The following piece was written by a young woman who has been following Portrait of an Adoption for two years, ever since she first read about my daughter Katie and her love for Star Wars. It is her own devastating story of how a student’s life can change in an instant – due to a momentary encounter – leading to relentless bullying.
When I was in seventh grade, I went to my Middle School's Halloween dance. At one point in the evening, I was running across the gym after my friend. I was trying to catch up to her to tell her something. She was much taller than I was, and at the same point that I caught up with her, she happened to turn around.
Apparently, I accidentally touched her breast when we collided, but at the time, I had no clue what happened. Later on, the Principal of my school came and removed me from the dance. She asked me, "Do you know why you're here?" My mind raced. I had never been in trouble
before. I thought that maybe it was because there was a boy that liked me, but I had said, "No" when he asked me to dance. That wasn't it.
It was because of my encounter with my friend.
My friend had told someone else in my class what happened, and they told the Principal that I had inappropriately touched her. When I told my side of the story to the Principal, it was clear that the Principal believed me, but the damage had been done. I left the dance early because I was so upset.
When I went to school on Monday, my life was not the same.
My school was small-- kindergarten-8th grade -- and located in a small town with no diversity. I had attended school with most of my classmates since kindergarten. Being called a lesbian was almost worse than being a murderer, or at least that's how it felt. Almost no one would sit with me at lunch, talk to me at recess, be my partner in PE, or work in a group with me for classes.
I was shunned, and so was anyone who was kind to me. Even my own cousin would whisper among the other girls in my grade, point and stare at me, and then go back to whispering. This went on until I graduated, and rumors followed me into high school. Luckily my high school was much larger and I found a good group of friends.
Middle school was horrible though. We ended up meeting in the Principal's office one or two more times because of the bullying. The Principal pretty much just told the other girls to be nice. They started more rumors. After every meeting, it just got worse.
We had to be supervised in the PE locker room, because someone said I was flashing the other girls. At no point, did a teacher stand up for me or declare that the bullying behavior was unacceptable in class. I ended up seeing the social worker, but got punished in class because I was pulled out.
When the situation didn't improve in eighth grade, I thought about suicide. No one knew I was thinking so drastically, partly because I wouldn't tell, but mostly because no one ever asked. I made myself a promise that if my life wasn't better by Thanksgiving break of freshman year, I would end it.
Thanks to new friends things did improve, and I never attempted to end my life. I felt like it would be too shameful to admit what was happening to my parents. I felt pressured to keep up the "All American Family" ruse. And when I did complain about the teachers to my
parents, my parents didn't believe me. They told me to ignore the bullies, the names, rumors, and stares, but it wasn't that simple.
I'm not sharing this for pity. As a result of my experiences, I am a more empathetic and tolerant person. I am thankful that I gained those qualities through my trials.
However, there is much that the bullies took from me. I still have trouble making new friends, especially in groups. I can still feel the stares and whispers of those girls. It takes me a long time to trust a new person. I always feel like they are being nice to my face, but behind my back they are judging and making fun of me.
It has been fifteen years since this happened, and my life is still affected negatively. My insecurities over people surface nearly every day.
What I want to tell students is this:
Before you spread a rumor; say something mean behind someone's back; or silently allow the bullies to pick a victim, please remember that a rumor is not a one-time thing with short-term consequences. With your cruel words and exclusions, you are potentially altering the way your peers will interact socially for many years to come.
It is easy to pick on someone for being a different race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, or just a bit odd. It is hard to stick up for the defenseless, and you are potentially risking your own standing. I understand how hard it is to speak up, but I am begging you to pick this harder road. You will be a better person for it, and you may just save someone from more hurt than you can imagine.
The anonymous author who wrote this piece just received her Ph.D. in Microbiology, and she believes that girls can do anything!
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. Please email guest post submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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