October is National Bullying Awareness Month.
I am a grown up survivor of abuse and bullying. I was tormented throughout my elementary school years by bullies, mostly groups of mean girls who delighted in making my life a living hell. It started in about the second grade and continued, pretty much through the early part of junior high school, with occasional flare ups through high school. It caused me great fear, anxiety and depression for much of my early life. It destroyed my self esteem and scarred me, in some ways, for life. But it also spurred me to be somebody, to get out of the small town I grew up in, to show them that I was better than that. Better than them.
Too many times I've read stories of kids who have been bullied, who have taken drastic measures to end it. Tragic measures. Kids have killed themselves because of bullies, to put an end to the abuse, the pain and the humiliation they have faced every day,
After contemplating it and starting it and deleting it a million times, I have decided to share my (rather long) story to let others know that, even though the scars never go away and the pain is never forgotten, it does get better. You can not only survive, you can win.
It's long ...
I had boobs in the fourth grade. Rather large ones.
My parents were divorced.
I lived in a trailer, next door to my grandparents, whose once-lovely cottage had become an overgrown jungle that looked like a haunted house.
I was smart. Midway through my fourth grade year, the school system put me into a Gifted and Talented/Accelerated Program with a bunch of other kids from around the parish who also had working brains. So, I was a nerd.
I was pretty.
I had no backbone whatsoever, and no left hook.
And all of the above made me a prime target for bullies -- specifically, a whole bunch of Mean Girls. And there were many of them. This was long, long ago, before bullying was a thing, before it was a crime, before there were rules against it, before people talked about it and preached about it, before there were consequences, before all the anti-bullying campaigns our kids are growing up with. This was the late 1960s, the 1970s. There was no Internet, no Facebook or Twitter, no cell phones (thank God!) Back then, it was all face-to-face torment. And a few bathroom walls.
It was ugly. And painful. And I will never forget any of it.
There was the Christmas bracelet that one of the Mean Girls stole from me. Actually, it fell off my wrist during recess. Later, I spotted it on the wrist of one of Them. I asked her to return it. She tormented me. I told a teacher. The Mean Girl claimed it as hers. Then she laughed when I said I had won it in a pageant. The teacher believed her, not me. That was second or third grade.
But it really began in about the fourth grade, about the time my boobs sprouted -- way ahead of everyone else's. I was a little girl with a little woman's body. The boys took notice. The girls couldn't stand it. Or me. They took to calling me "Stuffy,"accusing me of using toilet paper to stuff my bra every day. I would hear the shouts and the giggles as I walked down the hallways of my little elementary school in Houma, hear them at recess. And I would cower in silence and fear.
I was still a little girl, you know.
It got worse in the fifth grade. My boobs got even bigger and -- as, this was the 1970s -- our blue jeans got lower. Two-button fly bell bottom jeans were all the rage. So was picking on me. I was afraid to go to the bathroom, afraid of what they would do to me and say to me. I tried not to put myself in any danger. Some teachers recognized it and allowed me restroom breaks during class. They didn't know what to do either.
And it started on the bus in the morning. Every damn day. I was the last pick-up on the way to my school, which was only about two miles from my house -- but too far for little kids to walk, back then. I would get on the bus and search for a seat. There was never an empty one. And the bigger kids refused to scoot over to let me sit. If they did (or were forced to if and when the bus driver took notice), it was with some utterance of disgust, like they might catch a disease from sitting next to a little girl on a bus for 10 blocks.
Back in the 70s, all we had for telephones were land lines (and party lines). There was no caller ID, no *69 or *67. And if someone called you and refused to hang up, there was nothing you could do about it. So Mean Girls used to call my house, say something nasty then put their receiver down -- sometimes for hours. Once for nearly an entire weekend.
And it followed me wherever I went. I joined a little Saturday morning bowling league that my older sister used to run. Bowling was kind of a big thing back then and I used to love it. One day, the Mean Girls decided that bowling was fun too. Rather, picking on Lori while she was bowling was fun. A group of five or six of them showed up at the bowling alley that day and set themselves up at a table at the end of our lanes. They then spent the entire morning heckling me as I bowled. They never picked up a ball themselves.
By sixth grade, things began to get violent. One trip to the bathroom ended up with me being pushed around on the slippery wet floors. One day I was at recess -- truly minding my own business -- when a girl named Darlene Trahan walked over to me. "I heard you called me a bitch," she said. I had not. I hadn't said a word about her. She postured and posed as a large crowd gathered. She pushed me, hoping I would hit back. Then again. I did nothing. She finally started wailing on me. I never touched her. We both got a week's detention, spending all our recesses standing by the principal's wall in the front of the building. And Miss Theriot, my teacher, made me write an essay on why I shouldn't fight -- even though I didn't. Darlene became one of my most frequent torturers for a long time.
One day a group of girls cornered me in the bathroom and threatened violence unless I "proved" that my boobs were real. They made me raise up my shirt and show them. I was 11.
There were ugly rumors spread about me -- that I was having sex (at 12??!!!), that I had gotten pregnant, that I had had a baby, that I was easy.
During one recess, I had a little extra time after lunch so I reached into my classroom window (which was open -- no AC back then) and grabbed my own notebook off of my own desk, which was at the back of the class. I reached it easily. The same girl who took my bracelet told the teacher on duty that I had climbed in the window. I got sent to the principal's office and got a week's detention for that.
Then there was Phoebe.
If an elementary school kid can have a mortal enemy, mine was Phoebe. She hated me. Tortured me. Picked fights with me. Prank called my house. You name it. One day, she approached me at lunch recess -- with her posse.
"You called me a bitch," she said. "I'm going to kick your ass."
I rolled my eyes. This again?
"I'm not fighting you, Phoebe. I'm wearing a dress."
"Well, after school. Go home and change. Come back here to school and I'm going to kick your ass. And if you don't, I'm going to come looking for you."
So, that afternoon, I got on the bus and went home. I changed into blue jeans and told my mother I had to walk back to school because Phoebe was waiting to fight me.
It turns out, half the school was waiting too. The principal was alerted when a bunch of kids refused to get on their buses that afternoon. When he asked why, a little kid told him they were waiting for the fight between Lori and Phoebe. He called the police.
I got about halfway there when a policeman on a motorcycle pulled up to the curb next to me.
"You Lori?" he asked me.
"Yes, Sir," I replied.
"You're going to fight Phoebe?"
"Well, you can go on home. Phoebe ran home when she saw me coming."
That night my stepfather put me in the car and drove me to Phoebe's house. We got out and he knocked on the door.
"Your daughter wants to beat up my daughter," he told her mother. "Let's go."
Phoebe freaked out.
"No I don't," she squealed. "Lori is one of my best friends!"
I never had another problem with Phoebe until senior year. We went to different high schools, but I showed up at her senior prom with my steady boyfriend who went to her school. Phoebe and I went to the bathroom at the same time. We were wearing the same dress.
And yet, that wasn't even the worst. The worst, the moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life, was this one: One day my beloved grandmother and I were at the Dillard's department store (formerly D.H. Holmes) at the mall in Houma when we went to the ladies room upstairs.As we walked into the outer chamber, where there were a few sofas and chairs, I saw written on the wall in red lipstick letters a foot tall, "Lori Lyons is a bitch." I was mortified. So was my Grannie.
Things calmed a bit by the time I got to junior high -- except for the night my very best friend, Sandra, decided to beat the crap out of me while we were babysitting for my nephew, Lee. Eventually, I found a group of friends to be with, and a few football player boys who were willing to stand up for me. I made the junior high dance team -- even though I was heckled throughout my entire try-out. And people found new targets.
By high school, things had calmed considerably, although I still had major panic attacks where my heart would go off the charts and I couldn't breathe. I finally was put on a medication (that I still take today) and everybody carried brown paper bags for me to breathe into. I never was one of the "cool" kids, but I wasn't picked any more.
And by college, it was over and I forced myself to get over my fear and anxiety of other girls. I lived in an all-girl dorm. I joined a sorority. I was accepted.
A few years ago, the message to kids being bullied was, "It gets better." Hang in there, they said. It'll stop.
And that's true -- to a certain degree.
The truth is, there always will be bullies, people who are mean and people who will try to manipulate you to do their bidding. Parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, spouses, neighbors, salespeople, fast food workers, coffee servers and the receptionist at your doctor's office -- or your kid's doctor's office -- other mothers and fathers at your kid's school. Some mean girls just grow up to be mean women.
And I still don't always know how to handle them, except to say, "What the fuck?" I do stand up for myself now, more than I ever did when I was young. And I will stand up for my kid.
Because that old adage about sticks and stones breaking bones and words not hurting is pure bullshit. The words hurt. The taunts sting. And they leave scars.
I had some difficulties as a female sports writer, some coaches who treated me like shit, who spoke ill of me, who tried to embarrass me. The guys who used to rip me on the old newspaper message boards reopened a lot of wounds too. I dreaded seeing my name on them as they questioned my intelligence, my loyalties, my abilities, my sanity. It was the new bathroom wall. They were bullies, too, just like the ones I faced in childhood. So was the little old lady who heckled me the entire time I interviewed her grandson after a football game.
What I wouldn't give to have the brain I have now, back then at Lisa Park School. To say to the girl who stole my braclet, "Seriously? You're going to steal from a second grader?"
To Darlene, "What the hell are you talking about?" or "Hell yes. You ARE a bitch. Now get out of my face."
To Phoebe: "Kiss my ass."
To all of them: "Fuck you. I survived. I made something of myself in spite of you. You are nothing to me."
"I forgive you."
If only I could.
Many, many years later, I was at a nightclub in Houma over the Christmas holidays when I saw one of my old tormenters in the ladies room. I knew she couldn't hurt me, probably wouldn't, but my body reacted the way it always had. My pulse raced, my palms sweat. I was frozen in fear as I stood in line to pee. She saw me and approached me.
"Lori," she said. "I owe you such an apology. We were so mean to you when we were little. I don't even know why. So. I'm sorry."
I was stunned.
"Thank you," I said. "That means a lot to me."
Then she left.
Many years after that, on the day my child was being born to another woman in my hometown, that same girl was one of the duty nurses. She was as nice and as pleasant and as helpful as she could be. I had no fear of her, no anger, no hate. It was like we were old friends. She actually went out of her way to help us, the lost and terrified potential adoptive parents. And I was nothing but grateful to her and for her.
And right there, I won.
Visit me @ The Lyons' Din
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