I think my brain works funny. Anyone turning on a TV, radio, or computer knows the media is having a field day with the BULLYING IN HIGH SCHOOL cause. It’s everywhere, with stories of kids who’ve been bullied until they committed suicide, or tales of the underdog student speaking out against his tormentors. On one hand, I’m thrilled to see people taking note of what I see as a very real problem in our schools today. On the other hand I have to ask where the HELL were you when I was in school, Media.
Now, let me state up front I do not consider myself a bullied kid. I was made fun of for a bevy of reasons, some of which I will relate later, but not really bullied. I honestly can’t say why I escaped most of it. It may have been that I had enough “Cool Kid Friends”, it may have been that most of it was done behind my back and I just didn’t have to deal with it (my guess), it may have been because somewhere along the line I said something funny or clever and it got me excused from the “To Torture” list. Whatever the case, I’m thankful it didn’t go any further than it did, because to this day? I still look back at high school and cringe. It wasn’t a fun place to be.
From where I sit (and sat), those who say high school is/was the best time of their lives are/were a combination of the following personality traits:
- Good looking & Thin
- The “friend” of an A-lister
- The funny guy
- The booze/dope hookup guy
- Super talented (musician, for example)
Sometimes one of those traits (ex good looking) would be enough to get you a pass on the bullying all together, but usually you had to have a combination of things, especially if you happened to be in the weak position of “friend of an A-lister”. I sort of pitied that particular subsect, because they didn’t really have anything remarkable going on for them beyond the ear of someone popular. Their entire social circle depended upon nurturing that relationship so they didn’t find themselves on the outs.
Of course there’s the opposite list of the first, too, and that’s the “things you didn’t want happening to you/traits you didn’t want to have because it’d get you nailed by your peers” list. That includes:
- Being different
You’ll note smart is on both lists, and that’s done quite on purpose. I don’t know if it was just WB that had this particular dynamic, but big brains could either be a boon or a curse depending on who you were. We were the “Nerd Herd”, yes, but if you could overcome your hyper-intelligence with other traits . . . well, then all of a sudden your smarts were a good thing. If you didn’t have anything ELSE going for you, heh. All bets were off and the large pile of quivering gray matter in your skull wasn’t so fuckin’ keen.
I look at both of those lists and I kind of scratch my head, wondering where I fit into the mix. Probably somewhere smack dab in the middle of “popular” and “unpopular” – just like most high school students. I wasn’t a fat kid, funny enough, but I’ve always had a huge frame. Even Ethiopian thin I’m a size ten thanks to big bones like bull, so I wore a 14 in high school and was “average”. I didn’t get outright chubby til probably senior year when I was sporting a 16/18 but even then I wasn’t huge enough to launch into orbit because I carried the weight well. That didn’t mean I avoided the fat insults, though. Being a big girl got me slammed because I looked different – I wasn’t a size six and I never will be. I remember early on, maybe fifth or sixth grade, someone photocopied a hippopotamus and wrote “To Hillary, a portrait” and had all of the popular kids sign it. It was the Valentine’s Day card from hell. I was devastated and took it home to my mother, crying all the while that I was a disgusting fat cow and wished I’d die. Mom went into the principal’s office and raised hell about it. I think if she’d gotten her hands on the kids responsible, she’d have killed them.
I’m sure the parents of those kids chalked that event up to kids being kids, and my reaction as “dramatic” . . . but the fact is, it was cruel. If I remember that particular thing what, twenty-something years later? It was a trauma. I’m sure some of the kids that signed that paper went on to become wonderful adults, but you have to wonder what went through their young, formative brains to think this was a good idea in the first place. I suppose some of them signed it because their friends had, and herd mentality is fucking terrifying. One of them probably thought they were clever for coming up with the idea, and someone else snickered, and . . . bam. Cruelty was born.
Strangely, to this day I remember most of the names that signed that stupid hippopotamus card. I can’t remember where my car keys are, but I remember that. Shit like that sticks with a person.
Note: most of the kids signing that paper were in the honors group. Academic smarts does not equate to social awareness.
I also remember one girl in particular having a field day “whispering” behind my back in English class, but I could hear the whispers every time she spoke, and I’m pretty sure that’s what she wanted. I’m half REALLY WHITE (Welsh, Irish, English, Swedish) and half NOT AS WHITE (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian). This means I’m pale, so any amount of hair on me at all? Shows up. I apparently had peach fuzz on my lower back or something, and she decided she’d point it out to her friends/boyfriend in class and snicker about how hairy I was.
Note: she became our valedictorian. Again, academic smarts does not equate to social awareness.
Another doozy of an incident was at a pool party I went to. I’d gotten a new bathing suit that was white, and yeah – shoooould have done the “is this transparent” test before getting into the pool, but I was young and stupid. One of the girls there wouldn’t hand me my towel to spare me the embarrassment of having to get out of the pool. She wanted me to humiliate myself by climbing out with a see-through bathing suit in front of my peers. I was saved by another girl at the party I’d never met before, because no one I knew would help me despite my blatant panic.
Note: last I heard, the girl that wouldn’t hand me my towel was working as a bigwig at a charitable organization.
I’m not going to be naive and claim that I was completely innocent of being a high school douchebag, but having been on the receiving end of shittery meant I kept most cruelty close to the chest. It was hard not fitting in with everyone all the time, but thanks to a great group of friends (some of which I still talk to occasionally fifteen years later), I survived it mostly intact. I know some folks would say that my less-than-pretty glimpse back at high school comes from jealousy that I wasn’t an A-lister, and if they’d like to look at it that way, sure, go nuts. But the truth is I certainly don’t feel very jealous. I feel like a kid that muttled her way through the grades, hoping beyond hope that it gets better when you get out. It does, mostly because there is nothing more fucked in the head than a kid between the ages of 12 and 18 save for serial killers and people who lick toads.
The point I’m trying to make in this long-winded retrospective is that everyone has a horror story or twelve from high school, and hopefully public awareness of bullying and grade-level cruelty will make parents take up the cause to prevent other kids from experiencing the anguish of being picked on. Maybe they’ll sit their little spawnlings down and relate why it’s bad to be mean to others who aren’t like them. Cause really, you never know who they might be one day: a president, an actor, a CEO.
A writer who can forever immortalize them as a cockburger in print.