up straight. To feel I might be worth more than the most painful death I could imagine.
After six months or so of counselling, I began to piece myself back together.
And then, one day, in the girls’ bathroom, I struck back. I found my bully’s secret fear, demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was quite true, and did so in front of two of her cronies. She screamed, slapped me across the face and ran, power broken forever. As for me, I terrified myself with my response. She had perpetrated a child’s evil on me. I retaliated with an adult cruelty that would have broken someone three times her age. She never dared try it with me again.
I would like to say that was the last of my bullying, but in truth, the last time I was bullied to tears was last fall. I was 62. I think that’s finally done, now. I hope so — for their sake.
Bullies are everywhere. They feel entitled to it. And no, despite some parents’ attempts to say it’s because bullies are jealous, that’s very rarely true. Nope, they’re just mean. They think their victims are worthless and it entertains the bullies to torture them. Watch them. That hater face you see in pictures of the civil rights movement where protesters are being mistreated? That’s the face. That vicious grin that signals a strike is coming.
Ironically, I am in no way weak. In fact, I am very, very strong. Sometimes I have been silenced by my relationship with the bully. Sometimes because I had a kid to raise and couldn’t just leave that job — or, later, a pension to get to. But often, it’s because I will not use the weapon I used on that kid in fifth grade — total, psychological annihilation. The kind from which no one truly recovers. Ever. The look on her face haunts me and stops my words.
I’m getting older now, though, and my patience is wearing thin. At this point, bullies beware. You fuck with me and I will prove to you that your every secret fear is true in irrefutable detail. Trust me when I tell you that I’m very, very good at it.
So bully me at your own risk because if you should be so foolish, I will dance gleefully on your sobbing remains with no regrets at all.