On Bullies and why you try to be better, but aren’t.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I read this Jezebel article today and would like to tell you I had some feelings about it, and I don’t often like to have feelings, though I have to admit I have them from time to time. I just want you to know I don’t particularly like having feelings, though that isn’t the point. The point is that I know exactly, like to a T, how this girl feels, or I am pretty sure that I do. I was bullied in junior high as well, and that was probably where bullying happened the worst. Just to set the stage for that, one instance of bullying had a boy from my class write in ink on my favorite denim jacket a sarcastic “I’m cool.” I didn’t know about it until I got home and saw it on the back and was mortified. I remember going down to the basement laundry room to wash it off and hoping to goodness that my mom never found out about it.

There also were the “cool girls” or whatever (I doubt they had a name like “The Pink Ladies” of Grease) who I remember looking at me at school daily like I had something gross stuck to my face or caught in my hair. While I could recount awful, awful things these girls did, I’ll share a less traumatizing experience. When my friends decided to try out for cheerleading, after the “cool girls” responded negatively toward cheerleading, I remember one of the cool girls coming up to me and asking “are you trying out for cheerleading, too” in that tone that told me if I was about to try out for cheerleading, I just made her question every view of reality she had. No, I remember saying,  but didn’t bother explaining to her that I had no desire to wave a pom pom around.

Then I moved to a new school, so I have no idea what happened to any of these people, though I assume many of them just live in the town we lived in then, with families and kids and boring almost-upper-middle-class lives. The only thing I do know is that the girl who asked me if I was also trying out for cheerleading ended up being diagnosed with MS later in her life, along with her mom, and she does a lot with MS Walks for Life and other MS-related organizations in our community. Even though she is doing good works, I still wanna say, “karma is a bitch, isn’t it?” even though that is an awful thing to say and Karma exists throughout lives, and so on and so forth, if you have ever read anything about karma. So the karma comment is kind of irrelevant, and honestly, it is terrible she has such a debilitating illness.

Though bullies don’t just reside in junior high, as they also reside in adulthood. The thing is, bullying is way more passive-aggressive in adulthood and it is so much weirder, less in your face, and more regulated to people’s closed offices and some people simply call it gossip, though I think gossip can become a bullying mechanism as well. The thing is, as an adult, you know it goes on, but the less it becomes an issue, or a painful issue, though I would say it still sucks.  And I often wonder why they bother anyway. Is there something they are missing in their own lives? Are they upset by something you got that they didn’t? It must be something like jealousy, right? Or maybe just stunted personal growth? The good news is, of course, it is easier to avoid as an adult. You can do tons of things to never hear about it, and that is I think what makes bullying different now as compared to bullying in junior high.

But, in the linked article, the author talks about that even though our old bullying tormentors have “moved on” as have we and now have their own lives, babies, etc, there is still a part of you that wants to respond thusly (and I’m having a lengthy quote here because I wanna give some context):

Sure she had the backyard trampoline and the boy-girl parties I coveted when we were 13, but some day my hard work would pay off and I’d leave town for a good college. I’d end up living somewhere far away from Wisconsin, somewhere like Boston (I was obsessed with Boston, due to bricks being a sign of class and also not knowing what class was). One day I’d be working a job I loved, I’d have a life rich with experience, a million stories for dinner parties. I’d travel. I’d know things. I’d know interesting people. I’d experience things she’d never experience. And that’s how I’d “win.”

But part and parcel to my “winning” was my middle school tormenter agreeing with my definition of what it means to live a better life than another person.  I’ve traveled the country and lived abroad, but I’ve had a string of relationships that didn’t work out including a failed engagement. I graduated from college and my job sitch is fantastic, but I live in an apartment around the corner from a liquor store that has to buzz you into the room where you can buy wine. I couldn’t be happier with my personal life, but I don’t own a car. I live in one of the most exciting places in the world and can do almost whatever I want almost whenever I want it, but I’m childless. I met all three Hanson brothers one time during a shoot and one of them winked at me but I’ve never been to a Green Bay Packers game. What I really want is for her to acknowledge that she wishes her life were different, that she wishes her life were mine.

For sure. I could write a similar paragraph. I stayed home writing stories and reading books convinced that someday it would pay off. It did. I like to remind people of this now and then. I think my life is pretty awesome. But that last sentence in that paragraph is so important. There is this crazy, delirious part of you on the inside that totally and completely wants the harassers from the past to come up to you and say, “you know, I wish I had a life like yours today.” Just once.

But of course, they probably never will, even if they felt that way.

The closest I ever came to such a statement from anyone who picked on me in the past was at my ten-year reunion. The person gave an acknowledgment to what I had done so far in my life, in just ten years, and they were impressed. I remember smiling and saying something like thank you and I enjoy my life a lot. That person lives in the town we grew up in, has a family, and works a job where there is No Degree Required. I think the person even owns a home. I, meanwhile, am still in school, though in a Ph.D. program, living on a GTA stipend, in an efficiency apartment, but I have no kids and I can pretty much do whatever I want if I have the time and money, with money being the real kicker.  While that person starts the weekend with making dinner and maybe making sure the kids are all ready for bed soon, I start my weekend with a movie and a beer and no kids to interrupt my dinner, drinking, or movie watching and it is my version of bliss. And like how Erin Gloria Ryan points out in her article, still linked above, there is no way you can really right all the wrongs of what happened before. It would come out sounding bitter and you would only become the bully, even if it would be a little cathartic and maybe, there was some catharsis for the bullies back then, too, though I have no foggy idea of what that could be.


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