Jan 062011
 

Would you bully this seven-year-old?

His name was Garrett.  He lived a block and a half away, and walking in front of his house was the fastest way to get to Shumway Elementary School.  Every morning, and every afternoon, I took the longer route.

Garrett was a bully, and everyone knew it.  Well, everyone other than his mother.  Isn’t that how it always goes with bullies? I can’t imagine what it was like inside his home, whether he just behaved differently to his family, or if his parents were bullies, too.  He must have learned it somewhere.

At seven years old, I already knew I was a nerdy kid.  Garrett also knew this, and he made sure that everyone else did too.  He would lead the other kids in what swiftly became a favorite playground pastime: making my life miserable.  I started staying in the classroom during recess to read.  True, I loved reading, but I also wanted to avoid his taunting.  It became a cycle.  My tactics for avoiding bullying made me even more of a target.

Toward the end of elementary school, my family moved to a new town and I thought I would be able to escape the bullies.  I thought I could turn over a new, non-nerdy leaf! Of course, I was wrong.  There were bullies in the new city, and now it was middle school.  I was a bookish, chubby pre-teen, and there is nothing quite as vicious as a middle school bully.

I never knew what to say to the bullies, so I tried to avoid them.  I withdrew into myself, into schoolwork, into books.  This did not make things better.  I became increasingly depressed and isolated.  Even when I avoided them— perhaps BECAUSE I avoided them— the bullies persisted.  I didn’t know what it felt like to not be regularly bullied.

The adults that I tried to talk to were almost as frustrating as the bullies.  It didn’t help to hear that the bullying would stop some day.  It didn’t help to hear that it would get better some day.  I wanted something to stop the bullies right away, not at some unknown point in the future.  I didn’t need promises.  I needed support.  It seemed like the adults were unwilling to help.  It never occurred to me that, maybe, they didn’t know what to do about the bullies either.

Some things never change.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting a middle school’s holiday showcase event.  A seventh-grade bully walked up to me, pushed my shoulder, and taunted “Why do you look like such a nerd?!?”  There were so many tempting, potential responses— so many things that would have felt vindicating to say to a bully, now that the insecurities of middle school are in the distant past.  However… I was also the adult in the situation, and needed to act like it.  I stammered something about it just being how I looked, and moved on.  In retrospect, maybe I should have asked “Why do you look like such a bully?”

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