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Bullying and Me: The Full Story

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Authoress Note:  There will be some profanity on this post. It is not because I enjoy cursing, but because the people around me involved in my experiences do.  Also, names have been changed to protect identity.

   *****

  Kids will be kids.

Words are just words.

Just ignore it.

Not everyone is going to like you.

These are a few things that I’ve heard to excuse bullying when I was being bullied as well as today when bullying is brought up in the news. As if  bullying is dust can be brushed away. It is not that easy.  I’ve mentioned my experience being bullied before on previous youth op-eds, saying that I got called “ugly” and “retard” for making good grades. That is not even the half of it.

My bullying experience started one day during lunch in 10th grade. I was almost finished eating when a girl’s voice called my name. I turned to see Nadia and her friend Nikki staring at me.

“Give me some candy!” Nadia snarled.

Turning back to my food, I said in a calm, firm voice, “No.”

“Ugly ass.” Nadia hissed as Nikki giggled. Throughout 10th and 11th grade, Nadia and Nikki were my enemies and they took the time to tease me whenever they felt like it. It sucked because they were in three of my six classes that I had.

In addition to Nadia and Nikki,  I had boys and girls who teased me in Literature & Composition class in 10th and 11th grade. They made fun of me because I liked reading and made good grades. It really hurt me because it was my favorite subject  and enjoying it subject was just a part of who I was.

Another thing that stung was that none of my classmates who were bystanders stood up for me. They probably didn’t want to be bullied themselves, but their inaction felt just as bad as getting teased.

When you have some people tease you and nobody sticks up for you, you end up thinking that no one cares about you.

I wanted to scream “You don’t know me!” at the jerks. Yet, I couldn’t. Any huge disruption in the class resulted in my teacher giving everybody essays. Sometimes, we got two or three in one class period. Despite what my classmates thought, I hated doing them.

All the bullies mentioned have one thing in common: they were black. It is not cool for black kids to be smart. If you really get noticed for it like I did, then you’re in trouble. In middle and high school, it isn’t cool for anyone to get noticed for being smart. Yet,  for young minorities, it is considered taboo because they aren’t portrayed as smart in society that often. Just look at television and the news  if you don’t believe me.

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have been so affected by bullying if I hadn’t been so insecure before the bullying started. Since 9th grade, I was extremely aware of how different I was from other black girls. Instead of shopping, I enjoyed playing video games. Instead of listening to rap and R & B, I enjoyed alternative rock and soundtrack music.  Instead of watching BET, I enjoyed watching cartoons  from Japan.

I had a hard time making friends, especially with other girls. Before the bullying started, I’d managed to make one new friend that was female and different like I was. However, the bullying still hurt me  because I felt like an outsider among my own race. You see, the friend I’d made wasn’t black; she was a Mexican girl named Rose.

I didn’t tell any adults about being bullied because I’d figured no one would understand. Most teachers wanted to leave disruptions outside the classroom and focus on learning. My parents were a slightly different story. My mother wanted me to tell her so she could talk to the teacher. My father told me how he was bullied and how he became strong.

I didn’t want the bullying to go away. In fact, I knew it wouldn’t go away even if I had told someone, because one bully is easily replaced by another.

I only wanted to know that it was okay to be different, that it was okay to be myself. I also wanted to know that it was possible for some people who don’t know me to accept me.

In order to become strong in the face of bullying, you need a good foundation of self-esteem. That foundation should be made by the parents from the very moment a child is born. My mother, as good as she can be, had been making me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  My father did his best to empathize with me, but his praise wasn’t enough.

While I felt smart at school, I felt like a stupid failure at home. To compensate for the approval I didn’t get at home, I worked harder than I usually did at school. I had always made the honor roll at the end of the semester, but now I wanted to make an A or B throughout the semester on everything.

The combination of bullying at school and emotional stress at home started to make me depressed in 10th grade. The following year, it felt like I was being bullied more often because of the pressure teachers were putting on students to pass the graduation tests. My school and many others needed to make a successful academic yearly performance in order for the county to keep its accreditation. As a result of the added pressure, I became even more depressed and hated the school’s guts. Were we just tools to be used to make the school look good?

The cracks in my resilience came the night before I turned sixteen. My mother told me goodnight and that I couldn’t do anything right even though I was sixteen. The following day after school, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to die. If I was nothing more than a freak at school and a failure at home, then what was the point of living anymore?

I spent the rest of that year trying very hard to answer that question with hope. It was a blur of depression and suicidal thoughts like me jumping off a freeway pass. I hadn’t written anything since my sixteen birthday. To cease writing when it had given me freedom to express myself  was a  sign that I had truly given up on life.

I had decided to kill myself on New Year’s Day so I could truly experience the feeling of a new beginning. Only problem was, I didn’t know how. I had been spending the holidays at my sister’s apartment so I was unfamiliar with what could be used to end my life. I wanted to jump of the roof of the building, but didn’t know how to get there.

Then I realized I had a headache from thinking too hard and a very small voice told me how it would suck to kill myself and make my family sad. Therefore, I told my sister and my mother about my feelings. I still didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to make people sad either.

My sister empathized with me somewhat, but  my mother couldn’t. She had tried changing the way she communicated with me for a day or so, but soon fell back into her old habits. I was still depressed, but because I cared about making my family happy, I trudged on. Then, something happened that brought my spirit back to life a little more.

During a Spanish class in my junior year, a loud argument had broken out between Nadia and another boy named Kerry. It had caught the attention of the entire class. I never found out why they were arguing because Kerry’s next words had me stunned.

“DUCK ASS HOE!” he screamed at Nadia over and over.

She stared down at her desk forlorn, looking the same way I felt when I got bullied. Kerry noticed her expression and said cruelly, “Yeah, go ahead and cry!”

At that point, my teacher intervened and kicked Kerry out. I hadn’t stood up for Nadia  because I didn’t know what to say. I was still staring at her, feeling a mixture of pity and confusion. I’d hadn’t considered her or my other bullies human until that moment. Why was this happening to me and Nadia?

Obviously, I couldn’t ask Nadia that. She may have gone from being the bully to being a victim, but she still didn’t like me. In fact, I divined that she had been bullied before she ever met me. Therefore, she probably felt as mistrustful as I did when I was being bullied.

To find answers, I started reading our city’s teen newspaper. The newspaper featured news stories, personal essays, and artwork from inner city teens. I wanted to see if there were stories on bullying that were similar to mine or Nadia’s.

There were two that caught my attention. One story was by a girl who had been bullied since grade school and started dressing provocatively and using profanity in high school so no one would tease her. It worked, but she didn’t like the way she had no self-respect. Eventually, she started being herself again and found new friends who assist her in raising her self-esteem.

The other story was by an intelligent black boy who wished that more of his black peers would reach their full potential. He explains how his classmates would tease him about using SAT level words and how ignorant and degrading they were being by dressing in hip-hop styles and addressing each other with profanity.

Just then a soft, teenage boy’s voice in my head created an epiphany. It said, “Things are rough all over.”

The voice belonged to Ponyboy Curtis, the main character of the classic coming-of-age book The Outsiders. I’d been in love with that book since I’d first read it in middle school, but I never realized how much it applied to my life until the Spanish class incident. Like Ponyboy, I had a huge lesson to learn about people.

My bullies were just people who wanted to be accepted just as much as I did. They were doing a bad thing for a good reason because they saw no other alternative. They expect little of themselves, because other people do. In order to stand up for themselves and make themselves feel better, they turned to bullying.

Upon realizing this, I forgave my bullies and vowed to hone my writing skills so that I could creatively and realistically tell my side of things. I still had other demons to fight off and they would eventually break me again in college. However, I took some pride in knowing that I had survived bullying.

Since I graduated from high school, I have read many tragic stories involving bullying. In fact, it seems almost every week I hear of a bullycide (i.e. suicide due to bullying) via the blog Ronkempmusic. Some of kids were bullied even worse than I was, because I was NEVER cyberbullied. Nonetheless, I’ve struggled for many years trying to find the perfect words to explain my feelings.

The truth is no one is perfect.  We all make mistakes, some bigger than others. No one is ever all good or all bad. It is not right for bullies to torment others, but it is also not right to label bullies as monsters as I once did.

Furthermore, it is important for bystanders to try to do something if they witness bullying. Even in my stunned state, I could have yelled, “Shut up!” when Nadia was getting teased. It would have been awkward, but it might have been life saving too. After all, Nadia could have been pushed over the edge like I was and killed herself, leaving me  feeling guilty and still confused.

Thankfully, I saw Nadia again my senior year. She transferred out of a class I was in, it seems she still didn’t like me, but that was fine. At least, it provided closure; I was never bullied again by anyone.

I end my story with one last lesson for those being bullied. Throughout my torment, I never ceased being myself. I kept reading,  making good grades, and doing whatever made me happy. It annoyed the heck of my tormentors, but it was sweet revenge sometimes.

In the words of  The Outsiders’ author S.E. Hinton, “Stay gold.” You may get dented emotionally for being yourself, but don’t let who you are get eaten away. Stay gold.

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Written by Serena Zola

March 5, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Posted in Youth Op-Eds

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. This is a really great post. Stay gold!

    Elaine

    March 5, 2013 at 10:06 PM

  2. Wow, just wow. I am so sorry to hear that you had to go through that. It is always very heartbreaking hearing stories like this. I think most kids can say they have experienced some kind of bullying at some point in their life (including myself) and if not they definitely know someone close to them that has been bullied, and it just makes you realise how horrifyingly common it is. Even a small amount of bullying can be shattering to a teen, or even adults so I have so much admiration and in a way, pride I guess for those who have had to deal with it day in day out and have gotten through it. It is definitely not an easy thing to deal with so you should be really proud of yourself.

    No one should ever have to apologize for being themselves.

    beckyday6

    March 5, 2013 at 3:39 PM


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