Last week, one of my cousins presented to me a problem she was having at school with a girl. I won’t give details, as they don’t matter and will only muddy up my message, but it was an issue of bullying. She was really troubled by the situation and afraid and I couldn’t stand the thought of my family struggling like that. I felt it was important that someone step in on her behalf, and if she wasn’t comfortable going to her parents, then by God, I would do it. But, not knowing precisely how to contact her school and say “Hey, let’s fix this problem” without seeming like I was overstepping my bounds or, I dunno, crazy, I turned to an old and trusted mentor for guidance: My high school counselor.
Despite not having seen or spoken to this man is years, he came through, as I knew he would. Now, luckily, blessedly, I didn’t end up needing his help. My cousin acted beyond her years and dealt with the problem on her own. I’m so very proud of her and her classmates for dealing with this situation with maturity. I am in awe. But I am also in awe of dear old Mr. Davidson. He has enough on his hands without past students popping in to beg for help, but he was Johnny-on-the-spot, replying to may email ready to assist. And today he called me, even knowing that the bullying matter is behind us, to see how I am. What a wonderful man.
And, believe me when I say, he is not simply wonderful for taking the time to look out for me now. Back in the day, he figuratively, possibly literally, saved my life. When I told him on the phone today that I was writing a blog, he suggested I write my teenage saga because I might be able to help youngsters that are having the struggle I had back then. Well, Mr. Davidson, this is for you, man.
Chapter 1 –Mean Girls (and Boys)
[I cannot cover everything, all the reasons I was miserable as a teenager. At least not in one post. So consider this an overview. ]
I was never “normal.” From the day my mom dressed me in a cat vest for school picture day in the 2nd grade, I was fair game for mockery. But starting in Middle School, I really think it became true bullying.
The very first day of school a rumor was spread that I gave Clark a “BJ.” I didn’t even know what that was, and had to go home crying, only to be informed by my mom that the rumor was way worse than I possibly could have imagined. I had few friends, and those friends normally fell off the face of the earth when they realized how “uncool” I was. (Once, three of the few girls that seemed to like me passed me a note on the bus informing me that they hated my guts and didn’t want to talk to me ever again.) I was smart, and not quietly smart, but teacher-reads-my-poem-to-the-class smart; announces-my-grade smart. Obnoxious smart. I tried not to be, I tried to just shut up and blend into the background so that I could be as good as invisible, but it didn’t work. Kids didn’t like that. They also didn’t like that I was behind the times when it came to “acting my age,” which at the time meant swearing and having boyfriends and the start of partying. I didn’t really bloom till college, so back then, yeah, I was a freak. And the kids let me know it.
I had girls come up to me and say, to my face, like something out of a movie, “Welcome to Loserville: Population 1- You.” I didn’t see them doing this to each other, or to pretty girls. They did it to me. And the kids that were borderline slow but still in regular classes. And the nose-pickers and the girl who always had her hand down her pants. I was grouped with the really weird kids, the ones I defended back in Elementary School. But now, I was pre-pubescent and awkward and just too embarrassed to speak up.
My clothes were also mocked. A lot. I started begging my mom to let me dress like the other kids: flare jeans, fitted t-shirts, a bra (even though I SO didn’t need it), anything that would help me blend. But even then they found ways to make me feel…small. “Are those the only jeans you own? You’ve worn them three times this week?” Why did they take so much care to watch me? Why did my appearance bother them so much?
When all the girls started shaving their legs, I wasn’t allowed to, so I got harassed for that. I got mocked for being pale. They made fun of my eyebrows and the start of normal Italian hair on my arms (not loads, and not jet black, just not blond fuzz). They made fun of my teeth. And on the bus, the older boys absolutely tormented me: saying things that I couldn’t fully understand (being very innocent and all) but that made my tummy queasy, so I inherently knew they were being dirty and creepy; stealing my glasses right off my face; tripping me as I got off the bus.
Sounds like good times, eh?
Chapter 2–Higher Low Times
High school wasn’t as bad. I actually got bullied worse by a few teachers (my Spanish teacher told everyone to call me “Squirrel,” because I was a vegetarian and because of my teeth) than by most of the students. Though there were a select few that sought to make me miserable. But I was learning how to be a smartass , and gaining a wee bit of courage to stand up for myself, so every once in a while I got mine.
For instance, one girl every day used to stand against my locker, and when I’d (politely) ask her to move, she’d snarl, “Damn bitch.” Lovely girl. This went on for months. They she started saying it when she passed me in the hall. Then she started shoving into me when she said it. One day, when she rammed against my shoulder, I beat her to the punch and said firmly, “Damn bitch.” She turned around and with wild eyes said, “What the fuck did you just say to me?!” I didn’t blink, just looked her in the face and repeated, “Damn. Bitch.” She called me the C-word (I’m sorry, I hate that word so much I don’t even want to type it) and walked away, but she left my locker alone for the rest of the year.
So maybe my social life was improving my hairs: I had a handful of good friends within the circle of brains in the AP circuit. I was learning to use my sarcasm and my oddness to stand out in good ways. I was still a nerd enough that I could never get a boyfriend, but at least I had people to talk to, people that I was pretty sure would not dump me via note. But I had bigger problems at home.
Chapter 3–No Place Like Home (no place quite as…awful)
My father is a narcissistic, bi-polar alcoholic. I’m sure you can imagine this doesn’t make for a very pleasant human being. I was afraid of him all my life, and never knew why he was so…so mean. My brother and I were ideal children. let me say that again. We were ideal children. We never did anything wrong besides fight like normal siblings. Our grades were great, we were obedient, we were polite, we went to bed on time. And yet Dad was always screaming at us. Spitting with rage. Calling me a “jackass” and a “bitch” and “worthless.” He would deny all of that, but I don’t really care.
His drinking caught up to him when I was nearing the end of Middle School. He got a DUI and lost his license and was put on house arrest for a month or so, and then limited house arrest (he was allowed to go to work) for a year. And while the money problems were hard, and mom and dad fighting was just as bad as ever, my dad being sober really improved out relationship. So imagine my disappointment when a few months after he got his license back–which, by the way, was thanks to a letter I wrote to the judge at his hearing, thank you very much–he started knocking back the Budweiser again, and went right back to his old drunk, irrational self.
I hated the evenings when dad was home from work. I couldn’t breathe without him finding something to criticize. Take the heated happiness argument of 2005. I was a teenager, so naturally, I wasn’t bright and beaming 24/7. Teenagers sulk. It’s a fact of life. Well, as angry as my father was all the time, he had a hang up with everyone else not just being happy, but looking happy ALL THE TIME. So there I am, not unhappy, just not smiling, one night, and he asks, “What’s wrong?” And I answer, honestly, “Nothing.” You would have think I spat at him. Suddenly I was a liar and I HAD to tell him what was wrong. Long story short, over the course of the next 2 HOURS he chased me into the bathroom and locked us in, proceeding to berate me, leading me to hyperventilate, bawl my eyes out, and pull huge chunks of hair out of my head.
I did that a lot. I would bang my head against the wall or rip my hair out when Dad was being Dad. You cannot rationalize with the irrational. It is IMPOSSIBLE. They spin everything you say, they don’t hear themselves correctly, they twist and wind around until they are superior and you are shit. So you can understand that I felt fairly frustrated dealing with him. He would be spitting mad about NOTHING and I couldn’t do anything about it. So I did damage to myself. It didn’t even hurt in the moment. If I couldn’t control him, at least I could control how hard I bashed my skull into the drywall. Maybe I can leave a dent, I’d often finding myself thinking.
Everything came to a head the night he attacked me. My dad came into my room to unplug the Christmas lights I had hanging in my window. They were comforting to me, and in my half-sleep state I whispered, “Please don’t.” I don’t really know what happened next. I don’t know if I said something more, or he did, or if the next thing I remember is what immediately followed, but all I know is the next thing I remember is him kneeling on me with his hands around my throat. He was yelling, but I couldn’t tell you now what he was saying. I was fading, I could feel myself losing consciousness, and then he moved his thumb. In that split second I sucked in some air and said, “You’re kinda killing me.” Red in the face he bellowed, “KINDA?!” and then mere moments later he let me go and left my room without a word.
I wanted to die. I wanted to sink into my bed and cease to be. How could things get any worse? It was just the two of us in the house (my mom and brother were at a soccer game), I couldn’t sneak out of my room to call the cops without him catching me, and I could feel the bruise blooming across my neck. I hiccuped for who knows how long, and when my mom poked her head into my room to say goodnight when she got home, I started sobbing again, but told her I would explain in the morning.
Now here’s the part where I throw my mother under the bus. Allow me to say, I love her very very much, and I know she did the best she could with the tools available to her, but the day following my attack is the one she should go back in time and change should she ever have that chance. That is the one day I will say my mom fucked up. I told her what happened, and she cried with me, and she left me at my grandmother’s house for the day where I was hugged and held by all my relatives so she could go “Deal with things.” Dealing with things meant talking to my dad, who said, yes, he choked me, but it wasn’t the big deal I was making it, and he swore he wasn’t drunk. (My mom was comforted by this, I was horrified). Dealing with things meant asking an off-duty cop what would happen if we reported my dad, and then choosing not to report him. Dealing with things meant her coming to pick me up to take me home to the place where the man that had less than 24 hours prior attempted to kill me was, and saying that I had to be wherever she was, and she would be living with him.
Chapter 4–My Saving Grace
Enter Mr. Davidson. So, my life was collapsing around me. I had already been seeing him to talk about my shitty-ass family life, but after this blow-up, he became the only sane adult in my life. My dad was asking me haughtily every day, “You still hate me? You still hate me? Well, you know that means you still care.” My mom wouldn’t let me live with one of my friends because I had to be with her, but she wouldn’t boot drunky out of the house. My family all knew what had happened to me, yet not one of them was stepping in to save my brother and I from a clearly toxic home. Mr. Davidson was the only one telling me I had every right to feel as saddened and angry and miserable as I felt. He was the only one letting me dwell, because, frankly, how does one move on from something like that? He ate lunch with me most days while I cried and raged and struggled to find the words to describe how I felt. He was patient and kind and I probably would have done something stupid during that time, had it non been for him. And by stupid I mean, something I couldn’t take back: either killing myself or my father, most likely. He saved my life.
I didn’t have an easy time growing up. I hated being a teenager. I hated everything about that time in my life, from the acne, to the sleepless nights, to the confusion of developing sexuality, to the kids who don’t mind making others’ adolescence worse to make their own easier. But as bad as it was, I think about the kids today suffering like I suffered, struggling like I struggled, and I would do anything, give anything, be anything so that they don’t have to go through that hell. I would live it all over again if it meant that no youth ever had to feel as awful as I did every day for those long years. I am so angry that there is still bullying and abuse in the world. We should have moved beyond these cruelties by now as a race. But there is, and we need it to change.
So here’s where I tell you IT GETS BETTER. If you are reading this, and you’re being bullied or being abused or just feel bad about life for no particular reason, I promise, it gets better. You go away to school and find that you can breathe for the first time in your life. You meet great people who don’t judge you for anything. You get out of the hell that is teenage hormones, and the things that were life-shattering (and I know, they really are life-shattering when you’re going through it. BEING A TEENAGER SUCKS) suddenly aren’t a big deal. You need to push through the muck and the misery to get to the glorious mental clarity and the happiness that’s to come.
And if you’re reading this and you’re at fault for bullying, abusing, or ignoring the signs of bullying and abuse, please, wake up. This life is hard enough as it is without us stepping on each other in the process of getting to something better. Please please please, everyone, let’s just make every day a little easier, a little happier for each other. Let’s share a little more love and a lot less hate and sadness. In the words of Ellen Degeneres, “Be kind to one another.” For the love of humanity, be kind to one another.