I swore, I'd never step foot inside a public school again. The last day of school, my senior year at JB ALEXANDER HIGH SCHOOL in the now famous bordertown of LAREDO, TX, was the last they'd ever hear from me again. I was already enrolled and studying for my first collegiate exam the week before high school graduation. I begged my parents to let me skip walking. I didn't want a party. I wanted to get the hell out.
I used to be the bully. 5th grade was my peak bully-year. I was obsessed with who was dating who or why that boy wasn't interested in me. I was, e-hem... AM still, a drama queen. I liked attention. I had no fear of retaliation.
Reality check. 6th grade. I'm now the minnow in the big black sea. Apparently people already knew about me before I got there. I'd receive a dose of reality daily. Someone sharpied that "Jessica is a big fat whore!" in the bathroom, or a guy asking me who I liked and then pouring milk on me, or that bitch that stole ALL the tampons out of my bag and told everyone only sluts use tampons, not even taking into consideration that I was on the swim team. She handed those out like candy, saying "Have a good day, she's always open for business". My parents spoke to the assistant principals and anyone else they could, but there was "no real threat" and "they couldn't control what came out of kids' mouths". The students decided to turn it up a notch. Next came the 5 girls who jumped me in the alley on the way to geography, then the girl who pushed me down 2 flights of stairs and broke my ankle. And don't forget the cheerleader who decided not to catch me on purpose and let me hit my head on concrete. Or my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE. When 3 of the 8th grade football players tried to corner me to have their way with me. "We heard you're a dirty girl, and you like it rough", "I know what they wrote in the bathroom is true, why don't you prove it to me". Because the idiot of a panel of principals at that school still "couldn't prove or press charges", my mother had to go to the superintendent and have me switch schools to one way out of my school zone.
Things got better. Until high school.
There is definitely something to be said about the cheerleader stereotype. They are always portrayed as the mean girl, and with damn good reason. I wasn't the "go team" cheerleader. I was the intense gymnast/allstar cheerleader that had over 5 National Championships by the end of high school. My friends went to a different high school. They were classified as "the punks", skateboards, gages and all. We listened to hardcore punk rock and decided to go "straight edge". We didn't drink. We didn't smoke. We didn't do drugs. We were different. And because of that, the 7 other senior cheerleaders that had all the keg parties and cocaine, they made it their mission to make my life hell.
They dropped the middle school remarks, but created new ones. This was during the myspace phase, so everything was online. I can't even explain the hurt they put me through. I began pulling out my own hair to fight the urge to cut. I had a huge bald spot on the middle of my head because of the stress. My captain, and their evil leader, magically changed her mind that day on how we were going to wear our hair to an important football game. No matter how much I pleaded to my spineless sponsor, the captain won. So there was my bald spot, for the world of Alexander High School to see. They would host "hate raves" in my name. they continuously urged underclassmen that I was the go-to girl to talk about STD's about (back then it was STD not STIs). Word of mouth, I started getting my house and car egged. Then, a pole thrown on my lawn... because the rumors had somehow manifested into that I give free shows with my stripper moves. Then being tailgated on the freeway until I almost crashed into someone else. On.. and on... and on...
This whole time I'm asking myself, is it even WORTH IT ANYMORE? Life should not have to be this hard, and if it is, why should I have to endure it alone. I knew I couldn't bully them back, because that'd just add fuel to the fire. I had to hit them where it hurts. And if you know anything about Laredo, it's the MECCA OF COMPETITIVE CHEERLEADING. There are over 100 National Championships with the private gyms and school teams winning at the most elite levels. I was their top tumbler. Their strongest base. Their best dancer. Highest jumps. Technically, I was unbeatable. But it was my senior year and my last national competition. They knew I'd never not go, because if there was ANYTHING I cared about, it was cheerleading.
They crossed the line when I walked back in from using the restroom and my COACH, THE ADULT, WAS TALKING SMACK ABOUT ME. Making fun of me. And my mom, apparently. I quit 4 days before nationals. I was the point of everything, so I knew it'd hurt them to have to re-do formations and stunt groups. We were projected to win that year (for those of you who don't know cheerleading, youtube a two man bow-and-arrow double-down... we had 8 of those). I sacrificed my last senior attempt at getting another National Champion Jacket, because I had had enough. I walked into the principal's office, she, along with the sponsor, begged me to consider staying until after nationals, my answer was not a chance in hell. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins, my hear was in my throat, I just wanted to wash my hands of those jerks. I signed my name, and I was officially off the team. Then the adrenaline wore off.
I was still an allstar cheerleader at a private gym, but it didn't help much when I heard the team placed 5th because the two stunts I was in fell. At first, there was a big "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA..." ... then it hit me. Oh. Crap. I. See. Them. On. MONDAY.
My world became very dark. Hate letters in my notebooks, telling me to just kill myself already, that they'd dance on my grave. They'd snort coke at my funeral in front of my mother. I should "watch my back because they were going to drive me across the border into Mexico, pay the cartels to kill me, and never be heard from again." No words could patch or heal the wounds that came after those words. No one would care if I lived or died. I sometimes wondered if my parents were so sick of dealing with my drama that they'd want me to end it, too. If I was even their child any more or rather just the burden with a reputation. Several scary nights followed. Several attempts. Several failures. Several nights praying to Jesus to just take me now. I couldn't find the courage to do it myself, so please, Lord, PLEASE pity me and take me with you now. I want to be free from this place. I was 10 and stupid and apologized for hurting others to gain popularity, and now I have no one at 18. NO ONE. Except my parents. Oh yeah, they love me even if I'm stressing them out with all my baggage.
It was hell on earth. I wanted to be left alone. My parents saw the warning signs, they found the razors I was cutting with and threw them out. They removed ANY piece of glass or scissors, belts or scarves, they took the last spring out of my mattress before they made me sit by their side at all times. I hated them and wanted to just be left alone in my sad and dreary thoughts. But they fought me. One night I ran out the door, trying to run away to jumpstart my suicide. Who knew my old man could run that fast, but he caught me, wrapped his arms around me, and as I kicked and screamed and struggled to have him let me go... he refused. I'd scream "help! help!" just so someone would distract him for one second so I could get away. He just held me closer. He kept repeating, "I'm not going anywhere. I'm NEVER GOING TO LEAVE YOU! I'M NOT GOING TO LET GO. YOU ARE MY DAUGHTER. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY EVERYTHING. I LOVE YOU. YOU ARE WORTH YOUR LIFE..."
I'm bawling as I type this. I have never even told my husband this story of how my dad, with a bloody lip from me trying to get away, holding me as tight as he could, for as long as he needed to, HE TOOK THE PAIN. He took MY PAIN. I wanted to die and he wouldn't let me. I hated him. And I loved him. And WHY IS IT SO HARD?! WHY CAN'T I JUST BE HAPPY?!!
He carried me inside as I choked on my words and tears, and he didn't stop holding me until I held him too. My mom slept with me that night in my bed. She didn't sleep a wink. She knew I'd hit rock bottom on my personal hate scale. No one could hate me as much as I hated myself at that moment. Tears slowly rolled down her face as she watched me, the 18 yr old baby, cry herself to sleep. In breathless efforts to speak, I'd say something like "I can't do it anymore... I don't have the will to live. Mom, let me go.... just let me go..." but she silently cried as she softly hummed me to sleep.
I probably would've gotten myself killed that night. I had a letter ready and everything. I was 18. Ready for death. I had a plan. I was going to just walk across the Mexico bridge, and knew that the drug cartels now own those towns and those governments... my parents wouldn't ever hear from me again.
I got the hell out of there. I was already a week into my collegiate career even before my high school graduation. I didn't want to go. But I did. For my parents... and for me. I told my parents I wasn't going to college unless I did theatre, my second passion. I didn't want to touch college cheerleading after what I went through in high school, even though I had cheer scholarships. I graduated with honors from Texas A&M University, probably the most conservative public school in collegiate history, but the performance studies department was far from it. I met my lifelong friends, and my professors saw more ability in me that I did. They honored me with a full scholarship to graduate school under the TAMU Performance Studies Department. They are now, also, my friends and mentors. College was the best experience of my life, and I'm so grateful my parents' kept me alive for it.
I swore I'd never step foot into a public school again. I am now the theatre arts teacher at a southside middle school somewhere in Edinburg, TX. I experience bullying on a whole new level here. Professionally, this is my first year teaching and have dealt with several bullying scenarios where my students, without being told a thing, do the right thing and stand up for each other. However, as we as educators are instructed to enlighten and to educate the children about the affects of bullying, they see it first hand amongst the administration towards ME. I sought out a new opportunity to try to help others and teach my passion, and instead, my students see the first hand effects for themselves. They see the constant sabotage, the manipulation, the false accusations. I have just recently learned that THEY stood up for ME. They organized a formal meeting with administrators to talk about the affects of the professionals bullying the new teacher from out of town. I constantly remind my students that a theatre is a community, but this made my heart fill with joy. No one has ever had my back like this, until now. And they are only 11-14 years old.
The Bully Project has planted the seed and it is growing and flourishing and I am now a patriot for it because when my supervisors thought I was alone, my students, CHILDREN, reminded them that theatre is a community. And that I will never be alone.
By writing some words below, you are showing your support and letting everyone know they're not alone.
Ryan Knowles commented 2013-04-02 11:37:03 -0400Jessica, As social media manager for The Bully Project, I read stories each and everyday about the experiences people of every different creed and color have had with bullying. The way you described your story, and opened up about your own personal struggles might be one of the most vivid I have ever read, particularly the part with your father. It was extremely hard to fight back the tears when reading this and I just want to thank you on behalf of myself, and the entire bully project team for having the courage to share your story with us. I cannot tell you how happy it is to know that you have decided to become a teacher and use your own experiences to enrich the lives of our young people, we need more people like you educating our youth. The politics of professional life sometimes are just as hard as those we experience back when we are students, but just like you experienced, everything changes when you have people in your own life that support you, whether they be kids or adults.
We’re so happy to hear you’ve become an ambassador of our work. We would love to know if you and your students might be willing to volunteer for us, as your voice for this issue is so passionate, but clear. If you are, please send me an e—mail at [email protected].
Again thank you so much for sharing this story, heart wrenching, beautiful, powerful.
All my best,
The Bully Project