It gets better

That’s the phrase circulating around facebook, television and other media outlets right now.  It’s a nice, calming slogan attempting to abate what feels like a crisis.  The recent suicides of Hope Witsell, Asher Brown, Phoebe Prince, Raymond Chase, Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi, all teenagers, have us reeling.  Bullying, and specifically cyberbulling, are all over the news right now.  You can’t turn on a news program or go online to a news site without seeing at least one story about this horrible problem.

But it’s not new.  Of course, the cyber aspect is relatively new, and there are probably more ways to bully now than ever before, but bullying has been around forever.  And ever.  And ever.

I was bullied in middle school.  I wasn’t bullied for being gay or for being sexually active.  All the same, though, I was bullied for being what, ultimately, all kids are bullied for: for being me.  Girls that had been my friends decided — at some secret recess meeting, I’d always imagined — that I was not good enough to hang out with them anymore and that I should be shunned.  Of course, no one told me this directly, but their indirect manner of communication could not have been more clear or hurtful. 

I remember, one incident in particular: it was seventh grade and I had approached our science teacher, who was also in charge of the bowling team, to sign up for the bowling team that I had been on the year before with friends I’d known for years.  She looked at me with sympathy bordering on — and maybe it was — pity.  She told me my former teammates had already formed the team without me and there was no more room on it.  I’m pretty sure I was about to walk away from her without dropping a tear, but I know the tears were just moments from letting loose.  I think the only thing that stopped the flood was my shock.  It was really happening.  I couldn’t pretend anymore.  My friends had left me.  And they hadn’t even left a note.

These former friends TP-d my house several times, keyed my parents’ car, left nasty notes for me and generally made me feel scared, confused and completely alone.  I wasn’t sure what I had done.  I didn’t know what had changed.  I didn’t know how to fix it.  I didn’t know that it would ever be fixed.

I made new friends, but the sting still stung.  And I felt insecure in a way that I had never felt before.  I felt like the ground had given out beneath me and that I would never be on stable soil with sure-footing again.  My parents discussed sending me to a different school.  My teachers looked at me with sympathy and tried to tell me things like, “Buck up.”  I made vain efforts to connect with my old chums, but I was rebuffed and excluded.  Seventh and eighth grades were the two worst years of my life.

I felt so alone and so scared.  It felt like things would never change, that I would always be outcast and never feel safe.  Even my new friends felt temporary, like they were just sheltering me for a short time.  I ate alone at lunch and I stopped participating in class.  I remember with such particularity the shift in me with regard to participation.  In our eighth grade French class, we were already asked to speak only in French.  My first semester I really tried to do just that.  I think I must have been one of the only ones who tried because I remember our teacher singling me out as a good example, “Class, essaye d’etre plus comme Kate, parle seulement en francais.”  By second semester, though, my name was on the board week after week, indicating someone who was being reprimanded for lack of participation.

I remember mumbling answers in social studies, since I hadn’t yet stopped wanting to talk in class, and having other students hear me, raise their hands and repeat what I had said.  And get acclaim, of course, for doing so.  It was at this time that I also started twisting and, eventually, pulling out my hair.

And then high school came.  And it got better.  I made new friends and made amends with some of my old friends.  And it got better.  It was still hard sometimes, but the bullying stopped, the pranks stopped, the indirect cruelty just stopped.  And it got better.  I didn’t know what I had done.   I didn’t know why things had changed.  I  knew only that, slowly,  things had changed and things were better.  Much better.

If I could talk to any kid that is suffering at the hands of other kids, I would tell her, “It really does get better.  I promise.”  I know these kids feel so awful and so scared and cannot see a better future, but it is out there.  But if they can make it through the horrible storm of being a teenager, they will grow into an adult who is stronger than they ever thought was possible.

As much as this part of my childhood still has the power to make me sad, I am grateful for it.  I think that it has made me a more empathetic, kinder person than I would have been otherwise.  I think I am more sensitive and perceptive than I would have been without the pain.  And I know that I am stronger for it. 

I learned that worrying about what others think of me does me no good.  Because that opinion can change with the wind.  Whether I change or not, others’ perceptions of me may and I cannot control that.  So I do not worry about them and, instead, worry about how I am living my life.  Am I being kind?  Am I giving?  Am I strong?  When I can answer yes to those questions is when I feel at peace.  And no bullying or ridicule will change that.


5 Responses to “It gets better”

  1. 1 gwendolyngarden October 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Amen, sister.

  2. 2 Jane Roe October 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    All the years that I taught I kept wishing I could get the students who were hurting to understand what a minuscule part of their entire lives high school actually was and to not let it get to them. Of course they never believed me. Who in the middle of something like that would believe it could ever end? It was probably one of the most heartbreaking parts of my job.

  3. 3 Raoser October 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Beautiful post. It does get better. I too was the victim of such horrible acts, behavior that can traumatize a person for years if not forever. It’s so sad because in the end even those who are doing the bullying are scared. It all stems from fear and insecurity, and the scariest part is that at that age kids don’t know it’s not going to be that way forever, they don’t have the frame of reference. It’s why it’s so important we do exactly what you’re doing, write about it, talk about it, facebook about it. Because it really does get much better.

  4. 4 kayt October 8, 2010 at 4:52 am

    I am so sorry. I never knew this was happening to you. I hope I wasn’t part of it. For all my memories…things that HAPPENED at that school are mostly a blur. I’ve had no desire to remember and catalog anything but the summers.

    Cherokee sucked.

    I remember Elena getting bullied early on…and I remembered thinking things would be better if I just didn’t talk for a while. I thought a LOT about the Wire-mother/Terrycloth-mother footage some idiot teacher decided to show us our first year there.

    I decided no more flamboyant Kate-soon-to-be-Kayt from elementary school wearing fun costumes would make sense at my new school. No aspiring to be popular with anyone new or most of those I’d known. When I look back I see I was still eccentric even in mostly-shut-down-mode but I was also fairly mentally insulated. I was just going to get through it. I had no hopes. I knew I shouldn’t talk because talking would get me in trouble. That”s what I remember, thinking that talking in public was risky and not worth it.

    Teachers didn’t help as I had had my own issues with them. We fought to get me away from Mrs. Hammond…who was a horrid teacher…and my being in her class was also indicative of the fact that of the two tracks that year I was being tracked with who the school assumed was the less than smart set. Mrs. Hammond once accused me of plagarism because she didn’t think I could be as smart as I wrote. It wasn’t like I was being smart in class, I was just getting through it. There was no reward in talking and participating in those classes…there was just risk.

    Boy teased me for being ugly, awkward, and flat chested…I dressed funny too. At summer camp I was flat out told “I’d date you, if you were better looking.” I got tied to a jungle-gym once…but in retrospect those were boys who I thought were mean but they were nothing in comparison to real bullies. They were just stupid and confused about me….they were also geeks and awkward and I was like them but confusingly female.

    Lisa seemed to care about fashion and making sure I didn’t look too horrible…she’d stop me and forcibly roll my cuffs an try to polish me up…but it was probably just because she thought being fashionable would protect her from racially motivated bullshit…no luck.

    I had no idea what was going on with you. I knew my female friends had changed, but if any of them had contempt for me I was blissfully unaware. Things were weird and changing but I also had enough going on in my home life, fighting with my dad and wondering about his drinking, to keep my mind occupied. I remember some female friends, those of us more awkward, trying to talk about what was happening…but we didn’t have the words and gave up. I remember not understanding some of the new girls, and where old friends were, and then most of it going away and having new friends.

    I remember best the individual one-on-one friendships like growing closer to Karen Dunst…and she an I spent many hours on the phone while I was at my dad’s (and being across town for weekends…that kills your social life even if you get one)….but the biggest change in my social life was when I started making friends with odd, geeky boys.

    I knew I was planning for bigger with high school. At the end of middle school I started doing speech club with Sarah Bruce, I wanted to talk again….I started planning my new name, my new life, and how I would be free and be able to talk once I got to high school..and it worked out for me.

    I had also been prepared before middle school. I had an amazing babysitter who warned me, who stayed in touch with me when I was in middle school, and who would say “Middle school is the worst…lowest teachers on the totem…worse times with friends, with female friends….everything…it gets better after.”

  5. 5 Kristin October 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Sigh. Although I am now friends or “friends” with every one of the girls that made my life hell from 5th to 8th grade, I still read your post and got pretty emotional. One of the things that makes me the most sad when I look back now is how helpless my mom felt. I could see it on her face every time I walked in the door from school utterly defeated, or hear it in her voice when she called my grandmother to tell her what happened to me that day.

    But, I can say for sure it gets better. There was a time when my friends were the biggest source of pain in my life, and now they are the greatest blessing. Lucky, lucky me. 🙂

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October 2010

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