Two recent things are prompting me to write this post on a subject that I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before (though I can’t find my post) and that is “bullying”, more specifically, my own. First, as I sat down to check out what was going on with my facebook friends, a familiar name jumped out at me. It was in my high school’s group page and it was the son of an old teacher of mine. It was pretty simple. He wanted her old students know that she was alive and kicking and that she was on facebook; and he invited us, her students, to come to her page and say “hi”. That one post might just have the most comments of the group and it’s only been a few days. Secondly, yesterday a read a post from Single Dad Laughing, “Memoirs of a Bullied Kid” and so many things he talked about happened to me. My story is a bit different, but all the main ingredients were there for me to resurrect my own writing. Oh yes, we try to close our eyes and get on with our lives, but it always comes back every so often to remind us from where we have come and it’s not pretty.
It “officially” started in first grade, but had its beginnings in kindergarten only because there were some kids who shared those grades with me. The torment lasted through to my eighth grade graduation. I went to the Catholic school of my own parish, so you’d think that would be a pretty safe environment. Oh how wrong you’d be. I was always a shy child and hardly ever spoke. I had a terrible stutter and it was literally painful to try to open it up to speak, let alone getting any words out, so I never spoke. Also, I could never speak up quickly enough with what I wanted to say and before I knew it, the conversation was way past, the topic forgotten and my thoughts left unsaid.
One day in June, it was my birthday. My mother bought me a wrist corsage to wear to school. I was bursting with happiness and couldn’t wait to get to school. I remember sitting at my desk and one of the girls wanted to know where the cupcakes were… and the kids around me were not happy about the missing birthday cupcakes. From then on, it was down hill. The verbal abuse was surrounding my weight. I’m sure my mom or grandmother would’ve made them but I’m not sure if they even knew that was the custom. From that day, I became the butt of every joke and prank and this was unending for eight years of the most delicate and impressionable years of my life. I got beat up, verbally taunted, pushed, laughed at, scribbled upon with pens. I got called all the fat names in the book, and it didn’t help that my name could be transformed into the decidedly non-compliment, “D-Bra.” Yet, when I look back at photos from that time, I realize that I was NOT a fat kid. All those years I believed what I heard and thought I was fat and so, I did become fat, resigned to that imagined fact of fat.
I experienced almost everything Dan of Single Dad Laughing did. I had the vengeful, hateful fantasies about bad things happening to those kids and I had suicidal thoughts. I withdrew into my own little world of reading, drawing and music, in particular Barry Manilow. His music, and I’ve said it before, literally saved my life. I felt his songs reach my heart. Also, do not make fun of a good Catholic upbringing that says that if you kill yourself, you are condemned to hell. This was probably the only reason I didn’t actually kill myself. I laugh at the irony now because I’m not even sure that hell exists. It was a creation of man in medieval times with the intention of controlling the general and ignorant, uneducated public. My brain cannot even do a quote here, but believe me.
One time I went to the bathroom at school, forget what grade, and came back to a tack on my chair. I saw it and my decision to sit on it so that they would know it did didn’t hurt, was the worst thing I could have ever done. The outburst of laughter was so loud, yet the teacher said nothing let alone investigate what caused such a disturbance. That tack hurt me something terrible and I did manage to sit, and remain sitting fort he rest of the class, like it wasn’t there, which probably fueled the idea that I had so much fat that insulated me from feeling it…. ugh.
Okay I could go on and on with details and really don’t want to, but this particular one was a catalyst of sorts to put some of the hate and aside and let go of decades of hurtful baggage I carried. In my late thirties I met some of my classmates at a reunion I dragged myself to, and they acted like those childhood events never happened or maybe they were too ashamed? Nah. So, I thought to myself that I was walking around with all this hate, resentment and with the “victim attitude,” and the people who caused my misery were walking around, living their lives as happy as you please, with no acknowledgement, not a single thought of how they killed my life. What troubled me the most was that these people seemed like nice, good people… with a notable exception of one guy who is still has the meanest streak, though he says that he is a “good” guy now… um.. nope. I see how he treats other people and know the kind of guy he still is.
I think back to the priests, nuns and lay teachers who must have known what was going on… they KNEW, and did nothing. Oh, I know that they knew because at one point, my parents went to the school to complain and nothing was done. I was one of those kids who LOVED school and the learning, yet dreaded every single day of it. I had nobody. CATHOLIC school. I wonder if these religion=pushing people ever think of the disservice, the blatant contradiction of their faith. I was betrayed by the very people outside of my own family who were the most trusted. My family trusted them… but let’s not get into what my own family did or didn’t do to help me with this situation. At one point, they tried to teach me how to fight, but I was a very passive kid who shrunk in the face of a confrontation. I remember a scene from the 1985 movie, “Back to the Future” when in 1955 the painfully shy, picked on George, with his arm trembling, makes a fist and delivers a whollop of a punch to Bif who was in the process of sexually molesting his future wife Lorraine. I identify with that scene so much, but it was only a fantasy. I Imagined myself hitting my bullies with all my anger, rage and frustrations packed into that single, well planted punch.
At least I know, eventually the school administration found out what was going on, if they didn’t know already, because I got in trouble for fighting and got detention. This was a predominantly Irish parish and we Italians were the outcasts, or so my mother described enough as such to justify herself not getting involved with the church or school. Oh, I also remember, and now have as a facebook friend, a girl from school who tried to teach me how to fight. I remembered her kindness through the years. She didn’t seek to make friends with me then, but had enough compassion and sought to help me in the way she knew best.
But this brings me to the facebook revelation that one of my teachers, 91 or 92 now, is on facebook. That brought back memories of a kind and compassionate teacher who, at that time, was a mother and maybe a grandmother, or soon to be one. Mrs. Ann Strazza, my 5th grade math teacher. I remember her telling me of her story of when she met her husband. She did ask what was bothering me, but I told her of my fear of never having a boyfriend… HA… I could not tell her the truth, but it was part of the truth anyway. I remember her advising my parents to give me chores at home, structure. So, aside from making my bed, I now had to do household chores of washing/drying/putting away dishes, dusting, vacuuming, washing the bathroom… Whew, at least I shared these with my sister who, in the grade behind me, got caught up on the chore bandwagon.
All these memories coming back like a flood just serve to remind me of how hard I have buried them behind the back of my mind. I don’t think of these things now, but I’m positive the effects haunt me in some way from time to time in just how I live my life. Thankfully, during the summer of my graduation from that school and before high school I realized that I was going into a new school where nobody would know me. I could be anyone and nobody there would know me from before. That thought gave me the courage to look forward to a new era of my life. That courage was so strong that I actually crossed a picket line to get into the school on the first day. My mother begged me not to go, as other parents in our neighborhood stopped their kids from going; but I was resolute… I. WAS. GOING. and I did. Slightly discouraging, though, things did not change much for me socially. I was still painfully shy and felt it hard to talk to anyone. I was still the same plain jane, wore no makeup or fancy clothes. HA. The one time I wore a dress, my Spanish teacher awkwardly tried to render me a compliment and told me that I had “nice ankles”… WTF ? Yeah. I was still overweight and maybe she was trying to compliment me but could not other than noticing I had slim ankles. Maybe she was surprised by that. The major thing, though, was that I was not afraid to go to school. I looked forward to it every day and when I was “periodic”… (love that word and swiped it from lovable Wendy Williams) I did not stay home like my sister and so many other girls. It was horrible, but for me, I valued learning more than the pain and discomfort of the monthly.
Gotta give a shout out to Wendy Williams…. I love your show! I never thought I’d watch you for more than the first time because I consider myself serious and a lover of the cerebral (well, which means that I’m not drawn to girly talk) but you have grown on me something fierce. I love your personality. I love how you just speak your mind and never in a nasty way. You are really the only tv personality today who is vivacious and projects a love for life and fun that refreshes me whenever I watch the show.
- Catholic board to deny bullying allegations in $12M lawsuit (blogs.windsorstar.com)
- Catholic School Teacher Fired for Getting Pregnant via Artificial Insemination Wins Lawsuit (patheos.com)
- Texas district promises change after teacher abuse (kens5.com)
- Barry Manilow offers tickets in exchange for instruments donated for Dallas schools (khou.com)
- Police investigate racist bullying at Catholic school (helpusstopbullying.wordpress.com)
- To Always Be Alone; To Never Be Noticed (kenziebug24.wordpress.com)
- VOICES: What do you do if you witness a bully? | GALLERY (courierpress.com)
- Olympia bullying victim: ‘It’s constant, everyday harassment’ (komonews.com)
- An intro into Bullying (fantasticlifeadvice.wordpress.com)
- 3rd grade bully (lessonsfrommydaughter.me)