Nearly a third of all school-aged children have been bullied at some point in their schooling.
This is her experience.
Were you ever bullied? Were you a bully? I've been thinking a lot about bullies lately as I've recently have been in contact with the woman who terrorized me in high school. No, you shut up.
It began when I was a junior in high school. I didn't know her very well but I admired her. She was a year older than me, very popular and had lots of friends. I wasn't her friend, but I admired her.
One night at a party, after we'd both been drinking, she pulled me off the couch. In front of a whole room of people, she screamed at me, then punched me right in the mouth. Hard enough to leave a bruise and a cut lip that I had to explain the next day.
I remember she pushed me around and shook me - in the back of my mind I was worried she'd push me into the fireplace and I was afraid I'd hit my head. (I've always been terrified of head injuries.) I'm sure I said some mean things, putting on a tough front, but I was terrified.
After she threw the first punch, I was shocked that nobody helped me. People moved furniture out of the way to give her more room to pummel me. Eventually, a couple boys stepped in and stopped it; it was total madness - people standing around watching me get beaten.
After that, I avoided her like the plague. Whenever we shared space, she was SO intimidating. She and her friends would glare, whisper and point and laugh at me. It was utterly humiliating. No, it was more than that: I felt like I was stripped naked, while everyone around was on HER side.
I was scared she'd beat me up again. I was ashamed that I'd allowed this to happen to me. It was awful.
Twenty-four years later, just thinking of her made me anxious and nauseous. I've made light of the fight over the years, tried to see the ridiculous side (I met my husband that night), but in all seriousness, it was horrible.
So why, you ask, would I ever have anything to do with her again?
She still lives in my small hometown. I learned she recently finished college to be an elementary teacher. (Oh. My. God.) She got a job right away, and there was an article in the paper about how she was selected to go to a bullying conference to learn all about it. (She doesn't need to learn about it. She's an expert.)
When I heard this, I was so ANGRY. I'd comforted myself with the thought that someday she would reap what she sowed. Karma would kick her in the ass.
Since I heard about her being a teacher and bully expert, I haven't been able to get her out of my mind. The old feelings are back. The feelings that she's powerful and I'm weak; that she deserves good things and I don't.
Why do I feel this way? Because when she bullies you, you stay bullied, that's why.
I can't just ignore it, either, because (for some reason) people feel compelled to tell me about the shitty things she's done. They have since the night she punched me twenty years ago. Many people are afraid of crossing her so they don't confront her. They want to commiserate about her, make sure I know about it. I even got some anonymous comments on my blog about her. Someone suggested I write to the School Board and inform them of her behavior.
Why me? Why can't someone else do it? We've both gone on with our lives, right? Then why can't I stop thinking about what happened? Why can't my reasonable adult self be reassured that although she's a bully, she can't hurt me anymore. What can she do? Get her friends to hate me? Say bad things about me? Punch me?
I decided that I couldn't live with this inside any more. Maybe I'd made a monster of a formerly mean girl. Clearly, I needed some perspective.
I chose to write her an email expressing my anger at the way she'd treated me. I expressed displeasure that she was now using this laughable "anti-bully/teacher-of-the-year" front especially since she never apologized or attempted to explain her behavior. I wanted to call her on her shit and remind her that I still remember what she did.
After much editing, I was pretty nice in my email. I explained my version of our relationship and what happened, acknowledging that she probably remembers it differently, but regardless of how she remembers it, she really hurt me.
I said I was concerned about someone like her being one of the most powerful people in the lives of little kids. I asked what she'd do when she comes across the occasional student who is irritating and hard to deal with. Would she make them feel as worthless as she made me feel? As a teacher, I've seen bully teachers in action - they can devastate kids without raising their voice.
I was hoping she'd reply and - if not apologize - acknowledge her actions. I mean, she literally BEAT ME, so there's no debating the bullying thing, right? As soon as that first punch is thrown, that line between disliking someone and bullying them has been crossed. If it is then followed up with months upon months of intimidation then IT'S BULLYING.
I never told a teacher or complained to my parents because I thought getting adults involved would make things worse. There wasn't a lot of follow-through on these issues back then, and girls are VERY good at bullying under the radar. There was nothing I could do but put up with it. I told myself that it happens to a lot of people and I would get over it.
Apparently I haven't.
Anyway, I sent my note to her at the only address I was certain she'd be the only reader: her school email. Yeah, I know school email can be monitored, but so what? It's not like what she did was a secret. In practice, anyway, school email is not monitored unless there's some problem.
She wrote me back almost immediately and told me that she'd like to talk to me in person (um, no thanks?). She said that while we work this out, I need to follow some rules: I was not to write her at her district email "ever again," unless "you have something positive to say about the beautiful students I work with each day," and I am to leave her family out of it. She said her family has been "affected deeply by my email and journal post."
First of all, I didn't post anything in the newspaper (but I might know who did) and secondly, how can an email she received that very morning, at work, affect her family? Melodramatic much?
She suggested I email her my phone number so she could call me. Right away, she had me on the defensive - making rules and setting parameters. She was setting herself up as the benevolent teacher with "beautiful students" and me the attacker. She was trying to make ME the bad guy for confronting her about her behavior.
She said she'd write back after work.
It's ten o'clock PM and I'm still waiting. Maybe she's holding out for a one-on-one meeting. I don't know why I'm so invested in her answer - it doesn't really matter what she thinks of me now.
If she acknowledges my feelings, that would be great; a big weight off my heart, but if she doesn't - what then? Does that mean she's still the same old bully? Or does it mean that she's forgotten how things went down and has re-framed to make me the bad guy and her the good guy? Is that okay?
Do I have a responsibility to bring my concerns to her school? If you were a parent, would you want to know that your child's teacher had been a bully?
That feels like such an underhanded, shitty thing to do. She worked hard to get her degree and did it by commuting to a college hours away -on the other hand: LITTLE CHILDREN! I'm not going to do it (I don't think), but I think someone should.
I don't think I should've confronted her. I don't see this as cathartic or helpful - it's just bringing those old icky feelings to the surface and putting me on her radar.
Gives me the heebie jeebies.11 Comments