On Being Bullied

In 1988, I experienced the bitter taste of child-on-child hate for the first time. Having been recently “double-promoted”, I entered the 4th grade with high expectations of friendship and learning. Imagine my surprise when I received the cold shoulder from the majority of my new classmates, and expressions of hurt and abandonment of the classmates I had left behind. Cries of “teacher’s pet” would follow me around the school. My classmates would laugh hysterically if I answered a question incorrectly, and would snicker with joy if my test scores were less than perfect.

“She thinks she’s soooo smart, but she’s soooo dumb!”

Over the next 2 years, I would be tricked, lied to, pelted with acorns, knocked to the ground and stomped on, and have an aluminum baseball bat thrown directly at me. My response was two-fold: I retreated deeply into a world of fiction and fantasy, imagining that I had special powers that protected me, and I would learn to fight like an alley cat if attacked. We had metal lunchboxes in those days; I destroyed a few by using them as weapons.

And yes, I had friends… the kind that would sell me upriver if they thought that they could be next.

Middle school brought new challenges. Boys would corner me, aiming to cop a feel on my budding breasts, or shove a hand up my skirt. At a dance in the 6th grade, I would be teased by the boy I liked because I did not know how to “freak” or make a “sandwich.” I thought that dancing was choreographed moves, like in the music videos, which marked me again as an outsider. This same boy would later send two of his female followers to attack me. For what, I still have no clue.

I took my first sip of alcohol at age 11.

Fast forward to high school, when it all started to fall apart. I was teased for my light complexion (lite bright, ghost, white girl), mocked for my looks (that [email protected]#th thinks she’s cute; I’mma cut her!), my grades (you ain’t special now, huh?), my hearing problem (insert fake sign language here), and my weight (you know, you’d be really pretty if you were skinny!). I started skipping school, getting dressed in the dark, dreading the coming of the morning, and even showed up for class drunk on more than one occasion. My grades, formerly straight A’s, plummeted. I received my first failing grades ever.

My response? To ignore EVERYBODY, including my teachers. To this day, I can only name a handful of people in my classes. I draw blanks on teachers and old class schedules. My circle of friends grew smaller, and even to most of them, I refused to completely reveal myself.

Alcohol, over-the-counter painkillers, and the sometime “accidental” cutting while shaving my legs helped me cope. I raised my grades and made plans to get out of there. I felt there was nothing left for me in Detroit, and I wanted to start a new life somewhere – anywhere – else.

I ran across the country to a city where I knew exactly one person. I’m in college now, I thought. Things will be different! But things have a way of not going according to our plans.

I was greeted with culture shock. Having grown up in a city that was probably 95% African-American, and attending schools that reflected that reality, I stepped into a realm I was not prepared for. I attended a predominately white school, and lived with 2 white women in a small room. In this place, I received the message that being Black was not always something to be proud of.

I majored in alcohol with a minor in sex. I took stupid chances, like leaving the state with a group of people I met one night on campus. My roommates had discussions with our resident advisor about me, without me. I was spiraling out of control and I knew it. But I couldn’t stop. In my head there was a voice and she constantly sang to me, “You deserve to be treated like crap.”

And I believed it. Why else had I been picked on at school? Why else had I been raped, twice? Why did I keep losing friends and alienating people? There must be something wrong with me.

I returned home, bitter at failing my courses, bitter at being the failure I had been told that I was.

I moved again, to a new city. My sister lived nearby, and there were high school classmates in the universities there. I felt shame at running into them, having to explain that I was a college dropout. I spent the next 3 years flitting from dead-end job to dead-end job, and crappy relationship to crappy relationship. I would enroll in community college, only to drop out again a few months later. During this time, I seriously contemplated suicide, only to stop because I did not think anyone would care.

Even now, years later, I suffer from panic attacks and find myself certain that I’m dreaming and one of these days, I will  wake up and find myself in Hell. The constant assaults on my psyche from so-called friends and boyfriends, the 2 rapes I endured, the messages that I was not smart enough (or maybe too smart), not thin enough, not good enough to be loved, have left me suspicious of people that aim to be close to me.

I am married with children, but I break into a sweat at the thought of meeting new people. I am a homeowner, but find myself fearful of walking to the corner. I still prefer books over real, live people. I would rather hear loud music than have a conversation.

I was bullied, and I survived, but at what cost?

People ask me, “well, how come you never said anything?” My answer is, generally, “how come you never listened?”

I don’t have any award-winning advice or secret tricks and tips to get through being bullied. I would love to say “here’s the key to success!” but, unfortunately, I can not. Just know that if you’re being bullied, you are not as alone as you think you are. It does get better, one day at a time.

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