It's hard to reflect on things like this, harder still to reconcile that the biggest bully I had was my own brother. From the time I was 7 until I was 16, my brother verbally and physically abused me. I know that because I was the youngest and the smallest I was an easy target for him. My older sisters took only so much before they would snap and they were able to physically defend themselves. I was easy to scare, easy to hold down and rile up. I didn't understand what was wrong with me that he would treat me the way he did even (and especially) when I begged him to stop.
My parents would tell me to "stay out of his way" and ask me why I would go after him. I did my best to defend myself, saying I didn't go after him, he came after me. This was met with "all siblings fight". My mother explained away his behavior, saying that he hurt me because he saw my father hurt her. The violent and abusive behavior my father exhibited somehow justified my brother hurting me. I tried to listen to her and avoid him. The abuse did not stop. I began to believe that because I was overweight, I was worthless, stupid, awful.
In school, the insults were present, but rarely aimed at me directly. I remember being given a Valentine at school in the 2nd grade that had an illustration of flying pigs, soaring through clouds looking love struck. The boy who gave it to me had written something crude inside that likened me to those dumb looking, lovey pigs. I went into the coat room with my back against the cubbies and sobbed. I didn’t understand why someone would frame something so cruel as a gift. I wondered what I had done to deserve such a thing.
In 6th grade, a very popular boy came up from the back of the bus to where I sat behind the driver. He sat down next to me and, putting his arm around me, asked me out on a date. I could hear his friends stifling their laughter from the back and felt my face flush. I turned and looked into his pointy face and said “Fuck. Off.” I don’t think he was prepared for that, because I remember how quickly he disappeared from my sight. He never spoke to or acknowledged me again.
These are the only two instances of direct bullying at school in my memory. I am certain, as I am sure most overweight people are, that there were many insults sent in my direction that I was not meant to hear. Inside every bully there is a core of cowardice and, inside that, a core of fear. Some kids were targeted much more directly and relentlessly, and I often wondered why I’d escaped relatively unscathed. It's terrible that I'd sometimes feel relieved that it wasn't me. Mostly, I just felt a deep black rage.
I realize now that the hell I was living at home was more than I could contain. That it likely seeped out of my eyes and person in such a way as to ward off any novice asshole that would have thought to mess with me. What do you do when the bully lives in your home? The things that went on there dwarfed anything my classmates could come up with. It was an excruciating exercise in perspective. I learned to project menace to keep people away from me and, by 7th Grade, I had a reputation as a witch and a dangerous oddity. This seemed to provide me additional shelter but didn't serve just to keep bullies away. Potential friends and friendly adults were also kept at arm's length.
One day during my 7th grade year, my brother slapped me so hard on my thigh that it left a hand print for three days and then bruised. The gym shorts we wore were not long enough and people (including a teacher) saw the mark on my leg and asked me about it. I don't know if a phone call was made to my parents, but I do know that my father screamed at my brother and told him that if he ever touched me again he'd be out on the street. This didn't stop the abuse, my brother just tried harder not to leave marks that could be seen.
I turned my feelings inward, I stopped being the sweet and dream-filled child I had been. I despised my brother, especially because he was popular and an athlete and had so many friends that thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. He'd come up to me in the hall at school and put his arm around me and tell his friend "this is my little sister" and I'd have the choice between looking like a bitch if I rejected him or have to smile and pretend he was just as great as they thought he was. I acted out, ran away, fought back, threw punches and objects. I started to do things intentionally to aggravate him. I'd break his stuff and go in his room when he wasn't home. I wished that he would smash my face in or break my arm so that, finally, someone would stop him or get rid of him. The day he left for college was the happiest of my life.
It's taken me many years and the help of wonderful counselors to understand that I didn't deserve to be treated that way. I had some great friends that I confided in and others that knew that my brother's public persona was not all it seemed. I hope that I will be able to truly forgive him one day. I hope that other kids in similar situations have some outlet, help, support. I know that I couldn't have survived without art and writing. I kept believing there was a better place for me, that the darkness would eventually recede. Those beliefs saved me.
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