My latest painting
I've always had this strange fear...
Of being judged. Of being disliked. Of not being good enough. Of not being heard. I know this is a familiar feeling. Perhaps you've felt this way. Maybe you still do.
Where does this stem from? Why do we have this painful emotion cemented into our psyche? And what do we do with it now that it's been identified?
I'm going to tell you a personal story. One that fills me with anxiety reliving it and musters up a delicate courage to share it. But it's worth writing about if it helps anyone who is going through bullying now, or has in the past and is still trying to deal with the trauma left over.
First of all, a little background. I grew up in a household where I was not allowed to feel angry or hurt. Much less admit those emotions. I was expected to be the "good little girl" and not cause trouble. Creating conflict was bad. Sticking up for oneself, unheard of. If I was proud of something I had done, somehow someone would see the negative in it and the air would be squeezed out of my balloon.
I share my childhood perception not to "put down" my family or paste blame on my parents, but to create context for why I allowed my boundaries to be broken over and over again by my peers. And why I continue to struggle with this issue.
Okay...so let's travel back in time to seventh grade, when I was eleven and entering a brand new school...the middle school which was also a high school. My mom still dressed me like I was five. I wore red pants, and a rainbow-striped shirt. Not sure why nobody set me straight, but I also wore saddle oxfords because I thought they looked cool. Can you say "clown gear"?
That very first day, I entered a homeroom of kids dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Not only was I out of place in my clown gear, but silent stares from amused spectators made me want to disappear into the green vinyl tiled floor. Worse: my bus had gotten there late and everyone had a chair except me. The teacher (and I soon realized teachers were oblivious to student pain back then) told me to grab a chair from the back of the room. They were lined up against the wall, awaiting a fanny. I tried to pick one up, but it didn't budge from the floor. A few students tittered as I grabbed on with all my might and tried once again to lift it. Nope. Stayed put.
"Oh," said my highly-perceptive homeroom teacher. "Are you having trouble?"
I nodded, my face nearly as red as my pants.
"They waxed the floors and placed the chairs down immediately afterwards. Some of them are stuck. Just give it a kick."
Now, any decent person would see this tiny slip of a seventh grader in her saddle oxfords would probably not be able to do this simple task while the entire classroom looked on. But not this teacher. Nope. She remained at the front of the classroom looking over her clipboard of student names, rooted as securely to her spot as the chair was to its own. I took a deep breath and attempted to kick the metal chair legs. My leg sailed past the intended target, eliciting laughter from my audience.
I held back humiliated tears as I smiled at the teacher, hoping she would rescue me from this obviously difficult task. I don't remember if she came over and helped me or if I was finally able to disengage the chair from the floor, all I remember is slumping in that seat, defeated. Unable to look anyone in the eye. If they'd known the real me: the Northgate Manor kickball champion, the stronger-than-she-appears tomboy, I might've chuckled along with them. But I was in a room full of near-strangers. Kids who had grown up while I remained trapped in a five-year-old's play outfit and a granny's saddle oxford shoes.
I had unwittingly been chosen as Athena Middle School's newest victim.
I have forgotten everything that happened to me. In part because it was nearly forty years ago. But also because I try to let go of the negative and hold onto the positive. But I will detail a few stories that stand out in my mind. The way kids treated me shows up in my novels. I put the pain to good use. It's definitely helped me achieve the empathy necessary to create well-rounded characters. It's also helped me being a less judgmental, more open-minded individual. But I won't go as far as to say being bullied was "a good thing" for me. Far from it.
Part Two coming up. My story about a kid that tormented me while the teachers looked on and did nothing about it. Stay tuned!