Ancestry.com had a special over this past weekend that did more than give me a perspective into my family’s distant past.
It gave me perspective on my own.
I’m no angel. And I should be the first one to be extra careful not to single others out for abuse, especially the group-type abuse that so often happens in elementary and high school.
I recall being a ‘mean girl’ along with others I hung out with, to the new kid on the block. However, that ‘new kid’ eventually proved himself, and was given admittance to our group, which was, sad to say, a church youth group.
My story was different.
I was the new kid in town in 5th grade. The teacher, whose name escapes me, assigned me a ‘buddy’ to show me where everything was. By that age, being consistently abused at home, I had learned that trusting just got you in trouble. Not seeing how the young girl assigned to be my ‘buddy’ would take it, I went off to find the bathroom on my own that first day.
I didn’t know I had made an enemy who would make it her business to torment me through the rest of my time at not just elementary but through high school.
This girl rode on the bus with me. I saw her get off the bus at a run-down trailer park. It was clear that she was very poor. Maybe suffering the same types of abuse that were a daily event for me. However, I don’t know that. Poverty does not immediately make abuse a certainty. My family had money, property and all the stuff a 10-year-old kid might ask for. Abuse still happened.
This girl traveled with her own ‘pack.’ I could name names, but years have made that unnecessary. Her best friend was especially cruel. That girl’s maiden name is embroidered in my memory.
When I looked at yearbooks during the free Ancestry.com special, I saw the face of the second girl in question in our junior year photos. 40-plus years later, I looked with different eyes. She didn’t look like the stereo-typical ‘mean girl.’ She was not pretty, never was popular, never really did anything of note.
I got curious. What was her life like now? Enter Facebook into this trip back into the past.
I found everyone except my fifth grade ‘buddy.’ Seeing the faces, memories surfaced. There were the girls who would gather together, and scream out my name at unexpected times, in a mocking way. There was the one who spent most of our 7th grade math class making fun of everything I did, right down to the way I yawned. There was the one who seemed to constantly have a screwed-up look on her face when she looked at me.
My former bullies, as adults, all seem to be doing well, married or in seemingly healthy relationships, prosperous, loved.
We have heard about recent suicides which occurred because the ‘class victim’ felt that was the only way to escape. During my 8th grade year, that was exactly where I was headed. Bullying wasn’t done at that time by cyber-threats, and online insults. It was done up close and in real time.
There should have been some place for me to escape. It was not at home, where the height of the sexual, psychological and neglectful abuse was happening. When I needed eyeglasses, I was told by my mother that I was faking it, and just ‘wanted to be like’ a girl whose mother was a former classmate of hers, and to whom my mother felt socially superior. I’d made the mistake of telling her the girl had gotten glasses.
When I told her that the girl in question had been named the class beauty that year, my mother said to me, “You could have done that if you wanted to, You’re always going to be a little nothing.” She was furious that the daughter of her rival beat me out for something I didn’t have the confidence to try for.
School was worse. I was in an elective choral class, on the front row. Three girls behind me made me their personal victim. When we were singing, they would viciously pinch me, making me edge up to get away from them. It got so bad one day that I had almost gotten up to where the teacher was playing the piano. She snapped at me to get back in the row, not considering that there might be a reason for me to be so close to her.
It didn’t occur to me to turn around and tell them to stop, or tell the teacher. I had yet to find my voice.
Bullying that year got to the point that I began to check out library books on suicide. There were only about four, so I kept checking the same ones out. Carried them with me at school. One day, I found a note tucked in one, using my name, and saying how much everyone disliked me.
I hid out wherever I could during breaks. Lived my life in fear. My grades were terrible. I was sending out a dozen different red flags. One person, a guidance counselor, picked up on it, and tried to build a relationship with me.
She backed off when I didn’t gush out my story. Perhaps she didn’t understand, despite her good intentions, that a person who had been silenced from a young age, can’t readily open up, even to a kind and loving person.
After two months of daily torture in my choral class, I finally asked to be transferred to another elective class. That class was a bit better. I had one girl who frequently threatened to beat me up. However, there were no more pinches.
The girls from my former class, after telling everyone that they ‘ran me out of choral class,’ pretty much saved their actions for gym class, making fun of the way I walked and my body shape.
In the midst of my ruminations about suicide, I met my first true friend–Jesus Christ–at an altar call at a non-denominational Protestant church. That experience not only saved my soul, but saved my life.
Bullying didn’t stop when I reached adulthood. It happened at workplaces (more than one), in a college class, in a few church congregations. However, now in my mid-fifties, it doesn’t happen now, or hasn’t in a while.
Maybe because I’m different. I don’t suffer bullies in silence now. I don’t use suicidal behavior as a coping mechanism anymore. I might take a bit of nonsense from some adult who still thinks they are a ‘mean girl’ back in high school. But now, after praying, and thinking it out, I take action.
If it is a workplace situation, and I can’t resolve it on my own, I talk to my supervisor. If that doesn’t work, I am fortunate enough to have a grievance procedure that I am not afraid to use.
Perhaps it is the way I carry myself now. I’m very strong inside, where it counts. Where bullying once did major devastation. As I get stronger, I notice such behavior from others hardly ever occurs.
I have jokingly said that it might be my ‘Don’t screw with me” look that pretty much lives on my face, wherever I happen to be. I think a lot of it is also protection from God, who I continue to get to know better, as I live longer and continue to gain perspective.
Perhaps, it is that relationship with God that made me respond the way that I did after that trip via Ancestry.com and Facebook to my past.
There was a time when I would have rather been tortured than to forgive. Finally, I realized, that to refuse to forgive was to bully myself. That little girl, adolescent, adult worker/parishioner (within me) deserved better.
This weekend, during rosary, the faces and memories of most of my former bullies came to mind. In learning to forgive, I have sometimes had to make it strictly obedience, saying, “Lord, I don’t want to forgive them. I don’t, but I will do it because You ask me to, and because You have forgiven me.”
This weekend, it wasn’t like that at all.
It was better.
Some of those memories still smarted as I prayed. Some resentment bubbled as I pondered the ‘good lives’ that Facebook showed of my former bullies.
Then, I remembered that Facebook is not real life. What we put on our pages is often what we wish was true, or what we want others to believe, not the actual lives we live. If my former bullies still have the hearts that led them to torment me and others, no amount of prosperity, pro-offered love or years married can make up for it.
I recalled a moment in a recent confession. Father Danny said to me, in a voice full of conviction, regarding a person who had repeatedly mistreated me, “You need to pray that God has mercy on them.”
Later, during prayer, I could almost hear him saying it.
Not what those who have been hurtful in my life offered me. Not what I might have wanted to have offered in years past. But what was right to give. Mercy, even as I have been given mercy. Grace, even as I have been given grace.
So, with a full heart, I prayed for mercy on the souls of my former bullies. Wherever they are, whatever they are doing, I hope that their memories of their actions have shaped them into better individuals. If not, then again, may God have mercy.
Much mercy. Even has God has had mercy on me.