Have you ever gone to school early to decorate your friend’s locker for her birthday, only have the candy and supplies – the ones you saved up your babysitting money to buy – stolen by some bonehead boys and suddenly, there’s a game of Monkey in the Middle in the halls?
You’re the monkey.
Kids walk by, teachers pass, no one helps you get your stuff back. Moments before your friend arrives, a pretty, popular girl shows up to her locker across the hall and the boys give her the stuff you wanted to give your friend. Your friend finds you sitting teary-eyed in front of her locker with a few meager pieces of candy and streamer shreds to give her, and she gets upset and blames you for ruining her thirteenth birthday.
Have you ever come upon a group of kids who hush as you approach and resume whispering and giggling, pointing at you as you turn down another hallway? You swear you hear your name, so you turn around to give them a good glare you’re are met with raised eyebrows and “What are you looking at, freak?”
Have you ever been assigned to sit next to same pretty, popular girl in class who, when you have to work in pairs, hands you the assignment and instructs you to do all the work while she mocks you? She calls you poor, says you only own one pair of jeans, even though you have many pairs of jeans. When you get eczema on your face partway through the year, she and the cute boy behind you laugh about your “beard.”
Have you ever walking through the cafeteria with your best friend and had kids call out names, insults, and threats? You give them the finger and try not to cry while your best friend stays silent because she’s too afraid to trade her invisible status for yours – the target.
Have you ever been on the bus, chatting with your best friend, when the kid behind you starts making fun of you, calling you fat and stupid? This time, when your friend tells the kid to cut it out, he calls her ugly, says she has a unibrow. You’ve been mocked for years, his insults don’t bother you, but your sweet friend, she was just trying to help you – why would he go after her?
You tell the kid to cut it out. He doesn’t listen. So you punch him in the face. But you’re on the bus, which is school property. He gets is a bruised face and wounded ego while you get two weeks detention.
Have you ever been chosen to give the final book report in class; you’re super excited because it was a great book about bulimia, while everyone else gives book reports on Artemis Fowl and Twilight? You know you’ll be taunted by your classmates so you get to the front of the room, look down at your note cards, look at the class and your teacher, all waiting expectantly. The kids smirk and murmur to each other. You open your mouth but nothing comes out. You can’t speak. The whole class laughs at you but you know they would have laughed harder if you’d given your report so, at least, you escaped that.
Have you ever worn red lipstick to school because it makes your skin look dewy and your eyes look smoldery, and because it’s your birthday and you wanted to do something special? Only when your teacher makes you stand up on your chair so the class can sing happy birthday, your classmates begin to mock you. Your teacher makes no effort to stop them. You escape to the bathroom to find that red isn’t just on your lips, it’s on your underpants and dammit why today? You have to go home early because the cramps are so bad you can’t sit up straight and the red lipstick wouldn’t come all the way off and you look sort of clownish.
Have you ever been in class, minding your own business, when a girl – a friend – someone you’ve known since kindergarten calls you “goth” as if it’s a bad thing? When you point out that your blouse is bright blue with flowered embroidery, she says it doesn’t matter, you wear black every other day – besides, your skirt is navy which is basically black. The boy next to her calls you emo while the boy on your other side says you probably like death metal. You like Hannah Montana and the only reason you wear so much black is because your mom only buys you black clothes because she thinks you like them. You don’t say this, you bark a “shut up” because you’re starting to get angry and you don’t want this to escalate into a full-blown episodes. The teacher scolds you for telling your classmates to shut up and for chatting when you should’ve been working. You just grit your teeth, nod, and apologize.
Have you ever been pulled aside by a close friend to have her tell you that you’re not “cool enough” for her anymore? You two stop talking. A year later, your families got together, which was awkward at first, but then you played together – you thought you had your friend back, but when you waved to her at school, she pretended not to see you.
Have you ever had your only close male friend whom you walk with to and from the bus refuse to sit with you on the bus? He was afraid that the other boys would find out he thought you were a pretty cool person.
Have you ever had a favorite teacher who you adored and looked up to? Have you ever been put into a class with one of the biggest assholes, that teacher, the same one you thought could do no wrong puts you in a group with that jackass? When you talk to this teacher after class, explain that working with the boy causes personal conflicts, she says she can’t do anything about it – which is bullshit you choose to believe.
One day, that boy gets you all worked up, making it impossible for your group to accomplish anything because he’s making faces and interjecting rude comments whenever you suggest something for the assignment and finally, you blow up. You’ve learned that anger is a better response than sadness – tears provide the bullies with too much satisfaction. Your teacher, witness to the whole thing, comes over, and you think “thank god, she’s getting rid of him. We can finally get some work done.” But instead, she pulls you aside and tells you that your reaction was inappropriate; she expects poor behavior from him but not from you.
Like that makes any sense.
Have you ever had boys spread rumors that they were dating you because you were the “pretty pariah?” Then, kids come up to you and ask if you’re dating what’s-his-face and you say no, you’ve never spoken to him. You think they’re talking about that kid but you aren’t sure; you really don’t know him. And the kid asking you about it says that the boy has been telling everyone that you’re going out. And another kid comes up to you; he heard you broke up with what’s-his-face for so-and-so and half the grade thinks you’re dating a different short, fat kid. You think about it and you can see why they’d believe it.
These boys, were you dating, could help with your social standing, but you’re 11 and don’t have any interest in dating so you tell the kids that you’re not dating either boy and they leave you alone, now uninterested in you.
Have you ever been made to sit in art class with several of your tormentors, while they all ask you questions – why you’re so weird, why do you cut yourself, what made go goth?
You’re not even goth.
You’re so angry that you can’t form a coherent response there are a million things you could say but if you bothered, they’d turn it around on you. So you cut the construction paper roughly while they laugh at your agitation. When finally take a swing at one of them, they give you a dumb nickname – Swiper the Fox from that kids show Dora. The teacher thinks it’s cute but really, they’re mocking you.
Have you ever had a nickname that made no sense, but everyone called you that like it was a dirty word, the way your grandfather says things like “liberals” and “feminism?” So you walk down the halls and boys whistle at you like you’re an animal, while the girls hold up their hands to signal “STOP” just like in that Dora cartoon. One boy doesn’t just say the name; no, he calls out the song – “Swiper no swiping, Swiper no swiping, Swiper no swiping!” You see red and tackle him to the ground. A teacher pulls you off. You’re in trouble for being violent and he gets a warning for the bullying. You don’t know why your kind of mean is worse than his – wounds you inflict heal, but the bullying has left emotional scars that never fade.
Have you ever had a teacher call you morbid in front of the whole class because you wrote a journal entry about your cat dying? The same teacher who, just days before, said his favorite play is Macbeth. You’re the morbid one? How does that work?
Have you ever come home from a day where any, all of these things happened, and you just wanted to fall into your mother’s arms and sob, but you’re in middle school now, you’re a big girl, and like Fergie said, big girls don’t cry, and besides, Mom doesn’t have time? Your little brother has another ear infection, she has to pick up your sister, the baby has been crying all day, she doesn’t know what to do so she really can’t listen to you whine about your life. She has a husband who’s never home, four young children, bills to pay, a house to keep clean, errands to run, and a dissertation to write.
Have you ever felt you were carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but your problems were too petty to discuss? You should suck it up and get over it; the mean things other kids say shouldn’t bother you, you’re not important enough anyway.
After all, the only person who listens is your psychiatrist, and you don’t even like him – he’s paid to listen to you, it isn’t genuine.