Thursday, October 17, 2013


A child in my class approaches me during lunch. "I'm being bullied," he says, matter-of-fact. "Oh, no!," I cry. "What's going on?" "Well," he replies, "you know that kid from across the hall who's on my bus?" I nod. "This morning he told me that my backpack was too small." I wait for more. Nothing.

"And then?," I press.

"That's it!," he exclaims, and goes off cheerfully to finish eating his lunch.


Now and then I ask my sons if there are any bullies in their schools. Nope, or Not really, they answer, bored, humoring me. My older son describes a boy who once grabbed his deodorant and threw it over his head while the two were dressing in the PE locker room. But he is not particularly perturbed by the incident. "It was mostly in fun," he adds, and shrugs dismissively.

I have to believe that the anti-bullying initiatives so prevalent across our school district (and others) have worked. Bullying has gone underground, online, away from teachers' prying eyes, and is problematic mainly among girls, which of course is nothing new. Girls fight with words; they always have.


If my boys think that I bother then about bullying too often, they do not ask why. If they were to wonder, I suppose that would tell them my stories. I might even start talking and never stop.

I don't know what it was about me as a child, or maybe I do. I was pretty, with long blonde hair and a turned-up nose. So it wasn't about my looks. It was likely more about my exquisite sensitivity, which like Swiss cheese came with holes dotting its landscape. Or about my good grades, which teachers tended to broadcast, without considering the consequences of doing so.

Fifth grade was the hardest year. My best friend, or once-best friend, took up with another girl, and the two of them attacked me relentlessly. One morning, my erstwhile best friend pointed at me and sang, loudly, "You darken up my life...," her take on the popular Debby Boone song. 1977, it was.

On my birthday that year, the same girl told all of our classmates not to speak to me for the entire day. Everyone complied, sheep-like. I went home that day shaking and refused to go to school for the next few days. I lay in bed, listening to the BeeGees and crying.

My mother thought that I was sick. Well, I was sick.


Seventh grade. A different girl. Her issues with me had more to do with looks, mine versus hers. She was plain. Her nose was pinched, beaky, and at the same time too large for her face. And kids were mean about that nose; they... bullied her about it. My brother would say, later, that she had the face she deserved. You'll forgive him his protectiveness, I'm sure. We were friends, went to each other's houses. But one day I received a letter in the mail. There was no return address on the envelope, and my name and address had been typed. Puzzled, I turned it over and over before opening it. Inside, one page, typed. What stood out was:


There were other words, words that made it absolutely clear who had sent the letter, because they referred to a story I had told only to this friend.

I keened. My mother rushed in, and I gave over the letter. Horrified, she called the middle school principal. Who did... nothing. She couldn't, she told my mother. The letter was anonymous. There was no way to prove who'd written it.

And that was that. A different era.


If my children do ever wonder why I quiz them rather too long and hard about bullying, I will share my history, which is bad, but not worse, and definitely not worst. I never fantasized about killing myself as a way out, so there's that.

And I will remember to be glad, for once, to have been spared the task of raising a girl all the way through to adulthood.


Patois42 said...

I'm sad to say that you're absolutely correct about it being the girls who still use their words to cut each other in half. No need for typing cruelty on a hard copy piece of paper, they just anonymously rip into one another on sites like My daughter has been spared the worse or worst. I wish I could say the same for some of her friends.

I'm sorry, child Sarah, for what you had to withstand.

Kate G said...

I wonder if all the bullying is digital now--under the radar, less physical--and perhaps instigated by girls, who really are so clever at psychological torture.

When I discovered my best friend had a "Katy Hate Club" membership card in the 6th grade I nearly died. She claimed she'd been pressured into it by another girl. Oh, the humiliation.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

Both my kids have been bullied, most of it happening in later elementary school grades and middle school. When my son finally told me about it (after it had been going on for a long time), I went to the school, talked to the principal and his teacher and the bullying stopped. With my daughter, the person bullying her was the child of an educator which made dealing with the whole situation complicated. We ended up avoiding reporting the bullying and instead eliminating opportunities for it to happen while giving our daughter some coping mechanisms for dealing with it.

In middle school, there were girls who teased me about my looks and the way I dressed. I had moved into a very rural area in the South from a suburb of NYC so I was an outsider. I also got the "anonymous" letters in high school. But while there were people who clearly hated me, there were also people who really liked me and we are friends to this day. How did the teasing/bullying affect me? It made me perennially self-conscious about my appearance but it also made me the person who always sought out and welcomed the "outsider" and tried to integrate them into a group.

Nicole said...

Forcing myself to comment here. I had very similar experiences. Grade Five and Grade Seven were awful for me. I completely remember my "best friend" turning on me and being the outcast in the class. I remember that sick-to-my-stomach feeling, when I'd realize my "best friend" wasn't in a friendly mood that day. Girl bullying is awful. The first time I read "Cat's Eye" it all came flooding back.

Laurie said...

Sarah, I wish our school district's policies had worked better for my kids. Both of my kids were or are being bullied. One girl was suspended for physically assaulting my daughter in middle school. I have strong reason to believe it is still happening, but my daughter won't come clean because of her fear of retaliation. My son had to turn to medication to deal with the torment on the bus during middle school. And you are right, the online component is just deadly. Especially among girls.

Bibliomama said...

Yep. I went through it, but what I got was nothing compared to what my best friend got - she developed early. My daughter dealt with a lot of your grade five stuff in grade one - I guess her bully was advanced. And then the multiple cases of student athletes getting a free pass on rape and the victims being relentlessly tormented. Ugh, why does the world suck so much? Except when it doesn't.

Angeline said...

I'm sorry you had to go through all of that and probably more which you didn't share.....*hugs *
Being an outcast and not having anyone to talk to or no one talking to you for a day can truly kill the soul. Did all of these affected your studies or did you bury your head with books as a distraction from all the nonsense?

Sarah said...


I don't think it ever interfered with my studies. And sure, there was more, lots of little slights that everyone endures, I think.

Christine said...

Sarah, Thank you for sharing this. Love you.