When I was 8 years old, we moved to a new town. I was the new kid in the fourth-grade class in a very small school -- one class per grade level. I was smart. When we had to recite multiplication tables -- which I hadn't learned in my previous school -- I did them off the top of my head, going as far as 7x7 before making a mistake.
The bullying started almost immediately. They called me "Wiggy" because I had hair so dark that the adults couldn't believe it was mine -- it surely couldn't be naturally dark given my white skin and blue-green eyes. My smarts didn't help. The bullying quickly escalated. Punches on the playground. Getting poked with pencils in class. Tripped by classmates. Food thrown in my hair. Slammed to the floor in the classroom.
It was so bad I developed a horrific cough that miraculously stopped when my mom kept me home from school.
When I sought help, the teacher called me a tattletale. The bullying got worse, finally reaching a peak the day my father came to pick me up after school for a dental appointment. I stood in the doorway, frozen in terror, sobbing. Two boys had said they were going to beat me up after school that day. As we walked around the corner of the building, they jumped out of the bushes. My dad collared them and dragged them into the school, where he raged at the building principal for the school's failure to protect me. The ringleader was moved to another school, but the damage was done.
It has been 38 years since those days, and they are still fresh, still painful. Despite therapy, I still have a hard time trusting people. I have friends, but only a handful really know me. I have a hard time believing that people really like me. I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the facade of friendship to be replaced by the bully I expect is there.
I go out of my way to point it out when someone is bullying. Making fun of someone because of who they are is completely unacceptable -- and the adults are the biggest problem. People think it's OK to label a child as fat, to make fun of people who are natural redheads, to make fun of people who are less fortunate.
It is not.
We have to stop thinking it's OK to make rude comments about other people -- whatever the reason. When we as adults make them, our children get the message it's OK to make them -- and that leads to bullying.
The scars I have are, for the most part, invisible. But they are there, and they are still raw in many ways. That's what bullying does. It is NEVER OK.
By writing some words below, you are showing your support and letting everyone know they're not alone.