“It takes two to fight.” This was not the first, nor the last time I heard these words. They seemed so unfair. After all, it hadn’t been a fight, I’d been pushed down a flight of stairs by three bullies. But admitting that to me or my parents would have been hard, as then the bullies would have to be punished. Maybe suspended. Of course, that was out of the question. They were football players. Good ones. Can you imagine what suspending them would lead to in such a sports-oriented school? It was out of the question.
I’d heard the same thing before. When I’d walked into the restroom only to be ambushed and pushed around. The time I walked into shop class and got hit over the head from behind with a wooden plank. I’d hear it again.
The time that stands out the most is the one that is perhaps the one that was the most humiliating, the one that led to the first time I planned to end my life. I was about 13 years old, in junior high school. Athletics were starting to get important. One day I was walking down the hall between classes, and a group of about five other kids, kids I didn’t even know, surrounded me. Kids who turned out to be on the football team, just like the ones who would push me down the stairs later in high school. They started spitting on me. When I tried to get out of their confinement, they shoved me down and kept on spitting. When I got up and walked, they followed, spitting the whole way. When I got to class, they vanished and I got taken to the dean, dripping in spit. What did he do? Asked me what I’d done to provoke this. What I’d done to them. When I assured him that I hadn’t offended them in any way, he suggested that maybe it was their way of being affectionate, of including me in their group. Really? That night as I lay in bed, 42 years ago as I write this, I planned my suicide. I’d set my alarm for after midnight, and was going to get up and kill myself. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I really meant it. I don’t remember what went wrong, or rather right, as I am still here.
These incidents, and others, many not so physical, but just as painful, or maybe more so, started in grade school and followed me through high school. I hung onto the hope that when I left public school and went to college, the bullying would stop. I don’t know if that happens for everyone, but it did for me. I’ve had a lot of rude things said to me since then, and I’ve had mental health problems, but thank goodness bullying went away for me.
Where were my parents during this? They tried to help as much as possible. But they were met by the same reaction from the school system that I was, and when they tried to help, the repercussions from the bullies got so bad that I learned to hide as much of the abuse from them as I could. It hurt them as much as it did me, and nothing good came from them knowing, it only made things worse.
Our adopted and foster kids have run into similar problems, and we’ve run into similar roadblocks at their schools. The bullying seems to be the worst in middle school. At that age, some kids just turn mean. My wife has had more success with school administration than my parents had, but sometimes I wonder if our kids didn’t hide bullying from us much as I did from my parents. It didn’t occur to me until now to ask them, now that all but one are out of public school, perhaps they will talk.
Everyone talks about how bullying must end, I read about in the media all the time. I read about programs to stop bullying, and I read about zero tolerance programs. None of this seems to work. I’m not sure what the solution is. I wish I did.