Blog Post: “The Lessons My Bullies Taught Me” by Adrienne

Posted here.

I read this post several months ago and I’ve been meaning to comment on it, especially with the It Gets Better project, but didn’t have the time to say everything I wanted. I guess a psychologist would call me a bully’s dream target. At certain times, my only respite was that I wasn’t gay. If I’d been bullied for being gay on top of what I got, I wouldn’t have made it to high school graduation, maybe not even high school, period.

One of my earliest memories was a kid picking on me in preschool. I don’t remember his name or what he said or did to me but I can look at the old class photo of three-year-olds from 1982 and pick him out. I remember being eight years old and being beaten up on a regular basis by Barry*, a boy who lived in my neighborhood. (* All names are fake) I remember being the target of all three of my classes in fifth grade. I remember high school, where my longtime best friend decided she’d rather be friends with the girls who hated me and had what felt like the entire school behind her. I remember when one of my cousins decided to hate me with no explanation. I remember feeling like my entire dorm wanted me dead my first semester of college.

That entire post rang so true to me. Especially this:

What my bullies taught me:

  • I don’t matter.
  • My suffering is not important.
  • I am socially unacceptable, worthy only of rejection.
  • I’m weak, a loser, destined to be a social bottom-feeder, or worse, absolutely alone.
  • The best I can hope for, in my relationships with others, is to be left alone.
  • I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.

What the adults taught me:

  • I’m unworthy of help.
  • To identify or talk about a problem is to whine or feel sorry for myself.
  • When I ask for help, I will not get it.
  • The way other people behave toward me, no matter how bad, is my fault.
  • I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.

When I was Barry’s punching bag, I’d go out to play and return home bleeding or with a bump or bruise somewhere on my body — if I hadn’t been chased home first. Keisha, the girl I liked to play with lived about a block away. In a duplex. And Barry and his family lived in the other half. So I was always on his radar. I told my mother about Barry and her response was to forbid me to visit the circle where Keisha and Barry lived.

So I tried to befriend Anna, a girl in my class at school. I’d recently learned that she lived two streets down from mine. I’d ring her doorbell and ask if she could come out and play. She’d respond the same way every time — snap, “No, I can’t!” and shut the door in my face. On top of that, she seemed to have a crush on Barry. One day, I asked Anna if she could come out, and to my surprise, she said yes. I was excited until I turned and saw Barry coming up the walk brandishing a jump rope.

The three of us played in the side yard, while Anna’s father mowed their backyard. And by “played”, I mean I tried to play with Anna while she ignored me and gave all of her attention to Barry. At one point I was riding my bike on the grass. I don’t know how it happened, but Barry used his jump rope to make me fly over the handlebars. As I lay there sobbing, Anna’s father looked over and said with distaste, “What’s her problem?” Anna responded, “Nothing, she’s not my friend.” Anna’s father went back to moving the lawn and I got up and limped home, pushing my bike.

At home, my mother was patching me up when the doorbell rang. It was Barry’s father. Apparently, Barry had told him I was provoking him into beating me up and I needed to cut it out or he’d “take steps”. After that, I was forbidden to go on Anna’s street.

Even though Barry was two years older than I was, he was so small for his age that he was only slightly bigger than I was, and he had an “angelic” appearance, so no one really believed he would hurt me. Only my mother believed me and her method of combating bullying was avoidance.

Fifth grade was a nightmare. We changed classes twice during the day, for math and English. And I was the target of all three classes. My homeroom/main teacher was Mrs. D, a “cool” teacher who practically let the kids run the class. On the first day, she told us not to tattle on our fellow students because we were old enough to “work things out amongst ourselves”. Within the first month I was the class whipping boy (girl?). I was miserable, I cried every day, and my grades dropped. I went from getting A’s and B’s to getting D’s. After I got my first report card of the school year, my mother promptly made an appointment for a parent-teacher conference.

Mrs. D required her students to sit in when she had conferences with their parents. My mother wanted to discuss my grades, but Mrs. D blew off my academic performance and launched into my social failures. See, I “wasn’t trying hard enough to fit in” and I was “making myself a target for the other kids”. When other kids picked on me, it was because I was too sensitive and wouldn’t stand up for myself. She reiterated that she didn’t step in when two students had a conflict because we were old enough to settle things without adults. When the other kids realized they could do whatever they wanted without repercussions, it was really on. I’d arrive at school to find that my desk had been moved to the back of the class, I’d be the last kid picked for anything, if my team lost a game, I’d be blamed. My school required all classes spend recess playing kickball in the parking lot/bus ramp, where bases were painted. One day I made some mistake in the field. When it was my team’s turn to kick, a boy came over to where I was sitting on the curb and kicked me directly in my face. The rest of the kids laughed and cheered while Mrs. D pretended not to notice. I went home that day and told my mother what happened. Remembering what Mrs. D had told her about making myself a target, she replied, “Well, what were you doing sitting on the ground so he could kick you?” I tried to explain that we were required to sit on the curb until it was our turn to kick, but she wouldn’t listen. It was my own fault I’d been kicked in the face, and that was it.

It was better in my other two classes, but not by much. My math teacher didn’t tolerate talking in her class when she was teaching or we were supposed to be doing work, so there were fewer opportunities to insult me. In English, a girl who I’d been friends with since third grade, and even knew my mother, decided she didn’t like me anymore and became friends with the clique of girls who hated me. Luckily, there were a couple of other girls in the class willing to put up with me. Yet, most of the kids in both classes hated me and I was constantly fielding insults, spurred on by the fact that all three of my teachers always seemed to be short and irritated with me. I didn’t even get relief on the bus. There were three of us at the bus stop — me and two other girls named Mindy and Wanda. Since we were at the same bus stop, the bus driver assigned the three of us to sit in one seat. Mindy and Wanda were best friends and didn’t want me sitting with them. After they finished ignoring me or insulting me while we waited for the bus, they would make sure to get on before I did. When I’d get to the seat, they’d have their books or bookbags on the seat so that I had only a few inches to perch on. They’d also “accidentally” push me off the edge while the bus was going. I tried getting to the bus stop early before they did, so I’d get on the bus first, but Mindy and Wanda would simply cut in front of me or shove me aside. I went to the Girls Club after school, so at least I didn’t have to deal with them in the afternoons.

I never attempted suicide or self-injury because it simply never occurred that I could do so and end my misery. I believed I had to go to school each day and take whatever the other kids dished out, and that I actually deserved what I got. If all of my teachers thought I deserved it, and even my own mother thought I deserved it, then I deserved it. According to them, everything was wrong with me. I was ugly, I talked funny, I had nappy hair, my clothes never matched, I “couldn’t dress”, I was dumb, my bookbag was ugly, my knees were always ashy, I was chubby, I smelled bad, and so on.

Most people say that middle school was the worst time for them, but for me it was the best time. Most people seemed to actually like me (or at least not hate me) and I got the best grades of my life. It was high school where everything fell back apart.

I’d been able to deal with the earlier bullying because I’d always had my best friend, Jeanette. We had been friends since the summer before first grade and many times she was the life preserver in an ocean of people who hated me and wanted me to know it. I could deal with Barry, Mindy and Wanda, and the kids at school as long as I had Jeanette. Until eleventh grade, we seemed to be in the same boat, quiet girls with a few friends, sometimes picked on, and mostly keeping to ourselves. Then Jeanette started to get more friends, she start to wear nicer clothes, boys started to talk to her. And I just stayed the same kid I always was.

There were a group of girls we usually hung out with. I’ll call them the Mean Girls. They treated Jeanette and I like mascots, me more so than Jeanette. Jeanette and the other girls lived in the nice neighborhood within walking distance of the school and they all walked to and from school together. My family couldn’t afford to move into that neighborhood. Jeanette got invited to all of their parties and sleepovers, I got invited to one pool party held after ninth grade by one of the Mean Girls’ other friends. In eleventh grade, Jeanette became closer to the Mean Girls and more distant from me.

That May, several students went to Kings Dominion for a math and science thing they had every spring. Jeanette took off with a boy in the band. I was looking for someone else to hang out with when three of the Mean Girls invited me to hang out with them. I was so thrilled to be included that I didn’t even mind when the three of them talked amongst themselves and ignored me or walked side-by-side-by-side with me walking behind them. At lunchtime, they met up with three other people. The seven of us had walked around together for about an hour, when one of the girls said she’d left her jacket behind on the Grizzly and asked if I’d run back and get it for her. I went back and looked around but saw no jacket. I went back to tell her, but they were all gone. It dawned on me that she had put her jacket in a locker at lunchtime, and that sending me back to the Grizzly was just a way for them to ditch me. The only reason they had asked me to hang out with them was because they had an odd number of people and none of them wanted to ride anything alone. 3 Mean Girls + 3 other kids – me = a even number of riders.

After that, I stopped speaking to any of the mean girls. I went to the library for lunch. In class, I moved my seat away from them. I didn’t give them any explanation, I just cut them off. Jeanette was the only girl I hung around with. As long as I had Jeanette, everything was okay. One day, I was in the bathroom when the girls, minus Jeanette came in. They stood in front of the mirrors doing their hair and makeup while I stayed in the stall, quietly listening. Soon the conversation turned to Jeanette. They mentioned that Jeanette had said she didn’t really like me anymore, but didn’t know how to get rid of me. One girl said, “I know, she’s like an STD or something.” Lots of laughter, a little more talking, and then they left. I stayed in that bathroom stall for another hour, crying. The next day, I wrote Jeanette a letter and left it in the locker we shared. It said that I sometimes felt like she didn’t really like hanging around me and if she didn’t want to be friends with me I would understand. (I didn’t understand, but I was trying to be gracious about it.) After she read it, she said she still did want to be friends and didn’t know why I thought she didn’t like me anymore.

During the last week of school, she left a note for me in our locker. It said that she didn’t want to be friends anymore. It said that no one liked me and I was keeping her from making other friends. These other friends had come up to her and said that they liked her and would like to hang out with her, but they couldn’t stand me. I was holding her back. After the second to last day of school, after classes, I was in the hall cleaning Jeanette and my still-shared locker when I saw her and three of the Mean Girls walking toward me. I knew they left out a different door to go home, so I thought they must have been coming to talk to me. When they all got close to me, they all walked around me, without a single word, as if I weren’t there.

At that point, something inside me snapped. I burst into tears and sobbed all the way to my mother’s car that she had let me drive to school that day. I don’t know how long I sat behind the wheel, but as I sat there, my tears were replaced with rage. How dare Jeanette not want to be my friend anymore? How dare she choose the Mean Girls over me, when earlier in the year she confided that they treated her like crap also, and how hurt she had been when they all forgot her birthday three months earlier, how they had played it off like they’d remembered all along instead of apologizing for forgetting, how they ignored her the same way they had ignored me. I took a pen and a sheet of paper from my bag and wrote her a hate letter. I bore down so hard the pen went through the paper several times. I said some of the meanest things I have ever said to another person. I don’t remember everything I wrote, but I remember it started, Jeanette, Who do you think you are? and ended Your EX-best friend, [Me]. In between I remember saying that I was sorry that I wasn’t good enough for her, and I was sorry I didn’t run her and her friends over with my mother’s car when I saw them walking home. (I hadn’t seen them, but I wanted to make her feel as bad as I felt.) I drove home, got an envelope, and put the letter and all the school pictures of Jeanette she had ever given me in there. The school band was playing at graduation, so when she wasn’t looking, I slipped the envelope into her flute case.

The next day my mother told me that she had gotten a phone call from Jeanette’s mother, about some note that had left Jeanette in tears and that I had threatened to kill her. I told her about how Jeanette had told me she didn’t want to be friends anymore, how she had chosen to be friends with girls who hated me, how they had deliberately snubbed me and talked about me behind my back. My mother said that according to Jeanette, I was the one who had dumped her as a friend and she still wanted to be friends. My mother said no matter who dumped who, I owed her an apology. So I wrote Jeanette a long apology letter, said I still wanted to be friends (which I did) and mailed it to her.

We didn’t speak again until band camp a couple of weeks before school started. All through senior year, I made all of the overtures of friendship and she accepted, while treating me the same way the Mean Girls had treated me. I didn’t learn this until after graduation, but Jeanette and the Mean Girls spent all of senior year spreading rumors about me and attempting to sabotage any other friendships I tried to make. They told everyone who would listen that I’d “betrayed” them the year before. They told various people that I’d said I hated them and wanted to fight them, so I’d have a bunch of people either avoiding me or looking for me. All I knew was that I’d seem to make friends and they’d drop me and that I cried nearly every day my senior year. I also self-injured for the first time that year.

Jeanette told the Mean Girls things I’d told her in confidence — that I wanted to be an actress, even though I couldn’t even get a role standing in the background in the school play, no matter how many times I auditioned; that my father had a 26-year-old girlfriend (who was younger than his oldest daughter) who he allowed to treat me like crap; that said girlfriend introduced him to drugs and my father had to go away to rehab because he got addicted and it made his mental illnesses go out of control; that I was diagnosed with clinical depression in tenth grade and had to take medicine just so I could get out of bed and go to school — and she and the Mean Girls told everyone else.

They really got all kinds of glee knowing that I sat home on prom night because no boy would dare be seen with me. A guy I had a crush on was in band with Jeanette and I, a guy I thought was at least my platonic friend loudly told me that “Nobody wants to take your ugly a** to the prom!” People I thought were my friends either laughed or said nothing to the contrary. My yearbook had between 10 and 15 signatures. Half of them said, “Have a nice summer”. A couple of people just signed their names. At graduation, as the graduating band students’ names were called, they got loud cheers from the lower class band students sitting nearby, waiting to play Pomp and Circumstance. When my name was called…silence, save for a few family members in the audience. I was hurt but I was happy because I had graduated and I never had to see any of those people again.

Jeanette and the Mean Girls are the reason I refuse to sign up with Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, or anything where I have to use my real name, the reason why I refuse to post my photo online. I don’t want anyone I knew back then coming across me and tormenting me the way they did then. And to be honest, I don’t want them to know that I’m 32 and have not so much as a college degree or a boyfriend to show for myself, that I lost my job and can’t find a new one, that I’m still in community college. It seems that every old classmate I come across online or in real life has it all — education, career, marriage, family — and I’m sure Jeanette and the Mean Girls have it all, too. If I can’t be as successful as them, I can at least be a mystery.

Back to graduation, I feel like a giant weight had been lifted off my back. A weight with the words LOSER, UGLY, STUPID, PATHETIC, AWKWARD, FAT, etc. carved into them. I was going to be going away to college, a good one, where nobody knew me and nobody knew what a loser I’d been in high school. More immediately, I was taking a cross-country trip with my father (out of rehab and the psychiatric hospital) to attend a family reunion and see his relatives, and my cousin, Whitney, who was my age and who I was close to.

So I got to my aunt and uncle’s house and everyone greeted us. Whitney came up, greeted my father, and ignored me. I was a little confused but it was late, I was tired from traveling and maybe she was tired too. The next day, I got up and went into the den where Whitney was watching tv. As I say down on the couch, she jumped up and stormed out of the room. That weight came crashing right back down on my back. Whitney continued to do that for the next few days. I knew that it was me she had the problem with because she was perfectly friendly and civil to all of our other cousins. Later, I heard her on the phone asking someone if she could come and stay with them because, “I can’t stand to be in the same house as my stupid cousin.” What had I done to make her hate me? I was so upset that I asked my father to take me back home a week early. To this day, I don’t know what her problem was with me, and I’ve never been back.

Then it was off to college. My roommate Lucy was as unlike me as a person can get, a rich, sophisticated, outgoing, popular girl with a prep school education. Within a week, she was the most popular girl in the dorm. Everyone wanted to be her friend. And she HATED me. I was shy and awkward and afraid to say much. She’d write letters to her friends at other colleges about how much she hated me and how stupid I was and leave them where I was sure to see them. She’d leave her things on my bed, then scream at me for touching her things. She turned her bed around so that she wouldn’t have to look at me. My mother told me she was acting the way she was because I just wasn’t being friendly enough, so I tried to be friendlier. It just made her angry. If I said “Hello” or “Have a nice day” as I left for class, she’d either ignore me or snap at me. One night she asked what she had done to make me not like her. I thought she was trying to be friends, so I opened up a little, and then she accused me of telling other people that she was a racist. I hadn’t, and I told her so. I also said I wanted to be her friend. She clearly didn’t believe me because later that night I woke up to hear her quietly talking to another girl in our suite. She said I was “selfish” and some other things.

I don’t know how many people she told about me, but it seemed that everyone in the dorm thought I was a racist who hated white people. Even the black students shunned me. On Halloween, I asked some of the other (black) girls if they wanted to go over to the campus theater and see Scream. They all said no, claiming they were tired, had homework, etc. I wanted to see the movie, so I changed my clothes and went. When I walked into the theater, every one of those girls were sitting there together. They looked at me and didn’t say anything. Another time I was with a group of black girls from a suite on another floor. During a conversation, I happened to mention that my roommate didn’t like me very much. One of them snapped, “That’s probably because you told everyone she was racist!”

As for Lucy, it wasn’t enough for her to turn everyone against me. When she was with people not in our suite and saw me, she’d act friendly like she was glad to see me. When I refused to act fake back or just muttered “Hi”, she’d say to the other people, “See, I’m nice to her and she hates me for no reason!” Another time she was sitting in the suite common area talking to some of the other girls and I walked past. She lifted her hand and mimed shooting a gun at my back, complete with sounds effects.

The last straw was when I came back from class and saw that she’d hung a huge bedsheet in the middle of the room, separating our respective sides of the room. It was more than I could take. Everyone hated me, my grades were in the toilet, and I was behind in all of my classes. I had a breakdown, took a medical withdrawal from all of my classes, and went home before exams.

Strike three. People in high school hated me, my own cousin hated me, and people in college hated me. The common factor was me, so there had to be someone wrong with me. To this day, I do feel that “I am a fundamentally unlikeable person.” I feel like that giant weight will always be on my back.

When I am with people, no matter where I go (even online), I expect to be rejected. I assume that you will hate me, that you will seek to avoid me, that you hope I won’t bother you by trying to talk to you. Every expression of acceptance is a surprise to me. I want people to be nice to me, but I never expect it. I expect people to reject me; I hope they will leave me alone. Niceness doesn’t really factor into any of that.

My mother is a very popular person. Everyone likes her. So she thinks that all I have to do to make people like me is to act “friendly” and “interested” because that’s all she has to do. That doesn’t work for me. It just makes people think that I am pushy and can’t take a hint. I have tried to befriend others and literally been told to go away because they didn’t like me and didn’t want me around. My mother is always saying, “You have to be a friend to make a friend”. Well, I’ve spent years “being a friend”, to others yet I was never anything to them except someone to be used and discarded when these so-called potential friends had all they wanted from me. People are always happy to see me when they need money or a ride somewhere. When they need help on their homework or have some task to be done. It doesn’t matter how nice I am to other people or how much I do for them, I’m never going to be their equal. This has happened my entire life, so I must be doing something wrong, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it really is because of the way I look.

I tried everything to get people to quit being mean to me. I tried to be their friend. I tried fighting back or treating them the way they treated me, which they’d twist around and make me look like the bad guy, and themselves like the victim. I tried confronting them and asking why they hated me, with also didn’t work. They’d deny having a problem with me, then say I was the one who had a problem with them. I finally settled for taking whatever they gave me and trying to make it out alive.

I decided to quit trying to make friends, and I reconciled myself to a life alone. I guess I can tell kids who are being bullied that “it gets better”. But “better” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”. It may just mean “not suicidal”, like it is in my case. Now most people ignore me instead of outright antagonizing me. I’ve practically made an art form of disappearing into the ether. I think I was somewhere else when self-esteem, self-worth, and social skills were handed out because I didn’t get any. It doesn’t feel good to be ignored, but at least no one is trying to make me miserable.

People always say to me, “You’re so quiet” or “You’ll come out of that shell once you spend time with us!” Sometimes I agree with them, but either way I never do. I just don’t trust people anymore. The only people I really trust are my mother and father. They’re the only people I trust to be honest with me and not say one thing to my face and another behind my back.


3 Responses

  1. […] told her about Jeanette and Lucy and how after those experiences I was afraid to put myself out there for fear of […]

  2. […] been talking about my background. Last week, we ended up discussing a lot of what I wrote in this post, especially my ex-best friend Jeanette. My “homework” for next week is to write her a […]

  3. […] school, I started out really badly and managed to claw my way to mediocre. I’ve discussed the social experience I had in the year I went away to school, and a little about […]

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