The Bully States

September is upon us.

In other parts of the country the weather is getting colder, states where leaves are starting to change, fall is coming.  Here in sunny sweltery So Cal we are facing a triple digit heatwave as our kiddos head back to school.  Last school year, starting in about October and continuing through the Spring my sweet little girl dealt with a bully.  We nick named her Arizona.

It started with the age old love triangle.  Arizona liked him, but he sorta liked Ollie.  The crush of my crush is my enemy is how it began but then morphed into standard school yard shenanigans.  Once the crush had died, the bullying remained.  Arizona’s taunting comments, rumors were spread, social media blockades as sides were chosen and eventually it ended with a threatening note (quoting Tupac!) found in Ollie’s P.E. locker. Finally a trip to the principal to put an end to the torture.

Arizona to Virginia

As we discussed the new school year and the inevitable reunion with Arizona reminded me of my own bully, Virginia.  (The irony of these two states and the current political turmoil is not lost on me but I digress.) She was a few years older than me, junior or senior to my freshman class.  I had never met her, didn’t even know her name when she started taunting me.  Hurling insults across the quad, following me in the hallways whispering with her friends, it’s like one day she just decided to she would make my school day miserable.

J-Walking

A friend informed me that merely walking was my crime.  She didn’t like the way I walked.  I can look back and admit that I had quite a strut in those days.  Confidant, defiant with more than a little hip swagger I was a rebellious teen, far too experienced for my age, had definite issues with authority and no qualms about confrontations; I showed all of that in my stride.

At the time I couldn’t understand why she would go out of her way to be mean to me when I had done nothing to instigate it but as any survivor of adolescence knows, it wasn’t about me – it was about her.  Her issues, her insecurities, her own perception of herself and I was merely the mirror.  Knowing that now, or even then subconsciously, was not enough to stop the fear and anger and frustration that filled me to shaking every time I saw her on campus.

Full Stop

As days and weeks slid into months of stress I became determined to end it.  If it had to come to fist-a-cuffs then so be it, bruises would heal, the psychological torture was endless.  I stopped avoiding her and stared right back at her dirty looks.  I didn’t move out of the way in the halls.  Until one day the perfect situation unfolded.  It was mid-period and I was out of class to use the restroom, she was in the hallway with one of her friends and with no teacher or student witnesses they began to follow me, talking loudly behind my back, making rude comments that were obviously directed at me.  Including a threat along the lines of “Keep walking bitch if you know whats good for you”. My heart was racing, my fists began to clench and I stopped in my tracks and spun around.

What’s your problem?

“What is your problem with me??” I demanded.  “What did I EVER do to you?  I can’t remember anything that I have ever done that deserves this??” The stunned silent shock on their faces was priceless but I continued. “I don’t even know you!  You have never even met me but you act like I did something heinous to you.  So here you go, let me have it, tell me what I did……”

Her friend noticeably paled and took a step back as I started walking toward them, fists clenched with months of pent up anger.

“You want to fight me??? Then let’s go!  Here we are, no one is around….you keep whispering threats about it.  Lets go, if you want to go.”  My entire body was tense like there was an electric current running through me.  My voice raised and started to shake. Part of me hoped she  would lunge and I can tear into her, part of me was terrified of fighting a stranger.  The moment passed with no punches thrown. “So that’s it huh?” The tension in the air dissipated.  “Good.  Leave me alone then. I am done with this.”  I turned and walked away (the whole time bracing for a sucker punch but none was laid.)

A Dramatic Twist

Virginia never bothered me again.  Glad to be done with her, she faded into the faces in the hall. I might have never thought of her again if it weren’t for Mr. Woods, our Drama teacher.  I took Drama all four years of high school, surprised? I didn’t think so.  Mr. Woods was a great teacher and I loved that class.  Improv, lip syncs, pantomime, who cares – to me it was freedom from regular school, creativity and fun in the middle of school day.  It was also mixed between the grades and we often read or saw assignments from other periods in our class.

One day Mr. Woods read a poem to us.  It was a beautiful piece about a dysfunctional family, their neglected son, how he strives to be perfect, how he hopes to get their attention and how it is all for not.  It is tragically sad as it ends in suicide, no loving resolution, no happy ending.  I had tears in my eyes hearing that poem.  My heart leapt at the familiar pain and need for love, I hung on every word…. Until he read the last line…. “By Virginia Robinson”.

She wrote it.  My bully wrote it.  I realized how much alike we were, both struggling with pain far to large for our innocent teenage hearts.  She must have a similar amount of agony in her life, causing her to bully others, causing her to hurt inside.  It struck me that if not for her being my bully she might have been my friend.

For the Future

I cant say what will happen with Ollie & Arizona.  Perhaps the best is for them to not speak, to fade away into the faces in the halls. Over the years I have learned that there are many reasons people are put in our paths.  There is a lesson for Ollie in this, even if they are not meant to be friends or even friendly.  While I hope it wont take her 25 years and a daughter to figure it out, for me I am grateful for Virginia.   She taught me to stand up for myself, and I haven’t stopped.  I learned that others people perceptions are just that, I can only be true to me.  She showed me that under it all, every one is hurting in ways we might never see.

I still think of her often, of her emotional poem more than her biting words or dirty looks.  I wonder why we were put in each others paths for those brief moments now long gone.  Whatever darkness hurt her so long ago I hope that she is healed.  I wish she knew how much I loved her poem and how much I would have liked to be her friend.  I think we both could have used one.