It started with a puncture wound - a deep, sharp stab in my tender young skin. Cruel words can cut deeper than any knife.
My elementary school was located in an utopian suburb with tree-lined streets, lush green yards and stay-at-home mothers who baked cupcakes for their children even when it wasn't anyone's birthday.
I honestly don't remember how old I was when I first became the target of the elementary school "mean girls." I just always was.
My father was the neighborhood drunk. Frequently out of work, he stumbled around the neighborhood reeking of alcohol and jovial oblivion. Until night came.
His demons slithered in with nightfall and unleashed a terror so surreal that I still gasp with the abrupt force of my memories.
My mother with her bruises and the weight of survival resting on her young, thin shoulders broke with neighborhood tradition, went to work and opened her own business. (I'll never know where she found the strength, courage and will to do it - my mother has always been my hero.)
While other families hid their imperfections, my family's dysfunction played like a full-length feature film on our poorly maintained front lawn.
With my perpetually messy hair and clearance rack, slightly-stained Kmart clothing, I stood apart.
And maybe that is why I was the chosen target.
School should have been a respite from my father's abuse, a safe place for the weary and lost little girl I was. But it wasn't. At school, I was subjected to a different kind of abuse from my peers.
Their taunting and teasing wound like a corkscrew, deeper and deeper into my already aching, battered soul.
It certainly didn't help that genetics predisposed me to early-development with third grade breast buds and fifth grade menstruation, which of course happened during the school day while I was wearing bright, canary yellow pants. My feeble excuse of sitting on a red pen fooled no one.
I had the misfortune of attending elementary school during the popularity of Garbage Pail Kids Trading Cards. I remember the other kids creating them for me, drawing cruel pictures with depictions of my awkwardly changing body.
I remember the blatant alienation on the playground, the ridicule in gym class.
I remember the scarcity of birthday invitations and sleepovers. And even worse, I remember being invited to parties as the "entertainment."
Decades have passed and the cruelty of their words have faded like the rough edges on a penny. Time may have dulled them and smoothed them, but they are still there, buried below my polished adult exterior.
And, yet, I survived.
I survived not only the abuse of an alcoholic father, but I survived the cruelty of those playground bullies, as well.
I survived because my mother was strong - my mother is still strong.
She found the courage to leave my biological father, to confront her own cruel bully abuser, to take her children, to reclaim her life.
I wish I could write that I confronted my bullies, too. I really wish that I could write some fantastic anecdote of vindication and triumph for my elementary-school-aged self. But I can't. Because it just didn't happen.
My mother fell in love and married an amazing man, and we moved.
I may have left the bullies behind, but their cruelty remained a refrain in my head for a very long time.
Being bullied changed how I approached new situations, how I approached new people.
Those cowardly cruel childhood bullies stole years from me ... until I reclaimed my own life and stopped giving them power over me.
It took years for me to build the confidence to trust others, to take risks.
But slowly, gradually as a spring bloom unfurls in the bright sunshine, I found value within myself.
At the age of 35, it is still embarrassing to admit that I was bullied, and it is painful to allow myself to remember. As an adult, I've been so very blessed with true, authentic friends, and I focus my energy on my children and living a positive, honest life.
When it came to my attention that ChicagoNow blogger Carrie Goldman courageously wrote a new book about bullying and launched Team Bullied - Ending the Cycle of Fear, I couldn't keep silent about my own experience any longer. Please take a moment and join Team Bullied. Share your story, offer advice and share her site with others.
Let's work together - Walk out of the shadows and into the sun!