Bullies—A Personal Account
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I know. 

I've been gone longer than usual this time, but last week was Spring Break and so I was busy smushing my toes into the powdered sugar sand of our beautiful Gulf, busy never missing a sunset, busy hanging with some great friends and busy watching my darling girls, halfway now to adulthood, as they venture a little farther from me with each vacation. They had their own friends, their own fun, wandering back to us for shared dinners or a few moments of their hallowed presence on the beach. My three lovelies, just like the tides, pulling away, only to come back in measured time. It was a splendid week on a splendid stretch of sand. I have traveled to many a beach in my day, but there is nothing like the Gulf of Mexico. Its azure waters hold magic, of this I am convinced. 

But now I'm back and for today, I'm going to put away the silliness for once. 

Today, I'm going to tell you a little something about myself, Internet. Something I've never shared before. 

It's something that resides deep in the recesses of my heart, a bruised scrap of my soul that never heals, no matter how far and wide my life's journey. It is always there, this whisper that makes me feel a little less, no matter how hard I try to pretend it is not there. 

Because it is. There. 

And when I remember, when it rises to the surface, it pains me just as it did that first time. 

The first time I was called a "tard." The first time I was slighted with cruel taunts. The first time whispers behind hands were not whispers at all, but mean tightfisted verbal hurls, meant to sting. The first time I was tripped. The first time I had a chair pulled out from under me. 

Yes, I was one of those kids—a graceless, scrawny bullseye for a pack of bullies. My only crime—being a shy, quiet kid who didn't have the wherewithal to escape their cruelty. And in those days, bullying was just a fact of life for the unlucky ones, the kids like me. 

But now, the world is finally speaking out—a message long overdue—that bullying should never be tolerated. 

Bullying is NOT a normal part of childhood. It is NOT an awful rite of passage some kids have the misfortune to endure. It should NEVER be dismissed with lame excuses meant to render the bullying harmless. It is NOT kids just being kids. It is NEVER just innocent kidding. 

It is words, horrible words meant to slice open tenuous, fragile hearts and psyches. Words that can't be taken back. Words that are always there, permanently engrained in a young victim's heart. It is rumors spread, reputations lost that can never be resurrected. It is taunting and humiliation. And sadly, it is sometimes fists and weapons, causing as much physical damage as emotional harm. And it can be delivered these days in an unlimited amount of ways, ways to inflict as much devastation as possible through phone calls, texting, Facebook, Twitter. These days, bullies have a potent weapon in the world of cyberspace.

I thank God I'm not a child in this day and age, because honestly, I don't know if I would ever recover. 

Up to the age of eight, I lived in Illinois. Life from a little girl's perspective was simple and good, full of friends and dandelions. 

And then we moved to a very small town in the South, a town that was known for it's cattle farms, where dandelions did not grow. My parents signed us up for the only Catholic school in town and I was eager to start fourth grade. Always a good student, I loved school. 

I remember coming home after being in school for a few days and confessing to my dad that I'd had a tough time  making friends, that the kids wouldn't talk to me, that in fact, I was starting to think they might be a little mean, a concept I really wasn't familiar with yet in my tender, young heart. 

My dad reassured me that it was just a matter of time. It was simple, the kids just hadn't warmed up to my fabulosity yet. 

But it wasn't simple. It was far from that. 

I had the misfortune of ending up in a class of kids who'd been together in this small, parochial environment for all their primary years. Kids who didn't take well to new faces, especially if that new face was gawky, with thin hair that always ended up in tangles, teeth too big for her small face and skin so pale, it stuck out like a ghost in this place of sun and tanned skins. I was assigned to a mean-spiritited, badly-behaved class, the one all the teachers dreaded. In fact, years later I met up with one of my old teachers who told me that certain batch of kids was the worst she'd ever had in all her 30 years of teaching.

Not all of the kids were mean, mind you. But there was a core of bullies who cleaved together, unified in their cruelty. 

The next four years were misery for me. 

I was teased. I was called terrible names. My hair, my scrawniness, my flat chest, my clothes, my lunch, my lack of athleticism, the glasses I got in the 6th grade, my name, even my good grades were all fodder for the bullies. I was always picked last for everything. I was a constant mark for prank phone calls, usually from slumber parties. And speaking of parties, I wasn't invited and the few times I was, I knew some parent had insisted, against their child's protests, that every child had to be invited. 

I never went to those parties. Instead, I read my precious books or played with my neighborhood playmates. Kids I didn't have to fear. Kids who never wore me down with their malevolent derision. 

Once, my mom insisted that I attend one of the rare slumber parties I'd been invited to. I didn't want to go, but it never occurred to me to tell my parents why. 

I don't know if it was because I was the fourth child of seven and it was an inherent part of my DNA, to never be a bother. I don't know if I thought it was just my lot in life. I don't know if it was too painful to confess. I just knew better than to complain. 

And so I didn't. I didn't tell and I went to that party, my stomach in knots. 

I wasn't at the party long, when I wandered into the bathroom where the girls were all goofing around with makeup and hair. The room went silent when I walked in, a few girls tittering guiltily.The girl hosting said quite clearly for the whole party's benefit, "My mom made me invite her." Not knowing what to do with my 11-year-old self, I spun around and left the room. But as I scurried away, someone sang out, "I can't wait for certain people to fall asleep tonight!"  

I sat in the corner all night, determined to stay awake, so that they could not inflict their torture upon me. 

When the girl's mother burst into our party well after midnight, angry and sputtering about quieting down or she'd call everyone's parents to pick them up, I could only pray, "Please, please call our parents."

I left the party the next day, exhausted but unscathed—at least physically.

My sharpest memory from those days was an incident in the sixth grade. We had a Christmas gift exchange where we bought a five buck gift for the person whose name we pulled out of the box. I drew my name and returned to my seat, excited for a bit of Christmas fun. 

The girl who sat behind me, a she-devil in a Catholic schoolgirl skirt turned to the boy next to her and said, (I'll never forget it), "You want to switch names. I'll take anyone else but this retardo." 

The boy took a look at the name on her white slip of paper and told her no way.

In my zeal and perpetual pursuit of approval, I told her I would switch with her. She sneered at me and said nothing. The boy burst out with, "She has your name, Stupid. No one wants to buy you a present."

The girl spoke to the boy, but stared at me, her lip curled up menacingly and said, "I'll make my mom buy it, so I won't even have to think about her ugly face." 

I didn't want to believe it as I turned back around, stung, but on the exchange day, when she handed me a festively wrapped present with a hard glint in her eye, I didn't even open it. I went home and gave it to my sisters. It was a big package of Storybook Lifesavers. I've never been able to look at one of those again, without thinking of that day, that memory a sharp splinter I've never been able to remove. 

I am truly not trying to make a pity party out of my past. It is the way it is. I went on to public school after the 8th grade and found my way. A late bloomer, I grew into my lanky self a little later than most, shedding my gawky skin and acquiring just a pinch of comeliness and grace. (I've never quite outgrown my complete dorkiness and it shows, especially when I'm trying to sing along to rap.) 

High school was nothing like those awful years. It was glorious, with an abundance of friends and boys and memories that always put a smile on my face. Those formative, tough years marked me, but they did not break me. I have a beautiful life now with a good man and three treasured children. I am proud of my life and how I've lived these years in between those days and now. I can only hope the same for the bullies who felt the need to torture me relentlessly, so long ago. 

That same girl who gave me the Lifesavers ended up getting expelled in our final year for vandalism. She'd put liquid soap in our new textbooks. And when I think about her, I try to remember that something more painful that what she could ever do to me, must have been happening in her life, to make her lash out in such destructive ways. 

Bullying needs to end. For everyone's sake. 

There is a documentary coming out called "Bully," that finally gives a voice to this awful abuse. It should be required viewing in every school. The problem is, the documentary has received an R rating for its profanity—profanity used by the bullies on their victims. The R rating will successfully prevent most middle school and high school children from seeing it. It's rather ironic that in trying to protect our children, the Motion Picture Association is actually impeding the process. 

Katy Butler, a Michigan teenager and a victim herself of bullies, has started a petition, garnering national attention for her campaign. She wants to change the rating on this documentary, so that this film can open the eyes to those who need to see it the most. 

Please join her in the noble fight to bring a little more tolerance, grace and goodness to the world. You can sign her petition here.

And thank you, truly, from one who knows.  

No download today. A very special one is coming soon, a rerun that deserves it's own post. Until then, be good to one another. See you soon!



Lisa said...

Joann, as always, this post is simple and eloquent and beautiful. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I had similar experiences beginning in the 4th and 5th grade when I became known as "freak" or "freakout." You are right - the hurt never goes away. I'm heading over to sign the petition right now...

Heather said...

Middle school is so awful. I did not have a great experience in middle school either. Moving half way through 6th grade when you are incredibly shy and quiet is never a good thing.

My two older children are both tweens now and so far seem blissfully unaware of bullying. I tell them every day that I don't expect you to be friends with everyone I just expect you to be kind to everyone.

And I agree that movie must be viewed by all middle schoolers and high schoolers. The rating because of language is a joke.

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

Excellent post! I carried my bully with me until our 25th high school reunion. And I hate to reverse the situation here - but what an asshat he turned out to be. No surprise there. But I finally realized that he really is a nothing in this world and I shouldn't have let how he and his friends treated me back then -effect me today. *hugs*

Unknown said...

bullying stresses me out. I hope my sons tell me if it happens to them. I will not tolerate it. I will take them away from that situation, even if it means...homeschool.
And of course the next thing would be raising chickens and denim skirts.
I kid, I kid.
Although I do like chickens.

I also have big plans to keep my sons off the internet. It might be easier to keep them away from social media since they're guys...but really do teenagers NEED facebook? Only if they're friends with their mom. That's what I say.

You're a great mommy. I'm sure your girls are so happy to meet up with you for dinner. Lucky ducks.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story, and for linking to the petition. I'm outraged by the crap that gets into network television, kids' cartoons and PG movies these days. Why on earth would the MPA want to stand up in favor of bullies, protecting their ability to torture and torment their child victims away from public scrutiny?

My heart goes out to little girl Joann at the sleepover party. My eleven year old son has also had difficulty making friends, and has gone entire school years without being invited to anyone's party even though I made a deliberate point of inviting every child in his class when his birthday came around. It never ocurred to me that sometimes, it's better not to be invited at all.

Hugs and love to you, your strong spirit, and your beautiful soul.

Christine Macdonald said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I know all to well of those splinters.

Here's to us not being broken.

I'll check out that link and also, want to tell your readers about the It Gets Better campaign - http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ - something your posts remminds me of. It's geared toward the GLBT community, but I think the message is simple - hang on - it gets better.

Love you sister,

MrsJenB said...

It kills me to know that you went through this.

This is heartbreaking, mainly because I know the feeling all too well. I'm pretty certain that the reason I had only gone on about a half dozen dates by the time I met my husband at the age of 26 is because I was told pretty much every day of my grade school years that I was ugly. After a while, things just sink in.

I'm glad you were strong enough to make it through and get past it the way you did.

My husband went through it, too. The only thing that stopped the madness was the day he snapped in high school and used an aluminum chair to beat a kid who was putting gum in his hair at an assembly. Pretty sad that it had to come to that.

But like you said - the kids doing the bullying must be going through it too, maybe even worse. What a shame.

Unknown said...

A big kiss to you. I was bullied too, but not as badly. I was just a major dork and everyone knew it. That's why we're friends. :-)

Kate Geisen said...

Powerful and sad, Joann. I spent my childhood as a gawky, nerdy kid and didn't grow into my current fabulousness (or current ability to fake confidence, whatever) until my mid-30's. Growing up is painful enough without intentional pain being inflicted.

Meg at the Members Lounge said...

I always wonder what kind of families bullies came from? In my heart of hearts I can't imagine being cruel to someone. But those girls made you what you are today Joann, a funny, wise compassionate woman who let the whole blogosphere into her heart and home. Hooray for you being you.

Gigi said...

This brought tears to my eyes.

Luckily I was never outright bullied - but I do know how hard it is to be the shy kid. The dorky one.

It pains me to think of any child going through this. And it pains me even more that the bullying has reached the epic proportions that it has today. Because now, even at home, the child can't get away from the torture thanks to the Internet.

The Motion Picture Association should be ashamed of themselves. I'm off to sign the petition.

Lots of hugs.

Unknown said...

Hugs to you! You are one strong cookie to have gone through all that and turned into the wonderful person you are!

Oka said...

Reading your post brought back the pain...the pain of one of those same parties (I was forced to attend), except I didn't escape unscathed. In fact, the horror followed me for over a year until we finally moved. I was able to hide that pain through out the rest of my youth. Or so I thought. I didn't date until college (by choice). When I started dating at 20 years of age, I was haunted by that time in my life and I still am. It has serious effects on mt intimate relations with my spouse. Really can't believe this man has stuck it out with me so long...I am seriously damaged goods. Haunted forever...

Galit Breen said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Your heart is big.

Of course, I'll sign.

The Furry Godmother said...

I am so sorry you had to endure this pain. Bullying happens at any age. It should never be supported. No matter how much you love the bully.

ProudSister said...

That's an awesome post. I can only hope all of the awareness helps prevent my girls from going through the same thing. I do also love the "It Gets Better" YouTube video that Christine mentioned. I'm signing!

Alexandra said...

No wonder I feel as if I've known you my whole life:

substitute my name for yours in that story, and it's identical.

Just enough to make us into story tellers. And story telling heals.

So sorry you lived through this...but this is what makes the kind of people who speak out about issues.

It's the ones that know what it feels like to be on the other side: and it doesn't feel nice.

I love you, and your authentic living, and the reason why you are packing life into every minute you have: you know good when you see it.

I love you, Joann.

Suniverse said...

A beautiful post. You're a beautiful person.

My Inner Chick said...

--I signed the petition.

In our school, we take bullying very seriously. And we should...

I am so sorry for your past, but by talking about it, you will help others STAND UP and talk about it too.

It's all about AWARENESS. Awarness brings Action!

Great post. Xxx

Kimberly said...

Oh friend. I am so proud of you for sharing this.
My heart breaks for that little girl in you.
I wrote about the exact same thing for my Saturday post...my son...my 3 year old son was called fat, stupid and a homo by the kids that live behind us. My child is friggen 3 years old for crying out loud!
And my sister used to get picked on all the time. Luckily for her, she had me, and let me tell you for being a tiny person, I can kick some serious bully ass.
Don't mess with family.
People don't understand how awful bullying can be to someone's soul. There needs to be harsher punishments for this in the schools. It should not be tolerrated.
Thank you so much for sharing this sweets.

Livin' In Duckville said...

Many memories of grade school & high school were not happy ones. The name calling, the nasty notes, the snake put in my locker, the embarrassing 'gift' I received during a 'gift exchange' ...yep I remember all of those things. It's sad. The good thing that I has happened because of that bullying? I recognize it faster when it happens to my kids.

There is a 'zero tolerance' policy in our school district. Recently they've been targeting 'shark behavior'. When a student is being bullied, if you are found to be one who encourages the bully or if you stand around & do nothing to help the person being bullied, you will be reprimanded along with the bully.

The Lego King has been the target for bullying in the past couple of years. We've really worked at putting a stop to it. He's currently seeing a counselor to help him deal with all the garbage. I work in the school WITH his classmates. It makes me want to scream at times.

A great book for girls (the Princess & I read it together) was "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman. It talked about relationships that girls have, including cliques, targets & bystanders.

Bless you... you are wonderful & you are strong & you are loved!!

Julie said...

You - who are so generous, vivacious, spontaneous, gorgeous (in all the ways that really matter and the ones that don't but are still nice thank you very much) -

I never would have guessed.

You embrace life with the joy of someone who has always belonged; who is confident that your efforts will be welcomed by all.

Knowing that this has not always been the case, I am even more impressed with your strength, your verve (yes. I said verve).

I've adored you since the minute I first read one of your posts; but today I sit in awe of your spirit, your willingness to share this thread of life, your ability to rise above the debasement and find the grace.

I will sign this petition as soon as I hit "publish" on this comment.

And I will never look at Storybook Lifesavers in the same way again.

I love you, lady. You are spectacular.

Mercy Langille said...

Wow, I don't think I've ever realised how bad bullying can get. I was homeschooled so I never experienced that, but I am concerned about my kids and teaching them how to handle it. It must be so difficult to endure.

Dawn in D.C. said...

I know it can't be easy to share such heart rending stories, but I'm glad you did. I did not grow up with bullying. I never saw it and it never happened to me. Now that it has come to the spotlight, I am aghast! I ask myself, "who lets their kids do that? It's so mean!". The more I read about it, the more I realize how (sadly) prevalent it's become.

Yes, I will sign petition.
This has to stop.

Joann Mannix said...


Shell said...

I'm sorry you went through that. Kids are so cruel. I worry about mine having to go through something like this.

I did in junior high. After that, I had mostly male friends for many years because I couldn't trust the females in my life.

Mom vs. the boys said...

thanks for sharing your story, kids are so mean. it's really a parents worst nightmare as well as the kids. I pray my boys make it through their school years unharmed. I'm so glad your story has a happy ending. success and happiness is the best revenge. You have a wonderful life envied by many i am sure. definitely be me at least.

MommaKiss said...

I'll sign the petition, gladly. I moved around a lot in grade school. We were poor, on welfare. I was picked on, but my little brother got it worse. We found strength in each other - and tho we never told adults, we fought back together.

I can't even begin to comprehend what school will be like for my boys - 20+ years later with so many ways to be hurt. It shakes me a bit, to be honest.

Glad you enjoyed your break, friend. I'll be heading to the Gulf in the fall, can't wait to feel that sand.

Starle said...

Thank you for sharing this and telling your story!

cj Schlttman said...

Thank you so very much for sharing your very personal experience. It takes great courage to tell one's truths, and you are certainly one strong woman.

I went directly to sign the petition and am encouraging my blogging friends to do the same.

Thanks and.........


The Sisters' Hood said...

I grew up in South Africa for my schooling, and you know, you go from 7 years in elementary school to 5 years in high school. No middle school at all.
Think it is a huge blessing.
But sure some bullying went on there too. I do remember being teased at 16, after my parents moved from a small town to a big city - and why. Because I was one of two virgins in my class and they called the other girl Caveman.
No kidding.

We pulled our girls from their small Christian school down here - my oldest was being bullied by a teacher - lovely.
So sorry for your pain ... your empathy and compassion runs so deep for others all the time. You are a blessing to all of us here :)

Baby Sister said...

I hated jr high. And high school. But after reading this I realize I'm very lucky. Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for your example. Consider the petition signed!!

The Beans said...

I once shared a childhood story on my blog about the time my stuffed cat stood up to the playground bully. If only my schooling life were as easy as that moment.


-Barb the French Bean

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