This post has taken me a long time to write. I started it several times and then deleted it. Did I really want to go there? Did I really want to share my deepest darkest secret with the world? Sadly, it took me into my 40s to come to terms with what happened to me and to celebrate my 48th birthday tomorrow, it has taken me 48 years to realize that it is OK to be heard, not only because it was a very traumatic experience which shaped who I am, but because so many others share this club membership, though it is no club anyone ever wished to join.
I was bullied.
It started in 7th grade and continued on into the first day of high school in 9th grade. In May of 7th grade, our school put on a talent show. I was in the newly forming popular group of girls, you know, the gang of girls everyone else wanted to be. I was barely breaking in and thought I could get away with entering a talent contest. After all, I had been studying classical piano for years. My maternal grandmother was a concert pianist who even published music and my paternal grandmother played by ear at the senior center. I knew I had the proper genes and hopefully the backing of the popular girl group.
I entered to play You Light Up My Life. I practiced for hours until I knew it by heart and made no mistakes. I practiced it for hours until the feeling and meaning of this song came to me and flowed through me and out of my fingers. I played it beautifully and was about to embark upon something new and live a dream.
My best friend Doreen played piano as well. She had studied a couple years longer than I had and she was very good. Her mother made her practice with a timer, every day of her life. This stood in deep contrast to my practicing when the mood hit.
On that fateful day that changed the course of the bulk of my adult life, the luck of the draw would have it and I was to play last in the show. The audience was packed with parents and students and I psyched myself up to the point that I no longer cared how I did, I only wanted to play my heart out. Play my heart out I did. I think I ended to a standing ovation and I played it so perfectly, without mistake, with such feeling that I was completely lost in the music.
My best friend played her piece earlier and sadly it was riddled with mistakes, but it was still excellent. I was so happy for her, and I expected her to win. Then we were called to the backstage area and they called the winners. My best friend Doreen was named 3rd place. A dance act was named 2nd place, and then in an instant, my best friend became my worst enemy and I was named 1st place.
Afterwards my friend was so upset that she did not win, both she and her mother literally turned their backs on me when I came to congratulate her. My bestie showed her worst and the apple did not far fall from the tree with a rather spiteful mother figure. Parents galore congratulated me and my friend stood aside absolutely livid and green with envy.
The very next day at school, it started. My best friend began whispering with the popular gang of boys and they began the game. Every day, all day long, every time they saw me, the called me bitch. They screamed it, they chanted in in a group, they did it in class, in front of teachers, in front of the principal, on the school bus all the way home, if they saw me outside, on the phone, they tormented me with names, box hips, ugly, bitch. For over a year this defined me. I had no friends, nobody wanted to be associated with such torment. Nobody could risk being seen with me. I became a recluse and stopped going out. I was afraid for them to see me in the back yard for they would scream it as they drove by in cars or on the school bus. After several months of it in 8th grade, I noticed they were doing it in front of the school counselor. She just stared at me. So I got the nerve up to go see her and complain.
As you can imagine, the counselor asked what I could possibly have done wrong that deserved this. She suggested I go home and think about how to change. When my older, wisdom-filled self thinks back upon that I should have jumped that bitch. How dare her tell me I did something to bring that upon myself. I complained to the principal who, in all his wisdom, told me to ignore it. Nice.
I stopped going to after school activities. I didn’t attend dances. I couldn’t join a sport or activity. I sat in my dark room listening to music, all alone. Sadly I was too embarrassed to tell my family perhaps because I bought into the idea that I somehow brought this upon myself. One day as I drew the bath I stared into the filling bathtub and seriously contemplated suicide. I started thinking about ways to kill myself because I could no longer live this incredibly painful and isolated life. I was completely alone.
The summer before 9th grade, they started calling the home phone several times a day. Then it happened. They called and my mother overhead it. She wanted to know what was going on and I broke down and told her. I cried so many tears over the past year and they came spilling out once more. My mother wanted their phone number but I didn’t have it. Thankfully there was that little code you could dial to return a call to the last number. My brother suggested we dial that and sure enough my main tormenter answered. My mother lit into him and told him he better leave me alone or she would tell his parents what he had done to me for over a year. I knew it wouldn’t stop anything. I was beside myself. Then my brother stepped in and said he would take care of it.
On the first day of my Freshman year, it started again in the hallway. I sought out my brother and told him. He and his friends went and took care of it. They were Seniors that year and these little Freshman boys were no match. Right in the hallway, my brother’s gang of 4 or 5 stood shoulder to shoulder and knocked all 10 of them down in the hallway and told them they had better never speak to me again. That was it. My nightmare was over.
Unfortunately, the bullying I received defined who I was for way too long. Despite it I have grown into the most beautiful, caring, tender-souled, artistic, creative, articulate, and fantastic individual I know. I have shied away from attending every class reunion I had, but not this one. For my 30th reunion, I intend to go and show those bullies just who won. I did, because I will now forgive them.