A Tale of Two Bullies

October is Bullying Awareness Month (and yes, I realize it is November, but anyone reading my last 2 posts will understand why I am behind.) I experienced bullying twice in my life. To anyone who thinks all bullies and all bullying are the same, let me share A Tale of Two Bullies.

The first was in 8th grade. While I was never popular, I had a few close friends and that was enough for me. But then my best friend turned on me. For some reason, she and the other friend we had hung out with started picking on me, talking about me, and generally making my life miserable. They would taunt me, tease me, and there was even on instance where pages were mysteriously torn out of my textbook—the exact pages I had been supposed to do for homework that night (which I then couldn’t do, of course).

My friend’s behavior baffled me. She had always been a warm, generous person, and now I hated coming to school because of her. I hated walking home because she lived near me and walked much the same route I did. She and her bully ally would walk past my house on weekends, waiting for a chance to see me outside and tease me. I remember climbing a tree once so they wouldn’t see me.

It culminated in my best friend slapping me across the face in the classroom one lunchtime. I went home for lunch and cried and cried. I didn’t want to go back to school. But then I got angry. Who was she to keep me from school? And I refused to let her see how she had hurt me, hurt me so much more than a temporary stinging slap in the face.

Summer alleviated the situation, removing me from her daily reach. And then one day, towards the end of summer, she called me. She wanted to meet. To talk. I hesitated, because she had lured me into traps earlier in the year with similar promises. But I went, because she had been my best friend.

I met her, and the meeting was sincere. She apologized. She explained that she had been having a rough time with her parents’ divorce and had taken it out on me. She asked me to forgive her. I did. While never as close as we were before, we remained friendly as we went through high school, eventually growing our separate ways, as often happens with childhood friends.

The other bully event happened in high school. A girl in my class apparently decided I was to be her target. I don’t know why. I had never “done” anything to her—heck, I barely knew her. But in the first semester of sophomore year, she and her friends bullied me every single day.

They would titter and whisper about me in class. They followed me into the bathroom once, so I started only using the bathroom during class time. They would jostle me in the hallways. They would surround me and taunt. One day this girl started getting in my face, saying, “I call you out! I call you out!” (For those that need translation, that meant she wanted to fight me.)

I never answered her. I always pretended I didn’t see her, didn’t hear her. But I did. She grated on my nerves like a constant nails on chalkboard. I held my breath as I dove into the shark-infested hallways between classes. My friends stuck close to me when they could, but our class schedules weren’t the same. This girl made me not want to come to school, when I loved school. She made me loath to get up in the morning. She made me so angry I wanted to hit her. Hard.

And I hated her for it.

I hated her for taking away my pleasure in my friends. For taking away my love of school. For making a misery of what was supposed to be a fun time in my life. I hated her for laughing at my pain.

After Christmas break, I braced for a renewed assault—but it never came. Apparently this girl had gotten rid of whatever bee had gotten into her bonnet. I was relieved—but it wasn’t enough.

You see, this girl never apologized. Indeed, she never even alluded to her behavior. She even had the nerve to ask me to vote for her for class president. (I did not.) I have seen her at reunions since, and she has smiled at me, pretended she was happy to see me, acting like nothing had ever transpired between us.

And perhaps she thinks nothing did. Perhaps she thinks it was “just words” or “just kid stuff.” Perhaps she thinks that because I never showed my emotion that it didn’t hurt me. Perhaps she doesn’t even remember, or thinks I don’t remember.

But I do.

She would be surprised, I’m sure, to know that her actions still make me so angry I want to hit her. That remembering that time still makes me almost cry. That when she smiles at me now I want to slap her. That I want to tell her what a hypocrite she is, and let everyone know what a nasty, mean person she is at heart. That the scars have not healed.

The difference in these two tales? One bully apologized. The other didn’t. The bully that had been my best friend was more devastating during the event, but the wounds healed with her sincere explanation and apology.

I know my high school bully will never apologize. And my wounds will never fully heal because of that. And I would never ask her to apologize, because unless the apology came truly from her heart, it would mean nothing. Most of the time, I’m okay with that. Most of the time I don’t even think about that girl or her actions. But when I do—the freshness of the pain surprises me. The rawness of the wound, even after almost 25 years.

So if you’ve ever bullied anyone, or even think you might have inadvertently, and regret it, let me tell you: It is never too late to apologize. Those simple words, “I’m sorry for hurting you,” will work wonders towards healing your “target.”

Because the pain is real.
Because the pain lasts far beyond high school.
Because words can wound, sometimes fatally.

But words can also heal.

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