On bullying and being alone

 Every now and then, something happens in the YA writer's community that reminds me how proud I am to count myself a part of it.

This week that something was Young Adult Authors Against Bullying.

In response to the heartbreaking story of Phoebe Prince, two YA authors, Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall, started this group to speak out against extreme bullying, to share stories and provide support.

My story isn't an extreme case, but I thought I'd share it anyway.
__________

My very first week in first grade: I'm in a tiny private school, in a tiny Washington town where I don't even live. I live twenty minutes away. There are nine other students from first to twelfth grade. They all live here. They all know each other. I am an outsider.  In the library, far from our two teachers, they tease me until I cry and run into the main room. Sitting there alone, I'm passed by one of the older boys on his way to the restroom. He stops.

"I just wanted you to know," he says awkwardly. "That I don't dislike you. I was just teasing you because everyone else was."

I nod and say thank you because I can think of no other response to this. But I file it away. I am not hated, but neither do I matter.  I do not belong. This will become the theme of my elementary and middle school years as my parents move me from school to school looking for a place I can succeed.
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In fifth grade, the school closes. I'm moved to public school.

Things are both better and worse here. I am mocked here by some kids, sworn at and called names, but mostly I ignore them. A few kids will play with me and that is all I want. There is a brief period of weeks where I join in a group who's teasing a girl who's even more of an outsider than I am. It feels good not to be the one singled out, but it isn't that much fun, so I eventually stop. I tend to stick with the boys, as the girls are all playing by a set of rules I do not understand.

But mostly I read.  A lot.
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One day, my church group goes to a skate night in the bigger town nearby. The place is packed. I haven't skated in years and soon tire of falling down. No one will skate with me, no one will sit and talk with me. And there's no place to sit anyway. I end up under a counter, seated among the coats stacked around the bar stools, reading. I think nothing of this, it's standard operating procedure for me when I'm stuck somewhere lonely and overwhelming.

A day or two later, my mother calls me into the living room. "I just got a call from [youth pastor's name] about skate night. What did you do?"

I stare at her, not understanding. "I skated for a bit, and then I sat and read the rest of the night."

My mother sighs the sigh that means I've missed something vital. Again. "Well whatever you did, they think there's something mentally wrong with you and they don't want to take you anywhere anymore."

"Oh," is all I can think to say. Once more I am the outsider, a line drawn around me that I don't understand. And this time it's the adults who drew it.
__________

I'm in seventh grade, a different private school, and I hear some girls talking about me while I'm in a bathroom stall. They're saying how weird I am, how strange. Their words are carelessly cruel, spoken less with malice and more with mocking indifference. I am a joke to them.

The situation is so much like a book that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I content myself with simply flushing the toilet, and walking out of the bathroom in plain sight. Later that day, the girls are sitting behind me, and I hear one of them whisper "Miriam's not bad, really. She's actually kind of cool." I am immediately happy that I made them feel guilty and sad because I know they don't mean it.

Also in seventh grade I discover that lots of people have "invisible friends" who always seem to be sitting in the seat next to them.

"You can't sit here," they tell me. "That seat's saved for my invisible friend."

It doesn't seem worthwhile to point out how pathetic that statement is. So I always go sit somewhere else.
__________

I'm twelve years old and I am the quintessential outcast, the bookworm, the one who follows people because she's curious, who stares just a bit too long, who doesn't know the rules of the game she wants to play so badly. For a while, I'm even the smelly kid because no one told me I had to wear deodorant every day.

In terms of outright bullying I get off easy. In most of the schools I attend, coarse name calling and physical bullying are strictly monitored and the schools are small enough to make that feasible.  The adults might not know what to do with me, but they do protect me to a certain extent.
__________

But  I don't hang out with anyone at school. Moments of friendship, of connection, are periodic and fleeting. No one tells me secrets or cares about mine. I am alone.  Sometimes in the darkest moments, suicide crosses my mind. But books are an easier form of escape, and besides, I'm an introvert. I don't need people.

Or so I tell myself.

For eighth and ninth grade, my mom home-schools me and my sister. Now I am alone and it's okay, there's no one to see all the things I do wrong.  By the time we move and I start tenth grade in yet another school, things are better. But the feeling of being the outsider never really leaves.
__________

Even now, at almost thirty, I cringe inwardly whenever I say something awkward. I've been known to tear up in despair if I misread a social situation. And it is a constant effort for me to reach out to the people around me instead of burying myself in a book.

I wasn't physically tormented or verbally flayed in school. Mine is not a case of extreme bullying. But I do know that feeling of aloneness, of hopelessness, of being sure you'll never get it right and things will never be for you the way they are for everyone else.

That's why I joined this group, and if you have a story, I encourage you to join too. Because none of us were as alone as we thought we were.

15 comments:

  1. Wow, Miriam, some powerful stuff here. Sometimes childhood can be such an intricate, involved journey. And it does become a part of us, our essence. I hope that in some way, what you took from those years has enriched your thinking in response, and ultimately that wisdom comes to your words and stories.

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  2. Miriam. This is incredibly powerful, incredibly moving. Thank you so much for posting it. It’s exactly why we’re doing this. Thank you so much. xo

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  3. Joanne- I did learn a lot about people from those years. The first incident especially taught me how powerful group influence can be, and how many people get caught up in saying or doing things they never would have said otherwise. (kind of like the Internet)

    Carrie- Thank you. This is definitely the most frightening thing I've ever posted. But one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer was to reach kids like me. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction. :)

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  4. Oh sweetie. This is heart-breaking. I never fit in to the popular crowd, but at least I had other 'loser' friends around.

    For what it's worth, you managed to grow up and be a wonderful, caring, interesting, lovely person...inside and out. And I miss you.

    xo

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  5. I appreciate your willingness to share this, Miriam. If only we could all learn very early in life how much our thoughtless actions can affect others.

    You're definitely moving in the right direction. God bless!

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  6. Thank you for sharing this.
    My story is not one of being bullied, but of sticking up for those that were. I despised bullies. Half the time they were always bigger than their target. By the time I was in Jr. High, I had reached my full height of 5'7". That's not really all that tall, but I was taller than some of the boys or just as tall.
    I always stuck up for kids who were being bullied, otherwise I just hung out by myself.

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  7. Amy- Oh, thank you! My husband had a similar situation, on the outskirts but with others that he could hang out with. And I miss you too! Hopefully we can get down to Boise this summer.

    Rebecca- Thank you. It's true, life is a process. And perspective is a great gift of maturity. :)

    Caledonia- You're welcome. And on behalf of kids who were bullied, I'd like to say that your story is awesome.

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  8. Miriam, thanks for sharing this. I had a similar experience through high school of not having many friends, being teased, etc. I still am sort of a loner. I'm so glad I found your blog. I really enjoy it and getting to know you.

    I worry more for the kids now with bullying because with the Internet and cell phones there is sadly so much more opportunity to be mean.

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  9. Oh, Miriam, I feel like grabbing you in a huge hug and being your friend back then. I want to erase these things and make it so you never had to go through them. Please know how amazing I think you are for having posted this.

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  10. Miriam!! I had no idea! Well, I want you to know I am so glad you came to NICS and count you as a dear friend. Love ya!

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  11. Okay, just so you know, you guys are getting me all teary. Thank you for all the wonderful support and I'll try to finish up replying to everyone today.

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  12. Natalie- I know what you mean about the Internet. I feel like I got off lucky in a lot of ways. At least I wasn't bullied online; I could get away from it when I needed to.

    PJ- Aww, thank you! I will always take a hug. :) And it's wonderful to have so many good friends now.

    Nicole- *sniff* I love you too, friend. I was glad to be at NCIS! (Even if my social skills were still rusty.) Most people there were very kind.

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  13. Oh man... I've had some of those very same experiences. In third grade I started writing short stories and tried to throw together a chapterbook; when the girls in my class found out about it, they literally gathered around me and laughed. Some of them tried to grab my notebook from my hands but I hid it beneath my desk, put my head down, and tried to turn invisible. People thought I was the weird reading freak... I even heard them talking about me in the bathroom once. When we had class pictures and passed them out, one of the girls drew a green beard and mustache all over my face.

    After third grade I was pulled out and homeschooled. But I still had problems at church. One wednesday night when I was feeling particularly lonely, I crawled under the counter in the church bathroom (which had a curtain over it)to read. But some of the girls found me under there and wondered what on earth was wrong with me; I ended up running into a stall and crying.

    My mother says I didn't used to have such a bad self-esteem. I'm not sure I believe her. I always feel like I'm not good enough, not pretty enough, and so on... Until just recently. I've been going to college now for 3 semesters, and I think I'm finally starting to come out and realize that I'm not quite as hated as I always thought I was. People have reached out to me; I'm really starting to feel like I'm not just the wierd girl in the corner and I think I'm starting to figure out who I really am.

    A writer... and that's not wierd; it's just me.

    Your story was very touching to me, especially since I've had such similar instances. Thank you for posting it. I hope this doesn't sound selfish or mean, but it's almost comforting to know that there are others out there like me. It also makes me wonder how many writers have gone through things like that.

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  14. Star-Dreamer- It doesn't sound selfish or mean at all. There are few things in this world more comforting than knowing that other people have walked the same roads we have and survived.

    You're right, our stories do sound alike. I often favored small spaces for reading. (under tables, in corners, etc.) To be honest, even at thirty, I can't understand why people got so freaked out by that. It's not like we were sitting on a dung heap, or in a patch of poison ivy, right? :)

    I've become convinced that every woman out there feels like she's not enough in some way. Not pretty enough, not smart enough. And we feel like if we could only fix ourselves, than people would like us, we would be cared for and successful.

    But unfortunately, the world will never be perfect, WE will never be perfect, and the people around us will often be careless or cruel or just misunderstand.

    This isn't Eden, unfortunately.

    But we have been given a great gift, we wonderfully creative "wierd" types. We have been given imagination and passion and the ability to learn through pain. To answer your wondering, very few artists that I know of lived those charmed lives that we (or at least I) wanted as a kid.

    Being a writer is nowhere close to weird. But more importantly, you as a unique creation are also not weird or strange or inherently wrong. You're just trying to figure out life and who you were born to be, like the rest of us.

    Thank you for sharing your story with me. Good luck!

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  15. Yes, I agree with you 100%. The creative types of the world are considered a little strange, but where would this world be without art, right? All art, whether visual or litteral.

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