This blog post was inspired by this piece by Wil Wheaton: I haven’t thought about the kid who bullied me in over twenty years.
I was the fat kid with severe seasonal/exercise induced Asthma in elementary and middle school, and also the kid with a huge target on his back. I wanted nothing more than to be like every other kid at my school and just blend in. I changed my wardrobe, tried to listen to the right music, put away comic books, and just tried to disappear.
No matter how hard I tried, I was still the outsider. Always picked last in gym class for sure, but also the only kid stuck inside during recess, because the twenty minutes outdoors during spring could land me a trip to the ER. I was lucky enough to have friends during this time period, some of which I still have today, but I will always remember the confused looks on my peers faces when it was time to go outside.
Middle School did not start well for me. This was the time when sports started to rule, and I was the furthest thing from an athlete. Gym Class was always the worst time of day for me, and the confused looks and kids faces turned to laughter. When I hear bullying stories on the news, or see articles/blog posts like the one by Wil Wheaton that I’ve shared above, this is the time I re-live. The time when the taunts went from “What’s your problem?” to “You’re ugly, you smell, get away from me”. Every time I would see this particular boy or any of his friends, I would immediately start to cringe and shut down inside. It went so far as this particular group writing “Andy Smells” on chalkboards before classes we would share, or scratching those words into desks across the school so I could find them throughout the year.
Thankfully, I was one of the bigger kids at the time, so I really didn’t have that much physical abuse beyond shoving and the occasional punch to the arm. Being a big guy finally became an advantage when I decided to fight back. I would always start with my words, and I was pretty good a shutting people down with them. I’m frequently asked today why I’m so quick to respond, and therein lies the answer. I had to say something back before they got in another jab, or before someone else would chime in against me. It was a skill I developed quickly out of necessity.
Unfortunately, there were times when words were not enough, and I’d be forced to get physical. I tried to never throw the first punch, and my goal was never to have anyone get seriously hurt. I only wanted them to know that I would never again suffer them silently. I would never again let their words and actions create tears. I would never again let them make me so upset that I would beg my parents to not go back to school, even while being dragged into the building. I would never again let those people run my life. After a few years, my bullies got the message and backed off, but I didn’t stop there. I had friends who were teased relentlessly as well, and I never sat by and let them take it.
My bullying story ends with me standing up for myself and quite literally fighting back at those who tried to hurt me. Not everyone’s story has a happy ending though. I will always support anti-bullying campaigns, and if I ever see anyone trying to break someone else down because they’re different, or they like something the other person/group doesn’t, or just because, I will not stay silent.