This is an open letter to all the old classmates, neighborhood kids, etc.. If any of you are reading my blog, you know who you are, and if your cheeks are burning a bit, well, I am not sorry. In today’s fragile world, where bullying is rampant, and there are zero tolerance laws, I want to say a few things to all of you. And btw, I’m not angry, you can’t hurt me anymore. I do think this should serve as a PSA, so sharing a simple message with your own kids might be in order.
Let me begin, for my peeps, by saying that I wasn’t always that cool, aloof, goth/hippie girl. I used to want the same things that you wanted, what made you feel happy, to belong. But I was different. I was smart, creative, short (can’t help genetics back then) and I came from a single parent household. Oh, I know that in the 21st century that’s no biggie, but back in the 1970’s, it was a thing, a stigma. So I wore my life like a tattoo of shame without understanding why. By the time I understood, I had convinced myself that I no longer cared. I hid behind my art and my music and the knowledge that I would leave my hometown and all the bullies and spoiled princesses and follow my heart. I didn’t realize that some of you and your kind would follow me as well.
I never thought would ever write this letter. As far as I was concerned, the amount of suffering I went through during my school years was enough to make me bitter. I didn’t forgive you, and I most certainly didn’t forget. But I have a family, children who don’t fit the mold (and they shouldn’t) and this needs to be shared.
I remember those years in vivid, cruel detail. From the whispers by the lockers to the name calling; the intense scrutiny of my clothing, what I said, and what I did; the humiliation, the stealing of my notebooks and shoving on the bus rides home. I was just wrong. Wrong height, wrong social/economic status, wrong family life, wrong clothing, wrong personality – I think you remember. I do. You made me believe that I had no place in the world and that I would never belong. Your children are doing a great job in following your legacy, although we are all spread out across the globe. I see it as a parent and as a teacher.
Here are the parts you missed: I remember spending hours after school locked in my room, music blasting to drown out the tears and anger while my mother tried to find activities to fill my empty spaces. Back then I couldn’t communicate to her how I was feeling, and she felt at a loss how to help. I felt paralyzed, angry and confused. I tried to figure out how to make those words and snubs stop stinging. It was my grandfather who led me to the stables and paid for me to ride. It was on the back of a horse that I felt free and accepted as I learned to canter and jump, taking home ribbons I’d never share with anyone; because nobody believed me anyway.
In school I was the kind girl who never spoke poorly of anyone, I didn’t speak at all since you deemed me unworthy of words. So I read, and I wrote. I wrote ALOT. I was the quiet student who worked hard and who hated getting into trouble, even though it seemed to find me. I was the one whose notes you borrowed, often without permission. I was the one who found a few others like myself, so we could empathize together, forming strained friendships as alliances.
Dear bullies, I remember the whispers and the laughter, my cheeks burning as I walked from class to class, wishing that the earth would swallow me up or that I would die in the stairwells. I remember sitting alone, and working solo on projects because even if you were forced to be my partner, you didn’t contribute to the work. I remember once when you took full credit and thought the teacher wouldn’t notice. You lied, and I was crushed. I counted the days to graduation and made sure I wouldn’t go to college with any of you. I held out hope that finally, I might be accepted for who I was, and who I am.
That day was a long time coming. And I found friends who cared about the things I cared about and appreciated my intellect and my artsy, creative side. We protested together to save the environment, stop apartheid and food irradiation. They listened to the same music, and we danced our way across Long Island, Manhattan, and New Jersey. I went abroad, found true friends and felt at peace with the world. Finally.
And then came social media. I embraced it as a way to reach out and stay in contact with MY friends. But you intruded once again. Begging friendship and showing off your fancy clothes, homes, and vacations. Always one-upping each other and making my insides squirm, not with envy, but anger. You pretend to be “friends,” but truthfully, you are strangers. I cannot and will not accept you, even on social media.
You see, I remember it all. Once I escaped high school, I thought I was free. But I wasn’t. Your critical voices kept on, belittling me and nagging me. You gave me grief, depression, and anxiety. I hope that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. But my story doesn’t end here. You forced me to dig deep within myself and put together the most challenging puzzle of my life. It has taken most of my lifetime, but I have found parts of my self that had been hidden away, buried without seeing the light of day for years.
Thanks to you, I learned how to face myself fearlessly, looking beyond my pain and becoming aware of yours. That’s right – all that money, designer clothing, fancy vacations and cars mean little. A fantastic therapist (RIP Larry) told me that all humans are a reflection of one another. That means you had your own battles raging inside. Otherwise, how could you have been so mean? People who are truly happy don’t put others down. So I guess I need to thank you, dear bullies, for teaching me the art of empathy, love and compassion.
Your actions towards me taught me how to connect with other people from all walks of life. I can see that behind every face, there is a story to be told if we take the time to stop and listen. It has helped me with my writings and in making personable contacts in my adult life. Your story will always be a part of my story; I can’t erase the past. But, I can leave the past as a rough draft, choosing to edit out your hurtful actions. You taught me a valuable lesson, even through all the misery; to love the person I was and the person I am today.
So thank you for teaching me to be strong. I’m going to pass that on to my children.