While I'm not part of the official Authors Against Bullying event that's going on today, I still wanted to post something on the subject, because I think it’s an important problem that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.
I'm lucky enough that I was never really bullied in school. Teased, sure. I think most kids are at one point or another. And I was a good candidate for teasing, as I was never part of the popular crowd (nor did I want to be: I had nothing in common with them and many were your typical “mean girls”). I was shy and quiet and awkward, with glasses and a frizzy perm and not the greatest fashion sense (even for the 80s). And I was smart, which is always the kiss of death when you’re a kid. But I was okay with my lot in school, because I had friends and no one bothered me too much.
Except on the bus. I lived close enough to grade school to walk, so middle school was my first experience being bussed to and from school. I was excited at first because it meant no more walking in the snow. Unfortunately, there were a couple of boys on that particular bus that decided I was a perfect target with my introverted demeanor and nerdy appearance. I don’t remember much about what they did, though for the most part I think it was generally verbal taunting more than anything physical. But one incident will always stand out in my mind.
On one particular day in seventh grade, the boys were sitting behind me and the bigger one (it’s always the bigger one, isn’t it?) decided it would be funny to pull my hair. So he leaned over the back of my seat and began to tug out my hair one strand at a time. It hurt, but I tried to ignore him because that’s what they always say to do when someone is bothering you. After a few minutes, however, something in me snapped and I spun around, yelled “stop it!” and smacked him across the face, hard enough to leave a red mark.
It takes a lot to get me really mad. I’m generally an even-tempered sort of person, and even when I do get angry, I tend to bottle it up inside and keep it to myself. I still don’t know what it was about that day that made me snap, but it’s the first and only time I can remember actually hitting someone. I know violence is never the answer, and it’s not something I would ever suggest anyone else use to solve their problems, but in that particular situation I can’t deny it felt pretty damn good.
Until the bus driver stopped and got up to face us. I was all ready to be in trouble, braced for a lecture or punishment. I don’t remember exactly what she said anymore, but she surprised me by not yelling at me. Oh, I think there was some sort of half-hearted “we shouldn’t hit people” in there, but what I remember most is that she essentially told the boy, “You asked for it, dumbass.” Except without the dumbass part. That part was understood.
Those boys never bothered me again.
Okay, so maybe my story isn’t the best example of how to deal with a bully, but for a painfully shy girl who never spoke up for herself, it was a big thing for me. I shocked myself almost as much as I shocked the brat that was tormenting me. (I probably shouldn’t still feel glee at that memory, but I’m only human.) If there’s any moral to my story it’s that once I finally stood up to the bully, he left me alone. Not so much because I hurt him: I was way too weak for my little slap to do more than sting for a second. Maybe I embarrassed him, or maybe I let him know that I wasn’t going to put up with his treatment of me any longer. Maybe he stopped because the bus driver was watching him more closely from then on. Whatever the reason, he stopped and I didn’t dread those bus rides any longer.
By the time high school rolled around, my family had moved to Florida, I got contacts, dumped the perm and was lucky enough that the 90s didn’t have much in the way of fashion. Concert t-shirts, jeans and flannel shirts were all you needed to be stylin’ back then. No one on my high school bus bothered me and the only people that teased me were my fellow band geek friends. All in all, I was pretty lucky.
For a post with a much better moral than mine, go check out Rachel Caine's about the role innocent bystanders play in bullying that I think makes an important point.