Talk of late has turned to bullying since this latest, most public of teen suicides. And as I read the many letters and columns in the newspapers about past cases of bullying, I find myself recalling my experiences.
Yes, I said experiences. As in plural occurrences.
I was a victim of bullying. And not just once.
As I think back on my life, there were many instances of my being bullied. And I knew it was wrong at the time. I knew I was being victimized. But I wasn't heard when I brought my complaints to those in positions of authority. More often than not, I was told to "get a tougher skin" or "grow up" because "that's life, don't you know?"
It started while I was in grade school, as early as grade three. "Red head, piss the bed," the children would taunt as they danced around me. How could they know that I still wet the bed, I wondered? Of course it didn't help that my mother handled my late-age bed wetting in the worst possible way. (She too taunted me about it, only making the situation worse. I would continue to wet the bed until age twelve.)
Fast forward to grade eight. I was tall, extremely thin, red haired, freckle-faced, wore glasses, the youngest in the class but always achieved the highest grades. A group of boys loved to taunt me (four-eyes, show off!, think you're so smart! etc). I managed to ignore them for the best part of the school year until near the end when I "blew" and mouthed off at them. I don't remember the precise wording I used but it had something to do with my still being two months away from my thirteenth birthday and knew full well that I was heading into grade nine; while they were months past their fourteenth birthday and still couldn't say for sure that they would be joining me. They whined to the teacher that I was "bragging" and I got called up on the carpet! I explained to the teacher that I had simply stated the obvious, and besides, I was just giving them a bit of their own medicine. (I was learning!)
In high school, the bully was my grade eleven teacher. Yes, I said teacher. I dealt with her by taking myself out of school and refusing to go back until she agreed to treat me with the respect I deserved. I, after all, was required to show her respect, and did so naturally. (That stance took some doing to convince my parents, who saw me as a very stubborn reprobate. But I held my ground and when I finally returned to classes, that teacher's attitude had changed.) I was fifteen years old.
My work life hasn't been without encounters with bullies either. Or those who have attempted to bully me, shall I say. Some jobs I left because of bullies. Some bullies I called out and prevailed over.
Without a doubt, whatever the age of the bully, if they are confronted, they will back down.
What did bullying do to me? I got that tougher skin. I built a wall around me so no one could hurt me. I became a loner. I lost myself in books. Many see me as a cold, heartless, b----. Those who don't truly know me, that is.
One thing that I can state with certainty is that bullying leaves very deep, lasting scars. Even on those who seemingly "get past it" and lead productive lives. And children, depending on their personalities, may or may not be able to make it safely through to the other side.
Oh, and by the way, I still expect from others the same respect I show to them. Whoever they might be (or think they are).