Bullied Almost to the Point of Breaking

February 28, 2012

by — Posted in Personal Writing

I was a victim of extreme bullying growing up.  Surprise, surprise a fairly hard-core geek was picked on.    What I realized today is how many people don’t understand the difference about being picked on and being bullied is.   They think they should just stand up and be a man.   Fight back and they will back down.   Those are the people who back then were either doing the bullying or mostly just left alone for other reasons.

The reason this is coming up is due to the recent shooting in Chardon, Ohio. Being in Ohio it is a hot topic at work and among people I went to school with.   It is too close to home.   How could anything like this happen?   I was taking all of this in stride until a Facebook status message hit home for me.   It said:

I sure wish kids would just fight it out like we used to do in school instead of shooting each other. A little one on one knuckle action can turn into a great learning experience for everyone involved. I think kids would do themselves a service by sticking up for themselves, even if means taking an ass whoopin once in a while.

Comments followed how the kids today are pansies and should just man up and fight back.   Then somehow with fighting back the issue would just magically go away.   Being a target of bullying, that logic to me sounds as much like fantasy as saying the solution is just to ride a unicorn and you will never get bullied again.

My response:

I find it funny how some of the comments here have blinders on.
I know at least two of you were not bullied in school in any large degree. I had a few tormentors that tortured me so bad from middle school through high school that I actually feared for my life. I was much closer to taking myself out than to shoot anyone – but most of the time the kids that do this are so demoralized or broken that they just want to take someone else with them before they go themselves.
It is about standing up for yourself. It is about surviving so many beat downs that you wonder if you will survive the next one. The fact that the only reason you are being attacked is because of what you like, what you wear, what you own, or how good you grades are. You didn’t do anything to anyone else. You just kept your head down and counted the hours to get home where you wouldn’t be attacked.
To live in constant fear is something I hope none of you have to go through. That none of your kids have to go through. You can say I raised my child to be a man / woman who will stand up for themselves – but everyone has a breaking point.
What we are seeing play out in the media is the kids that have reached that breaking point.I had a friend in HS get caught by his parents with a shotgun in his mouth right before he could pull the trigger. He was sent away for a while to deal with this – he could have just as easily turned the gun on his tormentors instead.

It is also naïve to say this couldn’t have happened when we were in school. I know for fact of at least two people who carried a gun to school every day for a couple of years. I didn’t know it when I was in school, I found out about it a few years after I graduated.

To mock the kids that resort to this doesn’t make the kids bad. It just means you were more likely in school to be part of the problem. When we are down to the point of calling them pansies or pussies, that’s part of the reason these kind of things happen.

This is by no means a defense or justification for their actions – just an understanding of what some of the kids go through to reach this horrific point.

I did get a comment back about surviving being picked on, and my response (since I know the person giving the comment):

There is also a difference between being picked on which happened my whole school career and extreme bullying where a group of kids would regularly beat on you no matter how much or little you fought back.

The worst years of my torment were seventh grade through the beginning of my Sophomore year.  My seventh grade I moved to a new town, a new school, and a new life in Vermilion, OH.   I was coming from Elyria where I was picked on, but never really bullied.   Moving to an area where there wasn’t anyone that wasn’t white and the economic between groups was wide was a bit of culture shock to me at 12 years old.

I was the kid that would rather have a book shoved into his face than talk to you.   I just wanted to get through school and make it the promised land where you were no longer picked on.   I had a small group of friends, but I mostly kept to myself.   I looked the stereotypical geek / nerd role with the exception is that I normally had name brand clothing thanks to my mother’s obsession over appearances. My demeanor mostly was timid, I wanted nothing more to be by myself and just do what needed to be done.   I left everyone alone, I only could have hoped it was reciprocated.   It wasn’t.

A month or two after I started in this new school I got jumped on the way home.  I don’t remember any particular reason (normally there wasn’t any), but it was after school on this long stretch of sidewalk that went along the road between the middle school on the high school.   I was riding my bike and got shoved off it into the field.  I remember fighting back and then getting shoved down again.   There was three of them and one timid me. I had no chance.   Eventually I got the bike up and got moving away – fast.

I believe it was the next morning that I got jumped by the same group coming into school on the same strip of road.  I believe the reason was I got away the day before.  While this wasn’t a daily occurrence if I couldn’t find someone to walk to school with the chances were very high that it would happen.   I dealt with this at least once a week.

I showed up to school or home covered in mud or clothes soaked from being tossed on my back into a mud puddle.   I had clothes torn.  I had new pairs of Nike Airs and Reebok Pumps popped and destroyed while I was being held down.  The only thing that I never remember happening was my bike tires getting slashed.

This happened repeatedly until it got to the point that I learned to be the first out of the school at the end of the day and as close to the last to arrive to school as possible.   I also varied which way I would come to school.   Sometimes I would cut through the woods and other times I would walk along the long strip of sidewalk.

Then for a couple semesters disaster struck.   My grades were slipping.   I was getting D’s on my report card (not that many F’s that I remember).   This was caused by me switching schools and the bullying, I had adjustment issues.  So the teachers worked out something with my parents that I had to get a note signed by my teachers of any homework assignments I had.   If I didn’t get the papers signed, I would get a detention.  This meant I couldn’t be the first out of the building.  Which in turn made me a prime target for the bullies.

Eventually I managed to get my grades up again to an acceptable level and I went back to my routine of being the first out of the school again.  I would exit out through the cafeteria and high-tail it to the woods between a crack in the fence between the soccer field and the football field. I was like clockwork getting out the building.  If I thought anyone was close behind me, when I hit the woods I ran as fast as I could to get through them.

A friend of the family told my dad that she was a little sad the last day of school my eighth grade year.   She found the sight of me being the first out of school amusing.   She never realized that I was just avoiding getting jumped again.

One of my tormentors was whispering to a couple girls in my last period class.  He was then looking over at me and laughing.  I knew I had to get out of there.  The bell rang and I took off to get out of the building.  He followed me and caught me in the stairwell.   He punched me three times in the face in quick succession while the girls watched on.

A teacher caught him as I was trying to get away dazed.  We were both hauled into the office.   The assistant principal was going to give us both in school suspensions for fighting.   At least he believed when I said I didn’t throw a punch and I was just trying to get away.  He also believed that I did nothing to instigate it. The other kid got the suspensions and I got nothing.   Well, except for getting punched again after his suspension was over.

This was small town middle America, all the kids were safe to walk the street and nothing bad ever happened to them.  The citizens seemed to just turn a blind eye.   I was jumped on a major roadway during prime before school hours. Once I believe a bus even drove by.  I was jumped in front of random houses in the Vallyview subdivision.  Never once during any of these dozens of incidents did a car stop.  Never did anyone question what was happening.   In their mind it is just kids being kids, nothing bad could ever happen in their town.

During all of this I never went to the school or my parents.   One of the screwed up things in our society that those that are constantly picked on is that people in authority don’t care.    In Elementary school you would get in trouble for tattling on someone for hitting you.  Half the time the schools would turn a blind eye unless they see it. You would get reprimanded for tattling – so you were screwed every which way.

The parent perspective was worse.  Your parents have this idea of the life you lead.   They always think it is better than it really is.   As a kid you don’t want to seem weak or an outcast to your own parents.   You just build up their fantasy of what is happening and suffer through another day.   My parents would have cared and may have actually tried to do something.   The problem is that this tried to do something would have been to talk to school.  Now you are looking like a tattle tale and when the bullies get you away from everyone you were going to get it worse.   From the perspective a 12 -13 year old your only choice it to take it or run.  Life really sucked.

I tried to live up to the manly image that I thought my father wanted.   At one point because I hurt myself in some little way my father said I would need to be grown up or I still would  be a cry baby if i stubbed my toe.   I’m paraphrasing that a bit, somewhere I have it written in another post.  He didn’t mean it like I took it, but at the same time there was no way I was going to bring to him what I was going through.

To my mother, I’ve written about her before that appearance was everything. There was no way I was going to come clean and seem to be loser.   I don’t think she would have thought less of me, she just would have been in denial of the whole thing.  That I was blowing it out of proportion and everything would be ok and work out.

Freshmen year was still bad.   I did mange to blend in more, but still punched regularly in the hallways.  I had homework torn up.   Books were destroyed.  I was shoved halfway across hallways.   It was easier to get the “safe” zone of houses on my bike from the high school.   I’m not sure I ever really got jumped after school except once or twice for the next four years.   All my torment happened in the school.

Sophomore year opened up to my first after school activity, the marching band.  I was deeply involved and passionate about it.  It also had the advantage of not having to leave school immediately when it ended.  I also had friends that could drive me home.   I also moved to contacts and got braces.   Appearance wise I was much less of a target.  A few months into my sophomore year I lost my virginity and had my first long-term girlfriend. Life was better.

Two big incidents stood out my sophomore year.  The first was in history class.   The teacher walked out of the room for a couple of minutes and one of my tormentors leaped over the desk and punched me hard in the face.  What makes this incident different is that it was in front of the class.  One of my good friends was sitting next to me and did nothing.   At all this discussions of pansies or people who won’t stand up for something, I never stood by and let get a friend get beat – with the exception being if they deserved it.  It did teach me to read my friends and trust their qualities on how I expect them to act instead of just believing in blind faith that all my friends would act like me.

The other big incident was being shoved, pushed, and punched on the way back inside after gym class.  One person just took pity on me and started wailing away on the guy leading the group doing this to me.   He knocked two of the tormentors teeth out.  They both got out of school suspensions. He taught me that not everyone on the planet actually turns a blind eye to what is happening around them.

Junior and Senior years were better for me.   The bullying was there, but not as prevalent.  I did have issues with a couple of people in marching band and picked on them for being gay.  It was more a general dislike on both sides.   This is kind of the normal rivalry.   In some ways our group may have taken it too far.   I still feel sorry for that to this day.  We didn’t actually believe they were gay and honestly I was still a little surprised later in life when it turned out they were.

I wasn’t in the bottom rung of kids in the school.   I was definitely in the lower half of the school hierarchy. Each time I switched schools – Open Door – Elyria – Vermilion – I fell a bit further down the ladder.   I think by the time I graduated I was closer to the dead center.  Average is all I wanted to be.   I wanted to be somewhere where I could blend into the crowd.

I did get into a few fights in school, but that was separate from the dozen or so kids that heavily terrorized me for at least four years.  I’m not writing any of this for attention to my plight.  I’m happy today.  I’m sure I carry some baggage from those incidents – but I carry heavier baggage from other things.  Don’t feel sorry for me.  I’m happy with who and I am.  I am also appreciative that in adulthood I can be the geek I want to be.

I can admit to where I was and what happened to me.   Some people spend the rest of their lives in denial acting like they were popular when they weren’t.  Some move far away and reinvent themselves, leaving their old life completely behind on.   Some are broken for their rest of their life and will never be normal.  Some become successful and use all that pain to push them further.   Some kill themselves and everyone acts like they don’t know why.  The ones that are completely screwed up and can’t survive are the ones that shoot up schools.

Those years feel like the ones that are the worst.  Hormones and emotions are raging and you think things can’t get worse.  I did spend a few weeks being a cutter.   Slicing cuts into my arms and legs.  Hiding them from everyone the best I could.   Some people did notice though.   I was doing it to see how bad it would hurt to slit my wrists.  I realized to myself that as much as I was going through that suicide was a cowards way out.  I am glad I learned that.

Just realize your children might be going through the same thing, and you would never know it. In the end that is who I want you to think about after reading this.  I want to worry that your kid is a bully.  I want you to worry that your kid is being bullied to the point that they could consider suicide.

I thought about suicide as young as seventh grade.  I feared for my life to the point that I thought it might just be easier.  Life did get better though.  That is the lesson you should impart to your child.  If they are having a hard time, it will get better.   They will be able to move on and be who they want to be without the torment that only seems to exist in school.   The real question I have is why does the interim have to be such torture on some of our kids.

2 thoughts on “Bullied Almost to the Point of Breaking

  1. Wow – powerful words Brent! This makes me really sad. I teach a class of 3-4-year-olds and found myself looking at their innocent faces today wondering if one of them could grow up to be either a teen being bullied or a teen who bullies. It broke my heart to think of any of them having to deal with either and it also breaks my heart to think of you – little elementary school you, as I remember you most – being bullied. I’m sorry that happened to you and applaud you sharing your story.

  2. Yeah – but you also were around the days I was a straight A student.   It is heart breaking to think my son may go through anything like that.   He is more outgoing and less shy than I was – so it is unlikely he will have the same issues (cross fingers).   

    Thank you for writing. 

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