Lately, I've been remembering my experiences of being bullied when I was growing up in Santa Fe. It's a blight on my memory, but these days the dark smudge is receding , revealing feelings that are surprisingly raw due to the recent swarm of hi-profile teen suicides in the news. I'm disgusted when I open the paper, an abhorrent laundry list of cruelty that should be unimaginable outside the realm of a horrific C.S.I. episode.
I wish I could go back in time and talk to myself at 9 years old. I'd pick up that pigeon-toed girl out of the Wood Gormley Elementary school yard and tell her it would get better. I was a latch key kid who wore tube socks with dresses to school once in a blue moon, and walked funny with my toes pointed in and my butt sticking out. Day after day, plenty of mean girls in their tight Jordache Jeans would imitate me during recess. The same girls also targeted Lisa S. and Allison G. We weren't allowed to forget that we were ugly, or poor, or fat. The worst it got was one day when the ringleader (she knows who she is) wouldn't let me go to the bathroom. I had to pee, and she (were there others?) held the metal stall door closed until I had to leave. I don't know what I did; I can't remember; I can't remember a lot of those times. This was in the 3rd grade; I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I hadn't switched schools, getting a blessed fresh start. For awhile, anyway.
The poverty issue got me a few years later when I was accused of stealing $20 from another (wealthy) member of my J.V. volleyball team. I hadn't. An apology was eventually coaxed out of my accuser in our school principal's office, but when you move through those channels it only makes it worse behind the scenes.
My younger brother is a whole different story. For years and years he caught even more crap than I did. Being one of the only blond kids in his class garnered him the nickname Hillbilly; Hillbilly was chased and hit, and once, to my horror, even had his shoes lit on fire with gasoline after school one day. Maybe my proudest moment is breaking a glass bottle and holding it to the throat of "Eddie Spaghetti" after he chased my brother down for the millionth time, threatening to slice his neck open if he didn't leave him the hell alone. When C. tells this story he likes to punctuate the ending: I'm his knight in shining armor, standing in front of our bathroom mirror pulling a shard of glass out of my eye. And I'd do it again.
Now I watch my own son, not much younger than my little brother was during some of the worst of it, grow up in a world that's far more heinous, cruel and dangerous than the one we struggled to navigate. I hope he doesn't have to experience the loneliness and fear of being singled out, and I hope that if he sees cruelty being pointed toward someone else, he'll have the courage to do something about it.
As an aside, I was at an exhibit today that transformed a parochial school into a three story gallery stuffed with paintings and installations about education, with the aim to revamp the entire national school system. It was there that I learned it's still legal in 20 states to beat children in school as a punishment. You know, with a belt. Apparently this happens every 4 seconds; and every 4 minutes a student is hurt so badly by their "educator" that they seek medical help. Doesn't violence beget violence?