In seventh grade, the girl whose locker was next to mine stuffed me in my locker and closed the door. The way I remember it, I was in the locker for about fifteen minutes. Who knows, though, if that is accurate. What is accurate is that the memory has stayed with me. The other part of the memory that has stayed with me is my outburst at the supper table that night when my dad said something (probably not in a confrontational way, by the way) about my mood.
“You and Michelle Ross have made this the worst day ever!” I screamed dramatically as I threw my fork down on the plate and ran from the table to my bedroom.
That is all I remember. I do not even remember the fact that Michelle stopped coming to school in the middle of ninth grade. In fact, when Michelle – now married with a son and living within an hour from me – requested to be my friend on Facebook, I could not even remember if she had been in high school with us. Turns out that she was not.
Honestly, it was out of curiosity that I accepted Michelle’s friend request. The only things that I remember of Michelle is that she stuffed me in a locker and where she lived. I think we might have been in Girls Scouts together, but that might not be true. This is not unusual with me for me to lack memories of those with whom I attended school. Over the past twenty years, I have lived a completely different life from then, and – until recently – have not had much contact with any of my former classmates.
Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about Michelle’s current life. I know that she deeply loves her son; she is a good mom. I know that she and husband are truly committed to each other for the long term; she is good wife. I have learned that we probably disagree on some things, but we also agree on quite a bit. One of those things is that kids should be held accountable for their actions at home and at school.
Becoming Facebook friends with her – an act of curiosity – has made me enjoy her as a friend. When she threatened to clean out her friend list, I asked to remain on it because she is a fun part of my adult life.
The funny thing is that I thought this would be where the blog post would end. I thought that I would write some little ditty about how we can all move on from our past differences. The actions of our childhood do not have to define us. The way that we interact as teens do not have to determine how we interact as adults. Even those who have hurt us in some way in the past could become our friends as adults. As my 20th class reunion looms this coming summer, I have had this thought over and over as I see people collaborating on the event who hardly spoke to each other in high school.
This is resiliency.
But this is not where the blog post ends. When I sent Michelle a Facebook message to ask her permission to share about the locker incident on this blog, she consented but also said, “As a child a was VERY abused by my step dad, and I am guessing that is why I brought it to school, so I think some bullies are fighting demons of their own…my two cents. Not that it is okay by ANY means; just something to think about.”
I did think about it. I thought about it quickly and deeply. My heart told me that the 15 minutes that I had experienced in the locker and still have as a memory were nothing compared to what Michelle had endured. I wrote back and asked her to share more with me that I could share with readers.
Michelle’s thoughts: I have to believe that bullies are not born but that they are made, made from the circumstances that live in every day while they’re growing up in their homes. That is why I say we don’t know what demons those bullies are fighting. Are they getting beat everyday when they get home, as I experienced, or being molested? I think when a child acts like that, there has to be a reason.
I considered myself “tough,” but I never considered myself a bully until you told me what I did to you, and how you felt. This is no excuse for that, but since I was being abused at home, I felt in control when I went to school and I acted tough in my school world, being a bully to others. That is something I didn’t realize I was doing. I was so scared about what was going to happen to me when I went home every night, I could have stayed at school all day.
When I was 15, I ran away from the abuse, and I moved to be with my biological father to a new town in a new state at a new school . Then I was getting bullied by the other kids because I was new. My philosophy is you cannot bully a bully. So as I started sticking up for myself, I also started sticking up for those that were getting harassed every day. I was “tough” once again but I saw how both sides of it, the bullied and the people bullying.
Today I make sure my son is good to everyone, and he is; it is his nature. He is God’s gift and a miracle, and he is here on Earth to bring happiness to everyone he meets, which he does. He is very small from being a premie and has experienced some bullying by others. That is when mamma bear comes out.
This is her story in her words. And I cannot thank her enough (even though I have offered to meet up for dinner sometime) for sharing this and agreeing to allow it to be shared on this blog in this blog series.
Michelle hit on two things that are super important in any discussion of bullying…two things that so often are either given a quick gloss over or no attention at all.
Number One: Michelle never considered herself a bully until I told her what she did to me. Michelle did not remember what she had done … still does not, actually. I told her about it somewhat flippantly on Facebook as a comment on one of her status updates. What breaks my heart in this situation is that now that I have told her about it – over twenty years later – she thinks of herself as a bully. Does one action make someone a bully? I recently heard that apparently that is all it takes in a classroom here in the Twin Cities. A six year old picked on another kid in his class – one time – and now the teacher considers him a bully. In fact, neither “the bully” nor the child “being bullied” even knew what those terms were. The teacher “taught them” about bullying while “dealing” with the situation. Really? Will this “bully” ever be able to become a good dad? I doubt that his teacher thinks so! And will this child ever be successful in that teacher’s classroom? Again – I doubt it. We can only pray that this year’s teacher is lazy and will not tell next year’s teacher about the “bully” coming up the ranks.
Number Two: There is more to a child than her outward behavior. Michelle acted tough because she had a traumatic situation going on in her home. When children act out in a classroom, someone should probably do a little digging into the situations. I realize that this is hard – especially with teens who are not inclined to talk to adults in the first place – but this is necessary. I am not talking about isolated incidents of kids being kids (and yes, I do believe that there are time when kids just are being kids). I am talking about students who are continuously throwing their weight around, intimidating other students, and causing continuous harm to others.
I doubt that everyone will grow up and become Facebook friends with someone who stuffed them in their locker. But – I can honestly say that I am glad that I accepted Michelle’s friend request. Seeing the situation through her eyes has completely reconstructed the incident for me. I will never again think of that incident without knowing the truth about Michelle’s life at that time. What I experienced for fifteen minutes was minor in comparison to what Michelle lived every day at home.
Often we focus so much on helping the victims – the bullied – rather than on helping those who are considered bullies. If we want to stop the problem of bullying, we need to do everything we can to make sure that children are safe and that they have no reason to feel the need to be tougher than their classmates. Anti-bullying curriculum is not the answer to this. Observant teachers, competent social workers with time in their job to look into concerns, and supportive communities are the answer.
This is the third installment of a week long series on bullying.