The Bullies Grow Up

Bullies kill people.

There is no nice way to say that. Bullies kill people and those that don’t help someone crying out aid and abet. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but with the advent of the internet bullying is getting more and more attention.  It’s no longer something that is bound to the schoolyard either. People are being bullied at work. You would think that surviving middle school and high school would be enough, but speaking as someone who was always on the outs with the popular crowd and then bullied at work, I can assure you, it reaches beyond the school walls and no stranger to those over 20. 

 I was lucky. I stood up. Still, I almost ended up in a pine box.

 When I was in grade school I wasn’t part of the in crowd. I was, and still am, a bit ‘weird’ as they call it. Creative types are always a little strange and get singled out very fast. It started with comments about my weight and escalated to excluding me from birthday parties and social circles.  What it really came down to was the fact that my parents like me and most of my classmates didn’t have that. So in order to feel better about themselves the girls ‘teased’ me until I developed an eating disorder and the boys tried beating me as often as possible when they weren’t sexually harassing me.

 I learned how to throw a cutting remark at anyone who tried to “take me down a peg,” and being the biggest and strongest in the class from grades 4 through 8 helped. Whenever I saw anyone threaten my little brother I made sure to take him down. I never swung first, but I always hit last. And they stayed down. My brother learned quickly how to defend himself, especially after dad got sick and died. I was 14 and he was 12. He didn’t feel like there was anything to lose. I can’t blame him, I felt the way same on a lot of days. I won’t lie, there were many days and nights I was miserable. Being shunned is very hard, no matter what age you are. I knew it would be over soon and I’d never see them again. These weren’t exactly upstanding citizens, mind you. A good number of my classmates were either future drug dealers or degenerate in other ways, and surprise, this was in a catholic school.

What got me through those years was really mom. She supported me and every time someone acted nasty toward me, she would remind me that I was loved and I was heard and that she wouldn't let anyone hurt me. When I was home I was safe. I would graduate 8th grade and never see these people again because I had more important places to be. Boy was she right! Then came high school, but at least now I was prepared.

In high school the behavior was the same, but the boys didn't try to beat me up anymore. In a school of only 200 students they were easy to pick out of a line up and I made a reputation of being loud, calling people out and not letting them get away with anything, even if that meant getting in trouble with the teachers. Again, my father was dead so nothing mattered. They vandalized my locker, wrote slut on it. They ripped down my art work and then complained when I went to the headmaster. “We've been nothing but nice to you,” they said.

You always hear adults say things like ‘Stand up for yourself,’ or ‘Why didn't you say anything?’ Here’s why in a bullet list:

  • It’s YOUR job to stand up for children. That’s why you’re called an adult.
  • Kids talking + Adults dismissing/blaming/being confrontational = kids not talking
  • When someone is dismissed or ignore long enough, soon they will shut down and stop talking.
  • When bullies are not held accountable in meaningful ways, people will stop trying to seek help.
  • When someone’s hand is smacked away when they reach out for help, they stop asking.

See a pattern here?

And it doesn't end with school. These bullies grow up and they become managers, bosses, people in charge and the cycle continues. I had a short time at a place of business (which will remain nameless because my former boss is the vindictive type) where my manger almost killed me. The verbal and emotional abuse was daily. It broke my spirit, robbed me of my confidence and almost led to me ending my life at 30. It’s been 3 years and I’m still haunted some days. I was supposedly protected by a union that did nothing. I took the matter all the way to the top of the chain of command and they blamed me, even though there was a stack of reports on this person on how abusive she was and still is.

I understand the “It Gets Better” Campaign but I think the message is very flawed. That is a passive outlook to a problem that is killing children and adults alike. No, it doesn't get better, not in my experience where I was bullied as a child and then as an adult at work. It only gets better if you MAKE it better and to do that you have to be loud and get as many people with similar experiences together to fight it.

I kept an audio recorder on me at all times to record my conversations and it was the best defense I had. As far as I know, it is legal (at least in New York) to record your own conversations. Being able to be used in court is a different matter, but the internet is a big place. Things manage to find their way onto it all the time; funny how that happens. I was able to get away from her and keep her from doing any more damage to my self-esteem, my self-worth and my overall well-being. We live in the 21st century where no abuse need be kept secret. Bullies are like cockroaches. They scatter when the lights go on. It's not blackmail, it's leverage.  

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