It is a touchy subject for me, and one I don't talk about all that often. I am deeply glad it has never happened to the Intrepid Junior Blogger, and while I have discussed it with her until this morning I hadn't told her about my personal experience. The topic is bullying - and yes, I am one of the many who has been bullied.
In Grade 6 I moved to a new neighbourhood, and a new school. I was anxious about the move, and while my parents tried to reassure me it didn't take me long to realize my anxiety had been well placed. The new school was not only years newer than my old school it housed kids years cooler than the ones I had been attending school with since Grade Two. My old classmates were still occasionally playing with Barbies, but in this new school the kids in my grade were talking about dating. I was easily picked out as the new kid, and my home-made clothes that my mother lovingly sewed and my farmer kid style (as while we were urban my parents had long been farmers before moving to the city) made me stand out in the most miserable of ways. I was out of my depth completely and no one knew it more than me. But I wasn't the only one who noticed. So did my bullies.
There was more than one, a group of siblings both older and younger than me who latched onto me with a vengeance. Over time I have forgotten many of the things that were said, the kind of forgetting that is deliberate in nature, but I will always remember how it felt to be demeaned, threatened, and cornered on a daily basis. They made my life a living hell for 3 years, Grades 6, 7, and 8, and while they never harmed me physically there was most certainly emotional damage.
I escaped when I went on to high school, able to disappear in a much larger school and leaving some of my bullies behind in elementary school. The ones who attended high school with me moved on to other targets, and I was finally able to breathe.
I look back now and I am so deeply grateful there was no Facebook or Twitter or cell phones back then. The bullying in person was bad enough, and I cannot imagine how I would have survived the escalation technology would have likely created. I understand those who have been so badly bullied that they have ended their lives, more than anyone knows, because while I did not consider suicide in those years I think if it had continued in high school I might have, because it was so intense and the severity so deep.
I never told anyone back then. Not my parents or sisters, not the teacher or the school principal. There was no talk about bullying in my school, no educational seminars or presentations. I don't even know how or if they would have responded if I told them, and so I suffered alone and in silence.
There were peers who watched it happen, of course, but they didn't tell anyone either. They probably didn't know what to do or how to react, and they likely feared becoming victims themselves. And so for three long years I was bullied, mercilessly and daily, until it finally stopped one day in Grade Nine.
When I was in my late teens one of my former bullies was in a terrible car accident. He lived in the neighbourhood and his accident was the talk of the area, as while he survived he suffered a severe brain injury that left him having to learn to walk and talk and read all over again. What was most interesting, though, is that this formerly very angry and aggressive young man became one of the sweetest and gentlest souls after this traumatic injury. The damage to his brain actually changed his personality, and as he began to venture out into the world again as his recovery progressed I used to run into him on occasion at the local bus stop.
I was wary, of course. This was my bully, an individual I had grown to hate with a seething anger that threatened to boil over, but his gentle smile and soft hellos at the bus stop slowly made me realize that he was not the same as the young man who had bullied me. And so we began to talk, hesitantly at first, but then more openly, including the day when over coffee at a coffee shop downtown I confronted him about the bullying that had happened years before.
His memory, a bit damaged by the accident too, meant he didn't remember the specifics like I did, but he did remember doing it. He also remembered, however, the abuse he had suffered at the hands of the adults in his life, abuse that went back deep into his memories and that shaped him as a person. He and I sat in that coffee shop and he poured out all the atrocities he and his siblings had endured, while I stared at him in disbelief.
My bully was a victim, too.
He had been abused his entire life, as had his siblings. Their rage, the one they couldn't express at home, had come pouring onto me in those three years, as it had nowhere to go. They too had told no one of the abuse and so they simply perpetuated the cycle, taking the punches and slaps they received at home and turning it into words of hate they used on me, and others.
I hugged my bully that day. He and I remained friends until I left that city and moved into the rest of my life, and I lost touch with him. I don't think he ever went back to being the young man he was before his accident, and I hope he went on to have a good life, because I know his early years were not happy in any way. And I suppose it changed the way I saw bullying, too.
You see we often see bullies as villains, and yet I believe there is a reason they become these villains. In the bullying dilemma there are three parties who need to be addressed: the victim, the peers who witness it - and the bullies, who may well be victims of things we cannot see and do not know. When I was being bullied it never even occurred to me that my bullies could be victims, too. They were, in my mind, just bullies.
I am glad we talk about bullying now. Maybe if we had back then I would have been able to tell an adult and then my bullies would have been able to tell an adult of their victimization, and we could have broken the cycle. Perhaps that is the most important thing I learned about it all, the value of talking about it even when the memories are painful and we don't have all the answers and when we have tried to forget those years.
And that is why I told the Intrepid Junior Blogger my story today. And that is why I cried on my way into work, thinking of a young girl who had been so bullied and who went on to become me, and of a young man who suffered a horrific traumatic brain injury and taught me that sometimes even bullies are victims.