My friends and I stood outside waiting for the bus as it started to rain. I saw a flash of red hair in the distance as my little brother grinned and waved to me. I sighed, my face softening, as I waved goodbye to him. My friends’ jubilant voices hovered around me, like a mist, as I shrank away from them, from reality. All of human interaction hummed like white noise for me during that period of my life. It was if my friends were all teachers in a Peanuts cartoon and I… was a peanut.
When I was younger, I feel like there were dozens of movies about a dorky brunette girl who gets bullied. It was very easy to put myself in the role of the short mousy girl with glasses who loved art and everyone was mean to her because of those facts. I saw myself as an underdog. The shy girl next doors of modern media appealed to my preteen -still solidifying- sense of self. I absorbed the basic stereotype that popular people were mean and nerds were awesome. Characters in my books and on tv were villains or heroes, bullies or victims.
I was bullied as a kid. No child (or adult, including women on twitter) deserves bullying, but if any kid ever did merit harassment, it was the 12 year old putting worms in their pocket and writing stories about sexy unicorns. (Me!) I’m just saying, I get it. There was this one kid who always gave me a hard time.
I used to assume that I was the only person the bully messed with. I still feel this feeling of isolation when somewhat targeted. One of my best friends recently gently pointed out, “It’s like you think everyone has their life together more than you.”
This kid, let’s call them Caroline (name changed for the story, but not legally) in our grade was mean to everyone. She said ridiculously cruel things and made me cry on numerous occasions. To be fair, I do cry over like every single thing. I’m like a raw wriggling nerve. Caroline laughed at the smart kids and the disabled kids and the jocks and the nerds and the pretty girls and EVERYONE. She went for “low blows” saying hurtful offensive things that in the 90s constituted “bullying” or “playful teasing” and maybe now would be considered “hate speech.” Adults in the 90s were always telling us to stand up for ourselves to our bullies, and I have never had that work out for me.
Around that time, my family was also going through some drama at home. Everyone’s relationship within my family was somewhat strained, and my brother and I alternated between being at each others’ throats or being support systems.
One day several kids in our class got to go on a ski trip after school. (No, I was not rich. I lived basically on a mountain.) Caroline’s mom forced her to go against her will. Outside, before boarding the bus, I hugged my brother goodbye. Once on the bus, Caroline loudly asked me if I was dating my brother. The entire bus erupted in laughter. I was somewhat sensitive to the idea of incest. This sensitivity combined with my recent familial strain hit me in the chest like a sharp heavy thud. Caroline smiled proudly at her joke while streams of silent tears cascaded down my face.
I sat by myself for the rest of the bus ride, sobbing uncontrollably and doing extra credit homework: still two of my favorite activities.
Once at the ski lodge, I was over it. I loved the clean, muffled quiet of snow, the giant protective trees, and the dreadlocked hippies working the lift machines. The snow made me feel safe and separate from the stress of my family and school. The speed of downhill skiing made me feel strong, in control, and like I could fly. All traces of my recent crying dissipated and I returned to my happy, giggling self in the span of minutes. Puberty mood swings are so cool. I wonder if they’ll ever go away.
My good friend Meggy and I were on a chair lift high above the mountain and trees, looking down at the beautiful sparkly night. Meggy had just gotten the part of Glinda in the school play and so we were singing The Wizard of Oz. (She was singing; I was cackling and quoting the witch.) Below us I saw Caroline fall on her snowboard. She sat in the snowbank where she fell and looked down, putting her head in her hands. The stupid bus joke washed over me again and I was filled with a dark, painful rage.
“There’s Caroline,” I said. “I hate her.”
Meggy looked down, nodded, and then said, “There’s no way you hate her as much as she hates herself.”
I don’t think I spoke again for a minute. The way I saw Caroline completely shifted. I no longer saw a cruel bully, but a very lonely child. She didn’t have many friends; she wasn’t doing well in school, there might be so many other things going on that I didn’t know. She was mean to people because she was miserable and lonely. In her eyes, I was not the mousy underdog victim, but a sorta cute kid with good grades and seemingly solid relationships with people. Maybe to her, I was not the nerd, but… gasp… the popular kid.
She picked on people like me because she was angry and frustrated with herself. Meggy was so compassionate that she could muster empathy for someone that tore people down, which is impressive for a child.
The idea of certain characters being completely good or evil changed for me. Not everyone who is a bully is always a bully. Not everyone who is a victim is always a victim. Nothing is absolute.
As an adult, I occasionally face cyber bullying, sexism and negativity. Being in a community of stand up comedians isn’t that different than middle school. Recently, an acquaintance posted some blatantly cruel lies about me on facebook. I was in a lot of pain, but then I realized that their life is way worse than mine and I felt sorry for them. I have to constantly remind myself that these people targeting me are doing so because they are suffering themselves. I have at times accidentally hurt others because I was facing my own pain. I need to work on remembering that people who hurt others do so because they are angry and miserable with themselves. People who hurt me hate themselves way more than they could hate me. I still cry all the time and I still am too sensitive for my own good, but I try my best to remember to be compassionate toward everyone, because whatever they’re going through in their own minds is way darker than what they’re putting me through.