I bullied others as a child. There was the boy in first grade, who I would bend his fingers back and make him beg me to stop. I remember doing it, but have no memory of my motivation in doing it. It wasn’t just once, either. I would seek him out at gym time just to do this.
Then there was Patti, in 7th grade on bus 12. She actually later became a very good friend. But initially, I tried to bully her. She had made a comment that seemed to be vaguely in reference to another girl who had just exited the bus. Now that girl WAS the bully and, I think out of some primal need to make a female mark of some kind, challenged Patti on what she said about my “friend”. I felt catty. The girl who I was acting on behalf of was NOT my friend. I feared her. She had a way of examining you and finding your weakest point and exploiting it for her own benefit. And even though everyone knew she did this, they groveled to be her friend. She was vulgar, materialistic and just plain mean to others. Yet every boy in the school wanted to “go around” with her – be her choice as a boyfriend. Outwardly by some, and secretly among others.
One incident tattooed in my mind happened just hours after what I had thought to be a great conversation over lunch with her. I revealed my love for a classmate, Albert, who had the most beautiful green eyes you have ever seen. I really liked him and he was a super nice guy, who didn’t buy into all the tough guy stuff. He was smart, too, and talented for beginner band.
So there we sat, waiting for Miss Richter to settle in the percussion section. It was Albert, the bully and me. It was a “cold” day in Texas, and my mother made me wear red tights under my jeans. These jeans were Sears-Roebuck Toughskins, handed down from cousins to brothers to me. They had a hole on the knee, and the bright red tights beamed through. I tried desperately to situate my body, my flute and my case to conceal this shameful sign of my family’s SES. That’s when she said it.
“Joooyyyce…show Albert your sexy hose!” as she batted my carefully placed hand off my knee. She grabbed the edges of the tear in the knee and made it into the shape of a mouth and said, “Oh, Albert. You have such pretty eyes! I love you, Albert!” I was mortified. I cried and cried inside. That afternoon was when I challenged Patti. It was more than territorial. I could hardly believe how MEAN I could sound! I used a snotty voice that was a misguided way to handle the stuffed pain and social “trauma” I had suffered earlier. I felt weak for not demanding she stop humiliating me. I felt ashamed I was associating with her. I was confused. I didn’t feel good; I felt bad. I felt scared and sinful. A good conversation with a trusted adult would have been the best thing that could have happened.
Of course, that was many years ago. I confidently explain to my daughter that sometimes time has a way of tricking you and it’s important to have perspective. Do what you know is right, by you and those you care for. You feel and do things because something so important to you is driving you. Whether it’s a need to feel accepted, a need to feel smart, a need to feel loved – that’s human. But if you cannot name and thoughtfully examine what your motivations are, you could easily and blindly hurt others or yourself. You have a responsibility to check yourself and your actions. You have the right to situate yourself in social circles that make you happy and whole, and that keep your character challenged out of an appreciation of sincerely knowing you. Yes, time is tricky. What seems so, so urgent and important and scary now will be nothing more than a passing thought later. A blip in time. A tiny tattoo.