I used to pray as I walked to school that I would get hit by a car. I wasn't pretty, my clothes were wrong, my glasses were too big, and I had braces. Couple that with being in a few smart classes and having a lesbian mom and I was a natural for the role of social misfit.
It wasn't that I didn't have friends; there was a whole table of us in the lunchroom that hung out together. I wasn't lonely, but I was scared and scarred. I spent years daydreaming about revenge. I would look out the window on long car trips and fantasize about smashing a particular girl's face in, over and over.
By the time I saw her again, we were both parents and almost forty. Face-smashing was no longer on my agenda.
I was in a group of casual friends enjoying a glass of wine at our high school reunion when I realized she was in the circle of people I was talking to. The first thing I noticed was how much shorter than me she was; I remembered her as looming over me, tall, ugly, and angular. now she was just a short fat middle-aged woman. I brought up the time period when I hid from her in the halls of school, and she didn't remember it at all. She admitted that she had been a bully to other kids though, and she believed me when i said she made my life hell, and apologized for it.
"I know I made life hell for a lot of people back then," she said. "And it stops with my generation. I do not tolerate bullying with my kids…it's one thing I learned. I refuse to let them bully other people."
I told her that I always assumed that she must have had a hard life if she was filled with such venom. That was what my other always told me when I came home crying - that happy kids with happy home lives don't bully other kids. If she was so mean, she must have been in a lot of pain. The bully admitted that this was true. Her childhood was miserable, but she didn't use it as justification. She told me she had sought out the one boy who she tormented the most and tried to apologize to him as well.
That's the part that is missing from so many discussions on bullying. Yes, we can come down hard on kids that bully, but often - if not all of the time- bullies are kids that are in a bad situation and don't know how else to function. The bully because it is one way they can win. In my school, at least, bullies were lauded and rewarded. If this girl didn't bully, she would have been fodder for someone else, because dysfunctional kids generally fall into one camp or the other; predator or prey.
I'm not saying that a zero tolerance policy is wrong. Bullying is something I will not tolerate, and if my kids are bullied, I am willing to go to extreme measures -including home schooling - to protect them.
(Note: homeschooling is not an extreme measure for many people. I have good friends who love to homeschool. For me, though, it would be an extreme measure.)
One day I got a Facebook friend request from another one of my tormenters. This girl had thrown used boys underwear onto my face during a church sleep over, among other things. When she sent me a friend request on Facebook I was happy to take the opportunity to ask, "Why in the world would I want to be friends with you after you tormented me to the point that I hated going to church?" I asked her. She didn't remember any of it. I offered her the excuse of being unhappy herself as a teenager, but she denied it. She was happy, she thought. She honestly had no idea what I was talking about, but apologized anyway. Saying "sorry" didn't mean anything to her, and her apology didn't mean anything to me. I denied her friend request.
I did accept a different bully's friend request, though. I have not spoken to him about the past, because I don't have to; I can see in his posts his sensitivity to hate and his abhorrence of intolerant people. He has grown into a good man.
In my discussions I have learned that the peace I seek does not come from the bully; they no longer have power over me to make me feel anything, even closure. My healing was personal and private, it had nothing to do with them. Perhaps the pain they caused me had less to do with them than I thought originally as well. Maybe my mother was right; maybe I didn't have to internalize everything. As a child, though, you don't have control over who you sit next to in class, or who follows you home. You don't have the ability to walk away. Growing up gives you power. Loving who you are gives you wings.
previously published on blogHer