Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Time I Was a Bully

Tomorrow, February 26th 2014, is Pink Shirt Day.  Pink Shirt Day is a day where we attempt to raise awareness of Bullying  in our schools, workplaces, homes, and over the Internet.

I wasn't particular tormented as a child, at least not consistently, but I had the occasional run in with bullying.  I'll never forget being in the 6th grade when a girl named Angela Baker decided she hated and "wanted to kill" me.  I had only spoken to her a few times so I had no idea why I was being targeted.  She called my house and threatened me, and somehow my mom and dad took care of it and the problem disappeared.

Another time, in 10th grade, my ex-boyfriend and his friends made a rude AOL homepage about me.  Another thing my mom and dad took care of. The police were actually involved in this one, and he had to write me an apology letter (which I'm sure my mom still has) and we decided not to press charges. 

In honour of Pink Shirt Day I want to share my own personal bullying story, except in this story, the bully is me. 

When I was in 5th grade, my best friend was a girl named Michelle.  When I say we were best friends, I mean we were the best friends EVER.  We were in the same class at school and we did absolutely everything together.  All day at school we hung out every second we could, and the minute we got home from school we talked on the phone for as late as we could.  On the weekends we tried to hang out every day, and we tried to have sleepovers as often as possible.  We played Power Rangers and recorded ourselves singing songs from The Lion King and sent them to Disney.  We were nerds and we were inseparable. We even told people we were sisters.

Then 6th grade came along, and we found out we weren't in the same class.  My world completely collapsed.

Summer went by and we were both devastated about the class situation.  By the time September rolled around we were both certain that we would die being in separate classes.  We even had the horrendous and traumatizing experience of signing up for the same camp and ending up in different camp groups, which was a miserable taste of what was to come.

The first day of school was hell.  Being in separate classes was definitely as bad as I thought it would be, and I actually had something of a mental breakdown by lunch and I think I spent much of the afternoon in the counsellors office.

Parents were called.  It was determined that we should stay in separate classes, which was devastating to both of us.  Of course, looking back, I'm sure our parents wanted us in separate classes because our friendship was too intense and we weren't making any other friends.  This is easy to understand from an adult/parent perspective, but it doesn't matter much when you are 11.

Of course, there was always recess. 

Days went by and life did get easier.  Well, unfortunately it got easier for Michelle a lot sooner than it did for me.  Within a week she started hanging out with another girl from her class, and she wanted this girl to hang out with us at recess.  Words do not describe how upset this made me.  I felt so sad, so replaced, and so alone.  I did not want to hang out with this new friend, I wanted to hang out with my best friend. I felt completely screwed out of the time we could be spending together during class and recess was all we had.  Having a third wheel around was not going to fly with me.

I tolerated the friend for the sake of Michelle, but then I decided I was going to get my own new friend, too.  This new friend was Julie.  She wasn't actually a new friend, she was a friend I had from 4th grade who I had largely neglected during 5th grade because of my intense bond with Michelle.

One thing led to another, and Michelle and I started to grow apart.  I think it was largely in part due to the simple fact that we couldn't be together all the time, but also because of jealousy we both had of each others new friends.  My jealousy and pain turned to anger and pain, and I was very hurt that our friendship had taken such a sad turn, so Julie and I started being mean to Michelle. I guess it was easier to try and hate her than it was to accept and mourn the changing friendship.

I can't remember specifically what we did, but we weren't very nice to her.  We teased her about her appearance, her clothes, everything.  While we never tried to physically harm her, I'm sure we did a number on her emotionally.  One thing I remember very clearly was making her a really mean Christmas card.  I can still see the card in my head, and I feel just terrible about it to this day.  There was no sense to any of it, and it never made me feel good, so I don't know why we persisted in this way.  I actually really adored Michelle, and there was absolutely no logic to my unacceptable behaviour.

The teasing and bullying went on for a few months, and then our parents put a stop to it.  And that was that. There was no discussion on why it was happening, or any attempt to work through our feelings.  No one ever asked me why I was being terrible to Michelle when we had been such good friends before, we were just told enough is enough, and we weren't to talk anymore. 

I never bullied another person after that. As for Michelle and I, we went to school together through 12th grade, and even had a few classes together, but I don't know if we ever spoke.

When I was a young adult in my early 20s, I remember coming home from University in the summers and watching Maury Povich with my dad and sisters, and there would always be an episode where adults would confront their childhood bullies.  I made a mental note to never be on the Maury Povich show if anyone had a "surprise" for me, just in case it was Michelle.  Part of me knew I could never endure from Michelle what she had endured from me.

To this day, I feel absolutely awful about how I treated Michelle.  It's now 19 years later, and I still feel as though it was yesterday.  I wish it had gone down differently. I wish we had worked through our feelings in a more constructive and loving way.

Years ago I found Michelle on Facebook.  She's an artist now, super talented, and it actually looks like we'd get along really well.  I was very tempted to message her and apologize, but I was scared of what would happen. Maybe she would be angry, maybe she would try and retaliate.  Maybe she would be unable to forgive me, and I would be too sad about it.  I felt (and feel) so undeserving of her compassion, and wouldn't expect any, but I think was too scared to put myself in the position she was in, way back when.  How awful to think I put someone in a position I'd never want to be in myself.

One day I took the plunge, sent Michelle an apology, and I never heard back.  I can't say I blame her.

I hope Aias and Azriel never have to experience what I made Michelle experience, and I will be mortified if they ever put someone through it themselves.  I'm so glad we have something like Pink Shirt Day to bring awareness to bullying so that we can encourage an open dialogue about it, and rather than creating a Bully (Evil) Vs. Bullied (Good) dichotomy, we can try to encourage and remember what makes us all human and how we can be nurturing and loving in all that we do. 
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