…and names will also hurt me
A couple weeks ago, I posted some diary entries from my middle school years. Looking back at those posts was really hard; not only were most of them cringe-worthy, but my heart broke reading some of the ones I didn’t post.
Grade 7 was a hard time for me. I’d gone from being in a class with most of the same kids (and the same teacher) for grades 4, 5, and 6, and suddenly I had to get used to all of these different people. I was going through puberty. I got glasses for the first time. I was just generally going through a really awkward phase:
What didn’t make any of this easier is that some of the girls in my class decided it would be super fun to spread a rumor that I was (wait for it) f–king our teacher.
Let that sink in for a second. Seventh grade. Rumour that I was f–king our teacher.
Needless to say, it wasn’t true. Sure, I was the kid who stayed after class to ask the teacher questions and talk about school… but it was because I was basically a unibrow-ed Hermione Granger, not because there was anything untoward going on.
It all started when I got a new backpack that was big enough to carry all of my books (of which I always had many because, again, Hermione). First they made fun of me for the size of it. Then, when that wasn’t working, they moved on to taunting me that I had to have a backpack that big because I was sleeping over at our teacher’s house and needed a change of clothes. There were rumours, chants, and even songs about me. I loathed going outside for recess because I knew that I’d be greeted by sick, altered versions of popular songs (I mean, looking through my diary, I do have to give these bullies props: their parody songs were lyrically creative, albeit cruel).
For the first few weeks, I tried to pretend that it didn’t bother me. I laughed along, hoping that if they didn’t get a rise out of me, they’d move along to the next victim. Heck, I was so desperate to get the focus off of me that I probably would have gladly participating in psychologically torturing whoever they chose next, sad as that is to think.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The kids started snickering whenever I answered a question in class, which led me to stop participating. Unaware as to what was going on, our teacher started to call on me often, trying to get me to talk; that just added fuel to their fire, leading them to tease me that my “boyfriend” was paying me more attention than everyone else.
I tried everything I could think of, including ignoring them, yelling at them, and even pretending to have a crush on a guy in our class so that they could make fun of me about that instead. Nothing worked. The taunts continued.
The whole time, I never told my parents. I know that they would have supported me, but I think I wanted to keep my home life completely separate, so that I had somewhere safe to escape to every evening. I didn’t want to tarnish that feeling by bringing all of that bullshit home.
All in all, it could have been a lot worse. I know that the bullying that a lot of kids go through is way more damaging. I was really lucky to have amazing friends outside of school, so at least my evenings and weekends were drama-free (and frequently spent with my best friend Christy, playing video games and writing plays we made our parents watch). I can’t imagine what it would have been like to not have that support at home and in my neighbourhood, or to go through this in the social media era where those jerks could have blown up my phone with their sickness.
As an adult, it’s clear to me now that there was something else going on with those girls. That doesn’t seem like a normal rumour to start. I’m not sure what was going on with them outside of school, but I have to assume that something as amiss for them to come up with that.
Thankfully the eighth grade was a bit better. Sure, I accidentally bared my ass in gym class and was then called “Cheeko Buttriguez” for the rest of the year, but that was majorly small potatoes compared to the whole teacher/backpack thing. (And, to be honest, the “Cheeko” nickname doesn’t really bother me; one of my best friends still sometimes calls me that, and I think it’s hilarious. Love you, Rhubarb!) I was lucky enough to sail through high school mostly unscathed.
Since then, I’ve encountered a bully or two in my travels. I even dated one briefly, and was then managed by another. It’s amazing to me how being called names or put down brings me right back to being that sad little Hermione on the playground, desperate for the girls she thought were her friends to stop saying that she was f–king their teacher.
In the past few years, I’ve finally learned how to cope with those feelings. I work hard to only let in the voices that matter: my parents, my best friends, the colleagues I trust, and my beautiful cat (he counts, too!). Everyone else is just white noise. Some days it’s easier than others, but I’m getting better at it day by day, evaluating what’s said before I take it in.
Is this constructive feedback from someone I trust or care about? No? Ignore.
Reading through those diary entries (which are just too painful to share), I wish that I could go back in time and whisper in that unibrow-ed pre-teen’s ear:
“These kids are assholes. Just keep ignoring them and doing you and focusing on the people that matter. In twenty years time, the only contact you’ll have with these little demons is on something called Facebook (it’s on this thing called the internet, you’ll love it), where you can just press a button to block their bullshit. The point is: it’s all going to get better. I promise.”