I was the victim of bullying when I was nine years old.
Here is how the perfect bullying storm arose:
A new girl (a bad girl — maybe kicked out of another school?) came midyear to our fourth grade classroom.
The teacher appointed MY best friend to be her buddy.
The teacher totally had dementia and was oblivious to the dynamics in the classroom.
The girls (and even some of the boys) were in awe of the bad girl and followed that Pied Piper of Misbehavior down the road of no return.
The new girl, Natalie, was a tough, ballsy chick from the other side of the tracks. Yes, even at nine, she radiated that vibe, as the Girl Most Likely to Drop Out of School and Never Amount to Anything But Before Doing So Leave a Trail of Destruction in Her Wake.
My friends and I, all from the same Happy Days-type neighborhood, had never met a girl like her: brazen. Cold. Disdainful of school and disrespectful of authority.
Maybe that was part of her allure.
I picture her with bleached blond hair and black roots, snapping her omnipresent Doublemint gum and smoking a cigarette on the playground, but surely I am imagining that last part.
In any event, when my BFF was anointed Natalie’s buddy, they became best friends. Which left me, well, out of the equation. Because you know how threesomes and preteen girls are. Almost always incompatible.
Before I knew what hit me, at the gleeful prodding of Nefarious Natalie, my best friend turned against me. Stopped talking to me. Wouldn’t walk home from school with me. Refused to take my phone calls.
And it went downhill from there.
They morphed into Mean Girls, and I was the target of their meanness. First it was whispers and pointed fingers and giggles. Then it was inviting the other girls into a secret group from which I was excluded. Like sheep, most of them were, going along with it, never giving a thought to, oh, maybe this isn’t a nice thing to do to someone.
I was shunned, an outcast. But if they had just ignored me it wouldn’t have been so bad. But.
It got physical. I remember a time when we were all working on something at our desks. Natalie sauntered down the aisle, waving a pencil in the air, and reached over to scribble back and forth on my paper. I was shocked. I tried to erase the damage as best I could. She came back and did it again. I erased, erased, erased until the paper ripped. Tears stung my eyes but I refused to let her see me cry.
And it still got worse. I got shoved in the coat room. My lunch bag was stolen and my sandwich mushed into oblivion. Stuff like that.
One day there was a buzz in the classroom. Rumor had it that I was going to be ambushed on the playground after school. Natalie made sure I heard the threats. She stopped by my desk and muttered menacingly to me, “You’d better watch out.”
If that was supposed to scare me, it worked. I was panic-stricken. But before the dismissal bell rang, an angel appeared in the form of one of my classmates, Judy, a pretty girl with a big heart who showed kindness to everyone.
She came over to me in the coat room and whispered in my ear. “Sneak out the back entrance with me. You can come to my house. You’ll be safe with me.”
And that is what we did.
Compassion won out.
I tell my bullying story not to evoke pity, but to share an example of how goodness can triumph over bad, how one person can make a difference, and how acts of kindness leave an imprint that can last forever.
I haven’t forgotten the sting of bullying. But Judy’s act of compassion was the more lasting legacy.
Because not only did her compassion help heal my wounds, it made me look at Natalie in a different light. Who knows what her life had been like to make her act so hatefully? I was blessed with love and attention from my family. She may not have been as lucky as I.
And this is my hope for today and tomorrow and all the days after. If we are to repair the world, each of us must find it in our hearts to do the right thing, the compassionate thing, whenever we see injustice. Even if it goes against what everyone else is doing.
For me, fourth grade ended and so did the the bullying. I couldn’t tell you what happened to the Mean Girls. In fifth grade we were in different classrooms and after seventh grade my family moved and I never saw either of them again. Gone and forgotten.
But Judy’s act of kindness? Never forgotten. Always treasured. And hopefully paid forward.
I am writing this blog post as part of #1000Speak, joining other bloggers in a conversation aboutaQ compassion, kindness, support, and caring. Let’s flood the blogosphere with words of hope so that we can begin to repair our world.