Most of us will never know what its like to be bullied. Some of us are the bully and have no idea the harm we’ve cause. Then there are those who turn their heads and wish the problem went away. If we didn’t see it, then it never happened. Those that turn their heads are left wondering why when a young child takes their own life or when violence breaks out in the schools. The head turners could have stood up and stopped the fray before it boiled into outrage. They could have saved a life.
A couple of months ago I googled an old classmate, I heard rumors that she had sued a hotel for sexual harassment. Funny, I thought, you are suing someone for the exact same thing you did to me. The tables were turned and now she had found herself in my shoes. It probably never crossed her mind that she was once the harassor. I’d like to believe that somewhere deep down she has a heart and maybe slightly understands the pain she caused me. April was one of the people who listened to Sara and gathered her friends to make my life miserable. Rumors and laughter flew at my expense. I was either dumb, fat, ugly, and so on. They made fun of my clothing, my hair, my makeup, and the way I talked. Day in and day out this occurred within the classroom walls. Teachers didn’t care, they just turned their head, while I was dying inside.
It came to a head at our Choir’s annual Christmas show, that night was the worst. There taunts were terrible and down right sick. I was fighting the tears and lost it when I saw my Mom. I was crying so hard I could barely breathe, my Mom took my hand and told me it was going to be all right. When we got home my Mom told my Dad and he was furious. I told them “It’s no use the school isn’t going to do anything because Sara’s dad works for them.” My Dad didn’t give a shit and called her parents up that night, it wasn’t pretty but I do believe he got his point across.
You must know that I have been Sara’s target since the first grade. I have no idea why but I was always the subject of her torment. The morning after the choir concert my Mom demanded to meet with the principle and that set the ball in motion. The principle listened and made it very clear that Sara would not receive special treatment because her Dad was a school employee. Teachers and students were interviewed, the truth it came out. Just as I had stated Sara was harassing me. The principle left her punishment up to me. I told her “I just want to be left alone. Just stop.” Sara apologized to me and her Father apologized to my mother, he had no idea of his daughters behavior and made the comment “she got her punishment at home.” I figure what her Daddy dealt her was probably far worse than what I could come up with or what the school could do for punishment.
Life went back to normal, she left me alone. Yet the pain was still there and every step I took was filled with fear. Fear that they would start in again and try to break me down. I was trying to find my way and gain my strength. Slowly it came back. I knew college would be my ticket out of that small river town. After I got my diploma, I threw my hat in the air and burst into tears as my Mama wrapped her arms around me. I was not crying because I was happy to graduate. I cried because I was finally free. Free of their torment, free of the lies, rumors, and the pain they inflicted upon me. Mom told me once “Mannie, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words they will never hurt you.” My Mama was wrong, words they hurt, they hurt worse than a break and are forever etched into your soul. Their words have stayed with me.
Leaving Red Wing was the best thing I have ever done. Outside the limestone bluffs I found freedom. I look at Facebook updates (funny how they want to be my friend now) and see that most of them haven’t accomplished anything and hell a few are still living in Red Wing. When I left my wings were broken and weak. I often say I set out to discover my place in the world, but what I really found was myself. Its true I did, living overseas allowed me to put the past in the past and to fight for myself and my dreams. I grew a lot during my college years, developed real friendships, fell in love, and dared to live a life without fear. My life was no longer plagued by my tormentors I had set myself free. For the first time in years, I finally believed in me.
I have to believe that deep down both Sara and April know that what they did was wrong. Sara is currently pregnant and my only hope is that her son or daughter does not run into a girl just like their Mother. Maybe Sara’s son or daughter will come to her with tear-stained eyes and crying about the bullies that torment them at school. Maybe then Sara will realize the pain my Mother felt that night when her daughter came to her broken and tired of living a life of pain. Maybe Sara will realize the pain she inflicted upon me and then seek forgiveness within herself. Because forgiveness is something she will never get from me, I can forget, but I will never forgive.
Forgiveness is something I will never have for Sara or April. Now Cameron on the other hand I forgave, I forgave him because his wings were broken and his heart couldn’t go on. I forgave him one hot August day as I stood before his casket I whispered “May you find peace in heaven and know that I hold no hate towards you. I forgive you, now rest on the clouds of heaven.” I forgave and then started a chapter for the Light for Life Foundation, a suicide prevention program on my college campus in his honor. His friends were shocked and surprised that he never told them how he was feeling. I wasn’t surprised, he knew exactly what they were and that they would have made fun of him. He didn’t even trust his best friend with his pain, instead he chose to suffer in silence.
No one deserves to suffer in silence. Bullying is a terrible thing. I urge you to find the strength within yourself, stand up, and stand out until someone will listen to you. Suicide is not the answer, nor is violence. You can cut the cycle by standing alongside and speaking up for the bullied. Never turn your head away, open your heart and find it within yourself to give them the strength they need to survive. Dry their tears, hug them, and whisper “Go Ninja Go” into their ears. Then, they will know that they are not alone.