There’s a lot of talk about bullying these days and while I attempt to be detached, I can’t help but feel completely connected to all of it. I do not have kids, and if I did, I’m not sure what I would say to them, however, it seems like everyone is telling their story, so I’m going to tell mine, too. (Click 'keep on reading' for more)
While I know that there are kids who only get one side of the stick, I think that there are a lot of kids who have seen both sides of bullying. In elementary school, I was the person that befriended the underdog. In preschool I was a nosepicker and a booger-eater, but even at a young age, I thought by kindergarten I could graduate from that reputation. Fat chance of that. (I should also mention that from as early as four years old, I was the girl that would crush on boys, setting me up for the “slut” label later on in life. I can recite the first and last names of every boy I crushed on since preschool. Yes, preschool. Eric Miranda, I still hope to find you on Facebook someday. )
Booger eaters, kids with glasses, bed-wetters, chubbies…all of us were already fodder for bullying as early as kindergarten. I seemed to always link up with the underdogs. Having been to preschool, I didn’t cry when I was dropped off at kindergarten, but I already saw the ways that kids teased one another, throwing sand in the playground (and giving everyone a good lice scare), and the way parents would stand and coddle their own and encourage toughness. The stinky kids especially felt the pain. Like most districts and lines drawn, there were kids who lived in dilapidated apartments and kids who were fortunate enough to live in big elegant houses, all attending the same school. The funny thing for me was that it wasn’t until late in high school that I felt privileged to be a house-dweller, third mortgage and all, versus my friends who lived in air conditioned townhouses. To me, they were rich and we were poor. The fact that this notion even entered my mind at such a young age disgusts me.
At 9, I started getting tennis lessons (at a discount for being the first to enroll) and all the girls had cute tennis skirts and my mom was buying me culottes from the cheap clothing section of a Lucky supermarket for $3.99 a pair. I have to admit that I was always a flat out dork (still am). I was picked on, but I never had a hard time picking back, because unlike them, I was “gifted”, so I could say that my best friends from 2nd through 5th grade were my teachers (Mrs. Smitko for 2nd & 3rd, Mr. Baurmann for 4th, and Mr. Banner for 5th) and I never felt alone. I had this strange confidence that lead me to run for student council in fourth grade and win (and again in 5th & 6th grade), though I was getting dead birds and dead lizards in my desk as gifts from my peers. I was the tomboy, but the first of the girls in my class to wear a bra. Suddenly the boys that were my best friends and I was challenging athletically saw me as the most dreaded thing, a girl, and I found myself without friends because they now took aim at snapping my training bra. This didn’t get any easier for the rest of my elementary school days.
My friends were always the transient ones…they’d live in Chula Vista for a year then move away. Jenny L. in first grade; Jennifer C. in second; Tracy T. in fourth. Tracy was the badass. She had monumental trophies for her martial arts, so people generally didn’t fuck with us, but when she moved, the Rosey Hater’s Club formed. They went so far as to make ID cards and had a song. “My name is Rosey/I come from Posey/I am so nosey/My name is Rosey”. Seriously. I would’ve been more butthurt but I felt above their lack of lyrical skills and just carried on mostly oblivious…besides the dead animal gifts in my desk. I carried on through elementary school, ended up in the class that mixed 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in one room. I was in patrol (crossing guards) and learned to mute who I really was because with the biggest tits in 6th grade, you’re a slut just for developing. I got slapped in the face once for liking “Juan” without knowing he was “going around with” Becca who knew him as “Johnny”.
By the time junior high came around, there was no chance I’d make it at the local school without a slut reputation (again, just for being the first with a bra), so I made an intra-district transfer to Hilltop, the whitest school in the district besides Bonita. I was able to create who I wanted to be, to be an outsider but quickly find new friends, and then turn those friends over when I realized they were exactly what I didn’t want to be. This is where I went from being bullied to perhaps being a bully. I didn’t have to take shit from anyone, and if I wanted to like a boy, I didn’t have to think about who he was with in 4th grade. At the same time, I don’t think I was ever cruel, I just never gave in to the crap. In no time before or after junior high have I ever experienced such an element of “fake” and perhaps that’s the greatest gift ever. I was friends with the girl who ended up being homecoming queen in high school, but I was also friends with the girl who invited everyone to her Bat Mitzvah except for me, and we’re best friends nearly twenty years later.
Perhaps my greatest saving grace was that I was lucky enough to meet Xan in ninth grade. She was American, but raised most of her life in France. She was different and so cool for it. I remember seeing her for the first time in my math class in a Rolling Stones t-shirt, men’s 501s, and a fresh pair of black chucks, and she seemed like a rock star. She had stories that weren’t about impressing or showing off, it was just who she was, and she seemed so above the vapid bullshit going on at the time. We were quick best friends and my experiences with her were amazing…she lived in Tijuana and thus time together wasn’t about cliques and boys, it was about seeing a whole new world, and knowing she would be gone just as soon as she had arrived. People assumed we were lesbians and though it wasn’t even close to true, we really didn’t give a fuck, and the 14 or so months that we went to school together were the turning point in my life…of living as I wanted, being true to myself, shit…discovering exactly who I was…
I was a girl who got beat up at the bus stop for not being Mexican enough, and I was challenged at school just as much for not being white enough, which seems hysterical now because I don’t really know what any of that means. I was smart and I really cared about learning. I was athletic and really cared about excelling in tennis, and I was loved enough by my family and a few friends that got me through a whole bunch of bullshit. By the end of high school, I ended up being class president, being on the homecoming court (to the dismay of many girly girls), and proud to say that I pretty much knew everyone in my graduating class by first and last name.
The thing that I think about now, for girls who are going through that same bullshit is that you never really know what leads someone to be a dick. And NOBODY has the stranglehold on being dicks like junior high girls…they’re starting their periods, they’re fighting over girlfriends, they’re fighting for the affections of boys, and they…WE…are fucking cruel to one another. We don’t realize until years later that we, as women, are being raised to fight each other. I was lucky to live in home with both of my parents, a couple who met in their late teens /early twenties and are still together forty years later…but my peers mostly experienced divorce and disastrous love/hate situations that make them competitive…not academically, not athletically, but competitive with love. Where does the cycle end? I have no idea, but I might have an idea of where it starts. Add to that politics, reality TV, talking heads on “news” channels, and you fucking wonder where bullying comes from? Are you fucking kidding me?
I can’t say I came out unscathed. I had fights. I still have fights. Only now as an adult we call them “haters” instead of “bullies”. “They’re just jealous”, we say, or perhaps we just develop an image of them in our minds and then realize maybe they’re just shy like us. They are us. We are them. I don’t know, to be honest. But what I do know is that no matter what, we are loved. I am loved. Everyone has darkness and feels alone. Horrible shit happens all the time. But really good things happen, too. I am not nearly in a position of comfort or wealth or professional success that I thought I would be at this point in my life, but there is so much good shit happening all of the time that it DOES NOT FUCKING MATTER. I am not a believer in “everything happens for a reason” nor do I necessarily believe that everything works out in the end. I believe that a lot of those bullies…those fucking assholes that are so overconfident early in life completely fail…but I also believe those are the fucking assholes that end up playing on your stupid pro sports teams or running corporations or stealing billions from taxpayers because they can, or worst of all, being your dickhead boss. But FUCK ALL OF THEM. They will exist and carry on. But so will we. The fighters of the underdog. The creatives. The dreamers. The believers. We’re the smarties. We’re the ones who carry the torch for evolution and education and art and living and loving and being the best we can at being exactly who we are. Fuck them. Yay, us. We are the scrappers. We will survive.
We have to.