She was beautiful. Shy, quiet, and extremely beautiful. And I was jealous. I can’t fully remember the reason why, likely some pathetic adolescent bullshit like she stole my boyfriend, or maybe talked to my best friend’s crush.
I was sitting behind her on the bus, with my gaggle of giggling girlfriends huddling around me. I can’t recall who came up with the plan or why we decided to do it, but I remember vividly that I was the one to execute it.
I got up to exit the bus with my friends, and as I scurried passed her, I threw a handful of pennies in her direction.
“Penny whore!” I squealed, refusing to meet her eyes.
As the pennies fell around her shoulders, so did the expression on her face. My heart was the next to fall, as I ran off the bus and took a second to consider what had just transpired.
My remorse was short-lived, in that moment, as we all pretended to revel in our “bad-assness”. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure we all were all actually feeling the same- ashamed.
Thinking back on that moment makes my face flush, my ears burn, my heart quicken. To say I am ashamed is an immense understatement. Years later, I got the opportunity to apologize, although I can’t say with confidence that the apology was as full, or as sufficient as she deserved it to be. I think that this was the moment that I became achingly aware that sometimes, an apology just doesn’t cut it.
But before you close the browser window in disgust of my profligate past, know this:
I learned from that mistake.
I recall going home and being beyond repulsed by my revolting actions, knowing all too well the pain I had likely inflicted upon a girl who was simply doing what we all were: trying to navigate teenage existence.
Maybe you would expect this, and maybe you wouldn’t, but I was a target of bullying throughout junior high and high school. Growing up, I was as girly as it got. I snuck make-up to school at nine years old, hiding it in my desk, clumsily but proudly swiping on the sticky, stolen (from my mom) lipgloss, as soon as I knew I was safely out of her presence. And the moment my mom conceded defeat and allowed me to get “heels” as my-back-to-school shoes, I picked out the highest heels possible (nevermind that they were ugly – rubber, block heeled, loafer pumps from Walmart), and wore them proudly to the first day of grade 8. I’m young for my grade, so I was maybe 12 years old, but apparently, my black-market make-up and painfully hopeful rubber heels did not sit well with the older kids. They would yell “street walker” down the hallway when they caught a glimpse of me. I was even important enough to have a song written about me, also called called “Street Walker”! The extremely intelligent lyrics were sung when I walked passed them, they were written on paper and snaked around the classroom, and scrawled on the wall of the boys bathroom, to ensure maximum distribution while simutaneously inflicting maximum pain.
“Why me,” I would wonder, fat tears carving rivers through the make-up on my overly-done-up face. “I’m a nice person, I don’t bother anyone…”
I just wanted to be liked, or at the very least, accepted.
To the outside world, I tried to be “tough”, brush it off as if it didn’t bother me. But it did. The first feelings of self-doubt unfolded inside me, and began to fester in my unsure teenage brain, changing the way I looked at myself, how I thought of myself. The effects of my insecurity were extremely long-lasting, and led to some extreme and drastic decisions I was to make, years later.
I would never blame my actions on the trials of prior years, but I will say that being on both sides of the fence has given me an edge of insight. I was never even remotely insecure prior to my junior high years, growing up with wonderfully loving and supportive parents, but enduring the tribulations of middle school definitely put a dent in my confidence.
The most commonly-cited reasons why kids bully are typically related to problems at home, personality (certain more aggressive traits), overconfidence, stress and insecurity.
So while acting the way I had toward my classmate wasn’t typical behavior for me, I suppose the insecurity I felt influenced me to act in a reprehensible way that I normally wouldn’t.
I was lucky enough to maneuver through those teenage years shielded by girlfriends I still have to this day. I truly have no idea what I would have done without them to protect me from the same type of comments that followed me throughout my high school years. But what if you don’t have that? I can’t imagine being pelted by their cruel catcalls without the love of my friends to counteract the hurt that it caused my unsure, adolescent self.
These blogs are never really planned. The words just kind of flow out. When I heard it was #PinkShirtDay today, it truly seemed like a sign that maybe I should write about something that I didn’t really ever think I would. Secrets keep us, as a society, sick, and I believe open communication is our best weapon against the bullying epidemic. There is no shame in being bullied, and we need to educate younger generations about the effects it can have and try to help them understand that everyone is just after the same thing:
What I did, my compassion crippled by insecurity, was so wrong, and to this day, I feel a bit nauseous when I think about it. But, I believe wholeheartedly that humans are inherently good. Although we all sometimes get a little lost or a little confused, very few people are all bad (or all good, for that matter). Perhaps all it would take to turn a young person on the “bad” path is a little compassion and some lessons in kindness and empathy.