Bullying Lasts Forever

“Dada, did you ever get bullied?”

Will has been learning about bullying at preschool lately. But that one innocent question from my curious son suddenly brought back a tidal wave of nauseating memories I’ve done my best to repress. Memories I’ve thought about sharing on these pages, but never could for several reasons. Shame, the chief among them. But maybe now it’s time.

I was a shy, pudgy kid growing up. Very nice and extremely naive. I got along with almost everyone, had never been in a real fight and had no reason to mistrust or fear anyone. I tried out for the soccer team my freshman year and was the slowest player there. When we’d go for our runs I lagged behind almost everyone. Everyone except “Stu” (name changed even though many people who read this blog will figure out who I’m talking about easily enough).

Stu was as slow as I was and had joined the team late, so he was always asking me how things worked, where he needed to be and what he had to do. It was actually nice to have someone in my boat, and I didn’t feel like so much of a loser. But while I did improve and get faster, Stu got there even quicker than I did. He was actually really good. Better at soccer than I was, and soon he was right up there with the starters.

But instead of remaining friends with me, Stu began making fun of me and making my life a daily hell in order to ingratiate himself with the in-crowd.

It was never physical. Stu never beat me up or even laid a finger on me. Truth be told, I think he worried when it came down to it he couldn’t beat me up. So instead, he made it his mission to tease and torture me whenever possible. Stupid shit, but the kind of stuff that makes high school a hellish experience for some people. Like the time he got an entire gym class to call me a “faggot” and make fun of me because I listened to Boyz II Men. Or the time at soccer camp when he went out of his way to ask if i wanted to be on his 3-on-3 pick-up team, only to publicly exclude and ridicule me just before game time saying he couldn’t believe I was stupid enough to think he’d actually have me on his team.

Little stuff, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And he’d think of something new every couple of days. The absolute worst part of it was we were friends with a lot of the same people. If Stu wasn’t around, the rest of the guys were fine with me. We hung out as a team and had a good time. But the minute he came around, they all just followed his lead. Taking little shots and jabs at me for this, that and the other thing. I could never understand why everything would be cool one second, and then I’d be the subject of ridicule the instant he showed up.

I even tried to talk to him rationally about it one time. I nervously approached him after gym class and asked if I could talk to him for a second. I asked him what I had done to him and why he felt the need to torture me. At first he looked stunned that I was talking to him directly about it, and for a second I thought maybe I’d get some answers and a resolution. Instead, he walked away and loudly proclaimed how “gay” I was for asking to be alone with him.

I wished I could get up the guts to stand up to him, but at the same time I constantly wished just one of those guys — one of my friends — would tell him to knock it off. But they never did. Either they joined in or said nothing. And it made me want to avoid school, soccer and most social situations on a daily basis.

My senior year when I was 17, I was dating a girl from another high school. And I found out Stu was dating a friend of my girlfriend’s. A girl who was a straight-A student, headed for a good college with an extraordinarily bright future in front of her. My girlfriend tried to talk some sense into her and tell her what a terrible human being Stu was, but she didn’t want to hear it and wouldn’t stop seeing him. She was lying to her parents about where she was going in order to sneak out and be with him.

So one day when I knew she wasn’t home, I went to her parents and told them about Stu. I told them everything about the deadbeat, knowing full well I’d incur his wrath on Monday because he’d know it was me.

He sat right behind me in math class and when he walked in, I braced myself. It didn’t take long for him to start in on me. Talking about what a snitch I am, how big of a faggot I was for going behind his back, and finally, for “ruining his reputation.” I’m not sure why it was that last one that set me off, but I snapped. I stood up in the middle of class and told him he’s responsible for his horrible reputation and all the shitty things he’s done. And I challenged him to hit me if that’s what he wanted.

He didn’t. He swore and yelled but he wouldn’t take a swing at me, and eventually got sent down to the office. And suddenly it was plain as day that he was a complete coward. He was a loser who picks on other kids with lower self-esteem to pump himself up. I don’t know why it took me nearly four years to figure that out, but after I did Stu didn’t bother me for the rest of the year. After that we graduated and I don’t think I ever saw him again or gave him much thought.

And because he was out of my life and therefore out of mind, I never really considered what his bullying had done to me. I was too thankful to be free of him. But I always wondered if he knew how much havoc he wreaked on my life, and how miserable he made me. I always wondered if he cared, or ever would care. If maybe he’d look me up one day and apologize. Or if he truly was just a heartless, cruel, empty little shit who got off on making other people feel bad.

I don’t know those answers and I never will. Stu died a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what the circumstances were, and honestly it doesn’t matter. But while I’ll never know why Stu did any of those things to me, I did discover how bullying affected me personally. And I hate the results.

Because while I’m not happy Stu is dead, I’m also not unhappy. I’m completely ambivalent. And that’s terrible, because when someone dies so young it should be easy to muster up sympathy regardless of the circumstances. While I do have sympathy for Stu’s family and friends, I have none for him. Maybe I’m awful for that, but if you want to know what bullying steals from you, this is it.

Bullying robs everyone involved of compassion and a little bit of humanity. And that’s why it has to stop, and why I’m glad kids are learning about it at an earlier age these days.

The last thing in the world I want to see is Will — who is one of the most loving, sensitive and gentle kids I’ve ever seen — have all those traits eroded to the point that the death of a classmate stirs absolutely no emotion other than ambivalence.

Because while we certainly want to prevent the rash of suicides spurred by bullying, we need to remember the long-term effects can be almost as damaging.

Stop Bullying

*EDIT: Just for the record, I’m sure I’m not guilt-free in the bullying department over the course of my life. This post is not intended to paint me as a total innocent, but I’m speaking strictly from the point of view as someone who was bullied. And if I inflicted this kind of pain on anyone else in the past, I couldn’t be more sorry. 

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21 thoughts on “Bullying Lasts Forever

  1. Aaron, I’m glad to read this. I, too, was bullied pretty relentlessly in middle school, but always figured “eh, it’s just one of those things.” Especially since I was a cheerleader and was from a “good family,” etc. Who was I to complain? But it affected me for years. I know that you didn’t get your closure with “Stu,” but FWIW, I did get some and if Stu had lived, I bet your experience would have been the same as mine. My “bullies” are to this day losers and trash. None of them have amounted to a thing. Unlike you and I who are happy parents raising amazing kids who will NEVER treat anyone the way we were treated. Good riddance to all the Stus of the world.
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  2. Hey Aaron, I gotta say in all the years that I have known you I never knew this story or even suspected it. I had a TERRIBLE time in high school as well, actually from 6th grade on so half of my school career was spent in misery. I wasn’t as brave as you and I never stood up to the people responsible for my torment. However I did run into the person that started it all a number of years later and I told him how he had ruined those 6 years of my life. And he actually said “I know man and I am so sorry, I never meant for it to go that far it was a joke that everyone just ran with and I should have stopped it but I was too scared.” I will never forget that apology as long as I live and when I think back on those years it occurred to me that he was never the one bullying he simply just started the ball rolling. And now whenever I see that particular person I make sure I say hi and see how he is. And as much as I say that I don’t hold grudges I refuse to have anything to do with any of the people who did the actual bullying (some of them have even friend requested me on facebook) So my kindness and ability to forgive is what they stole from me along with any compassion for them as well because I thought about how I would feel if I had heard that they died and I honestly think I would have the same reaction you did.

  3. Bullying maybe a normal part of our experiences but there horrible stories maybe worse than this that stays witht us forever. And I have mine that I never gotten over with
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  4. Followed a link to this from Facebook, a friend of mine commented on it and it showed up in my feed, I say this just so you know how I found this….anyway…
    Great blog!
    I remember a girl who was supposed to be my friend dumping sand on me in elementary school and as we progressed through school she’d pretend to be my friend then do crappy things to me, bullying sucks, but when it’s under the guise of friendship it’s worse. And you do remember it forever. The kicker was she wanted to friend me on Facebook, I blocked her so fast

  5. Aaron – Thank you for sharing your story. I too was harassed at length during my middle school years. When I first entered middle school, I had incredibly long hair. The kids in school asked me if I used it as toilet paper. That when on for some time. Then, of course, came the awkward phase where my face broke out severely with acne. I have to say I tried to let everything just roll off my back but hearing people call you “pepperoni pizza face” and other derogatory names certain takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. To this day, any time I break out even the slightest bit, I recall all of the torture and it makes me self-conscious all over again regarding my appearance. I think it will haunt me forever. I never fought back the way you did…never stood up for myself…but I have to tell you, I learned a thing or two about that once I was in college.
    I was roommates with my best friend from high school and we had a suite of 6-which was a combination of friends we had met during our freshman year. Well, one day, one of the girls decided she didn’t like how I was spending my free time and kind of harped on me about it. Then, I had an incredibly personal situation arise that I was trying to keep between just myself and my best friend and she started harassing me so I laid into her. After that she bascially told me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I wasn’t really working hard enough at my academics and my personal situation was ‘damning’ so to speak…which in the end my personal situation was nothing more than some anxiety brought on by stress. Go figure. At that time, I started to realize I wasn’t as much like these people as I thought. I became involved in things like Student Government and met an entirely new set of people that I fit in with much better. I wasn’t much of a partier or drinker and the people I was living with started doing that more and more. One night this girl and the other decided they were going to have a drinking party. My best friend thought it’d be super to mention to the ‘bully’ that she felt bad that they hadn’t included me in the party. So, the bully comes out of her closed doored room and snottily invites me in. So I ask her what her problem is and she says me…now in the time that I had yelled at her and apologized, no less, and taken in her criticism about the way I was proceeding through my academic career, I thought we had somewhat mended fences enough where I figured we could at least co-exist for the remainder of the year. That was my last straw though…kind of like your “stu” situation so I told her to get over herself. Her response wasn’t quite what I expected…she walked up to me and grabbed me by the throat. And do you know what my best friend did? Consoled her after the sitaution occurred. I stood in my dorm room common area by myself while the others took her back into her room and gave her the sympathy. After I called security about her upon talking to my parents, all of those girls were caught drinking and lost what our college called priority points towards their housing for junior year. What happened to me? I had to move out of my dorm room and live in a hotel with my mother commuting me back and forth to school for finals. The whole time I was moving out they all called me snitch and this and that. My ‘best friend’ she yelled at me for messing up her priority points! Not once did she even think to take my side. Needless to say, I learned a lot about myself during that month. I found who I truly was and stuck to it for the remainder of my college years. And you know, I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime with people I never would have come across if it hadn’t been for this bullying situation..and I wouldn’t be the person I am today either. So in the end, I say ‘thank you’ to this girl for her behavior. I can’t imagine how I would have turned out if I had stayed in that situation. On a side note, I saw my ‘best friend’ for one of the first time in years at a wedding for our mutual friend. She introduced me to her husband like I had never existed as a friend just someone she went to high school with. And then she actually asked me if I was still friends with the bully! I have to say I was astounded. I simply looked at her and asked if it was a serious question. She claims to not remember what happened back in college. It made me wonder what she was on!
    Anyway, thank you for sharing and I hope that my story can provide anyone being bullied with the courage to stand up for themselves instead of letting it get the best of you.

  6. Oops..in that story the girl said that I was her problem. My fast typing fingers neglected to include that.

  7. I didn’t get bullied because I stood up for myself and punched people who tried to bully. Problem was, you can’t solve all your problems that way, and eventually I became an angry person, a fighter, got in the “wrong” crowd, dropped out of highschool, etc.. Sometimes literally fighting bullying doesnt’ work either becuase you go too far in the wrong direction.
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  8. Felt the same way when I heard about “Stu”. Although he didn’t give me as hard a time as he gave you, he was not kind to many people.

  9. Did any of your friends ever apologize or express remorse for not standing up for you or for going along with “Stu’s” treatment of you?

  10. I believe strongly in karma a la “My Name is Earl” in which what comes around goes around. Often times those that are bullied become the bully to others without even realizing. And yet as a victim, it is easy to smile at the misfortunes of the bully. Only when I stop to think about my life do I feel beyond guilty for ever inflicting pain on others as I have been…still doesn’t change my satisfaction of seeing my bullies have issues in their lives.

  11. In my opinion, bullying will always be here to stay. It is a fact of life. Instead of fighting the bullying, we should teach kids how to deal with it.

    To be honest, I am an intellectual bully when I was still a student. It made me happy to know that some people found my bullying as motivation to study harder and to prove me wrong.
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  12. If it is any consolation Aaron, all of us who didn’t play soccer thought ALL the soccer players were gay :)

  13. Going back, I feel guilty about this. When I was young, I was big and strong and I did bully some of the smaller kids around me. Now, I realized that bullying isn’t really fun..it is actually kind of sad to think I did that.
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  14. You know it! I hope all is well over there. I swore off Facebook back in November so my contact with the East Coast has gone down considerably.

    I’m just glad you quit playing soccer before it was too late and you were able to turn your life around and marry a woman instead of another soccer player.

  15. This is a tricky situation to address as a parent as its a bit of a tradeoff depending on how old the child is. Really, to a kid the parents (at least for younger children) is always seen as almost untouchable and perfect. In saying you have been bullied do you break this “untouchable” aura and if you do is that a good or a bad thing, does that depend on the age or current level of development of the child? Is it worth doing to empathize with the child and get more from them if they are been bullied and you want to show you understand their situation?

    Its food for thought…… what do you reckon?
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  16. I can’t help myself but to get bullied in my high school years because I am fat. But I never let them see that I am feeling down, I stood for myself and make them realize I am good. Anyway, I believe in KARMA, so I firmly follow the saying that “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others do to you”.
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