Up until the age of about 10 years-old, I led a very charmed life. I wanted for nothing. The byproduct of a very stable and privileged girlhood for me was a very smug outlook on the world. This is not to say that my parents nurtured a taciturn child. Quite the opposite. But I perceived life as very black and white. It would take me many years to understand the shades of gray. I did not understand what it was to struggle, and therefore, when I saw others struggling, I did not think to help, and, in some cases, I made things harder for kids who struggled. Put simply, I was a rich bitch.
There was one boy in my grade school that I particularly tormented. I will refer to him here as R. I would razzle R. for having a big head. I would mock his upbeat walk. A part of me relished opportunities to put R. down. A more hushed part of me felt wretched and wished I could just give this boy the kindness that he deserved.
When I turned 10, I was in the same homeroom as R. The landscape of my life was rumbling, tectonic plates were shifting under very bedrock of this little life. My dad got sick; my parents got separated. My mom went back to work. My baby brother's special needs emerged in a glaring new light. This rich bitch was in reaction mode. I wasn't doing homework. Notes got sent home to my parents--I was acting the fool in school.
I remember R. incurred plenty of my adversarial behavior.
On the last day of 5th grade, we learned that R. was leaving the school that he had loved because we had made his year so awful for him.
I did not understand the scope of the pain that this boy with the upbeat gait had endured, but I knew that I was responsible. I had made someone leave a place A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL where he should have felt celebrated--or at least safe--to be himself.
R. was away for sixth grade.
He came back in the seventh grade. We were on Student Council together. I went out of my way to show him kindness and decency, and I enjoyed working with him.
But I was different by then. Because by then, the tables had turned. I was harassed while riding the school bus, forced as an 8th grader to sit every afternoon with the 4th graders (if you want to know a social coup for an entitled 8th grader, there it is). My junior high years were mostly challenging, although I had a very dear best gal pal and we were unsinkable as long as we had each other.
The high school years that followed were filled with deep sadness. I would never re-live high school, not for all of the Coach bags in the world.
However, as isolating as those years were, I was not bullied. I was very disillusioned about life's priorities but I had wonderful people in my life that helped to keep me afloat. I never had to doubt that the people who were "friending" me were really my friends. I never left school fearful of the rumors that were going to circulate on people's walls that night. Not once did I have to see incriminating pictures of myself from some weekend exploits circulated for strangers to see. I never woke up feeling sick to my stomach that today was going to be another day of hurtful text messages about me. You could not pay me to re-live high school as a high schooler today. Not for all the cash-stuffed Coach bags in the world.
I had the opportunity to apologize to R. recently. I wrote him an e-mail before our grade school reunion. He didn't write back. But he did come to the reunion, and I spent some time hearing about his life. He is in the military; he does some chaplaincy work.
I don't know if R. received my apology in the sense that he accepted it. But I do know one thing. I know that R. is happy in his life now, and that I couldn't be happier for him.
I also know that I will be telling my kids about R. and the other Rs of the world and how they deserve our kindness and our love because, in short, it makes us happy to see others happy.
*** You can post your Bully project here.