Around 5th grade, it seemed like all the girls who had been my friends suddenly turned mean. I came home every day after school and cried – I felt so betrayed. One memorable incident involved a girl following me around the gym calling me “birdbrain,” and when I told the teacher, the girl denied it. There were boys that used to sing a song about me. They called me “Doobie Dumb.” They had whole songs they’d sing in my honor. “Doobie Dumb, Doobie Dumb Dumb Dumb.” I was bad at the sportsing, so there was a sort of “Casey at Bat,” thing that they would do, only it would feature me at bat.
I struck out.
It was so bad that by my second high school I changed my first name, (first to my middle name, then, pretentiously, to a name that had nothing to do with mine, and finally to my real name but not the diminutive.) I still can’t stand being called the name that I wore in elementary school. Bad associations. Whoever I am, I am not who they said I was, and I knew that even when I was 15.
My first high school was a private school in Manhattan and the kids there were brutal – way meaner than their suburban counterparts. It seemed like I was the only kid from the suburbs, and I was not very sophisticated, not compared to those born-and-bred city prep school girls. Oh, they knew just what to say to me.
The boys were worse. There was a pack of 10th grade boys that used to follow me through the halls calling me “beast.”
In the middle of 10th grade, I switched schools to a school in Brooklyn where the kids were nice and I was, generally, liked, and I do not remember being bullied there at all. But there was damage. I was a goth (we didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what it was) because I thought I looked romantic and lovely and tough and cool and nobody would mess with me. It took me the full 90 minute subway ride to psych myself up to walk into school. I was always braced for those boys to find me.
So, that’s the way I remember it.
Memory is a funny thing, though. I don’t know if those kids who bullied me, I don’t know if they remember it. I don’t know if they remember it that way.
I say this because when I think back on it, I think that even though I never dreamed that I had the power to hurt anyone – that nobody really liked me enough to care what I did, I was a bully too.
One day, In 9th grade I dumped all my friends. I had a girl-crush on this one girl who had asymetrical hair and was Greenwich Village cool, and I wanted to be her best friend so desperately. She was a nice girl, but cold, remote, and that only fed my need to be liked. Another friend told me that the best thing to do would be to dump my less popular friends and thereby set the stage for having more popular friends such as Greenwich Village girl, and I thought this was great advice and a fine idea and I promptly dumped my friends and then I really didn’t have any friends at all. Not nice.
I saw myself as a victim, and any bullying that I did was self-serving, and in the service of getting myself out from under. But I bet it didn’t hurt the kids who were my victims any less.
Or maybe they don’t remember.
I bet they do, though. I bet they remember it just like I do, and nobody says anything about it, because really, what’s to say?
I’ve seen kids on the playground try to bully Flower, and it makes me so angry. I’ve seen this more than once – kids play a game where they run away from Flower and let her chase them and they laugh at her. I want to scream at these kids and at their parents. I want to say, “Really? Do you really want to be the parents of a kid who bullies a girl who has special needs, or do you want to step in and teach your kids to be nice, to have some respect? Because that girl your kids are running away from has been through things that you would not want to imagine. She is a nice girl and she does not know how to play with other kids, so if you don’t want to play with her, if you don’t want to even try to play with her, then just leave her alone and let her do her own song and dance in peace.” Bullying is all about trying to lift yourself up by pushing someone else down. I learned this as victim and as perpetrator.
“Ignore them,” my parents, my teachers would say, as if I could, as if turning away and pretending it wasn’t happening, pretending they didn’t mean me, as if that would make it hurt less. Because for a bully, the victim’s reaction isn’t the point. It isn’t about what you do, it is about how the bully looks to the people they are trying to impress. So it really doesn’t matter what Flower does, or that she doesn’t notice it at all, because it still happens, and it’s still going to happen. But Flower seems to be oblivious to it. In her own way, I hope that she is above it. And I don’t know if that is better or worse.