I'm sure we've all been in an uncomfortable situation in public where we see someone from our childhood that we were less than fond of. I grew up in city where everyone knew each other or were related in some way. Going to a private school was beneficial in that it provided me with core values such as respect, honor and truth but it was not exactly the best for social reasons. There were 120 students per grade, K-12, which doesn't leave much room for mistakes with friendships. Once you make an enemy of someone, the school's size somehow becomes smaller. I learned this the hard way on accident during one class in kindergarten.
6 year-old Madeleine was fascinated with animals and art, always trying to learn more about them. One day, as I picked up my emerald green tote bag from my small table, I swung it in an effort to get it over my shoulder but instead I heard a yelp from another student. I had accidentally whacked my classmate in the face with my bag. I remember apologizing and then going home distraught. I chose not to tell my parents what happened because in my 6 year-old brain, I was in trouble. Apparently, my mother got a call from the student's parent saying that her child has a black eye because of me. Everyone knew it was an accident, but this one unfortunate event started me on a path of 'looking threatening' and this path was a lonely one.
Fast forward to middle school, I was teased constantly. I remember walking to math class and being stopped because I had on my new white North Face coat. A boy pointed at me, gaining the attention of a few more students. "Nice coat, Polar Bear." He called, causing me to redden, rushing to class. For the rest of that day, I looked down at the plush coat with tears stinging in my eyes. I asked myself if I really looked like a big white animal in this coat or if my classmates were just being mean. For another week, my new nickname stuck around until I just stopped listening to it. My days were simple, I ate alone and kept to myself during recess unless someone tried to convince me to do something with them. The teasing from the bullies went from commenting on my clothing, asking why I didn't own Ugg boots, if I liked anyone, why I looked mad all the time etc. The bullies were all girls for the most part because the majority of the boys didn't really care what I did.
A few of the girls were particularly mean to me. One of them, who I'll call Maria, would lie constantly just to see me get riled up. The problem with her was when I got upset, she'd tell me she was just joking and I'd normally say something mean or run off but she would report me to a teacher. I never told anyone about the bullying because I didn't want to be labeled as a snitch. Maria, on the other hand, was a teacher's pet and would tell on me every chance she got. One time during gym class, we were on the football field playing soccer before we returned inside. I was excited because the previous weekend I had met a cute boy named Thomas. I was telling a couple of girls about him because even though it was likely I'd never date him, it was still a cool experience. Maria comes up behind me and says,
"Wow, I had no idea you knew Thomas! He's friends with my brother. He hangs out with us all the time. I think he likes me." A lump formed in my throat as I fell silent. I concentrated my eyes on the vibrant turf to avoid showing any emotion. Walking backwards, I stepped onto the track and started walking back to the locker room. Maria ran up to me and put her hand on my shoulder.
“Madeleine, I was just joking. No need to get so upset over nothing.”
The damage was done and I ripped myself away from her and told her to leave me alone. Later that day, I found myself in a counseling office being questioned as to why I acted so rudely during gym for no reason.
It was a horrendous repetitive cycle. If I reacted to the lies, teasing and insults then I'd get reported for being mean unprovoked. If I didn't react to the bullies, they'd report me for being depressed. I eventually left that school and went to public school which was a huge improvement. However, I still sometimes see people like Maria from my school in public and I try my best to smile. It's annoyingly hard to stand in line at the farmer's market and see someone who showed me no mercy buy flowers in the next aisle. I do my best to look happy to see them and they normally shower me with compliments. The girls make lunch plans with me that will never happen and then we go our separate ways.
I was out to dinner with a friend of mine and 3 girls I used to have class with arrived. I'll call them Jessie, Ava and Brittany and they looked perfect. Shiny hair, sequined dresses, high heels and tons of makeup gave them the appearance of sophistication. Brittany looked like she weighed 90 lbs which made me immediately suck my breath in so my tummy didn't stick out so much. Even after all these years, I still saw them as the prettiest girls at the school and I could never be them. Jessie and Ava hugged me right away but Brittany hesitated. I think she remembered how nasty she had been in middle school but in a matter of seconds she gave me a light hug. We made small talk before they went to their booth and I returned to my friend.
Sometimes I think that bullying is not correctly dealt with. I was bullied by a clique of people and when there are several people with the same story, you tend to believe them over one person. Hopefully, there are steps being taken to ensure that teasing doesn't have a place in the daily lives of our children. I have anxiety about certain shops in my city because I know they might be there but I try not to let it get to me. Maybe in a couple years, I'll be able to go into a Chipotle without fearing I'll see one of my bullies, but for now I'm still cautious. It's been 7 years and the aftermath of the teasing and bullying still stands. I hope that soon we'll live in a world where no child has to be a victim of their peers.
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