I was in middle school when the bullying got worse.
A group of girls circled my friend in the PE bathroom. Taunting her. Pushing her. I stepped in and mustered every ounce of courage in my petite pubescent frame.
“Leave my friend alone!”
The pack of girls turned, pulled a knife and threatened, “Watch your back. We’ll be looking for you.”
At that moment, the P.E. teacher entered banging the lockers and yelling, “Get to class.”
As much nerve as it took to confront those girls, it took more to tell an adult. I waited until everyone cleared the gym. Speaking quickly and quietly, I repeated what had happened. I’ll never forget the conversation and how I felt. Her words echoed in my head as she spit out her disgust, inches from my face and her finger pointed:
“You are horrible and prejudiced. Those girls would never do such a thing. Now go. Stop trying to get someone in trouble.”
Naïve, shaken, scared and worried, I finished the rest of the day in a dissociated cloud of fear. I don’t remember much more.
It was the year I also became aware, adults bully too. My English teacher laughed at me when I stuttered. My math teacher humiliated me in front of the class because I didn’t understand decimals. My grades slipped.
I became invisible.
I hid behind students to survive the changing of classes and to avoid the girls from PE. They still found me and taunted me. I dropped my purse and they kicked it. Out spilled my ultimate preteen embarrassment—tampons. I started to get physically sick and discovered teachers don’t like kids with stomach aches. I was sent to the nurse’s office.
After months of this, I watched and waited to find just one person to trust.
This was when I was serendipitously selected for a pilot language program. I was introduced to Spanish and later French. The teacher, Miss M., tall and willowy, graced the room with enthusiasm. She was a fresh new teacher and I soon noticed she was different. She adored each of us. Talked to us kindly. She glowed. I watched her for over a month before taking the risk to share my story and when I finally did something amazing happened.
I told her about the girls in the PE bathroom. She held her breath and listened to every word. Bowed her head slightly, held her hand over her heart and cried.
She knelt down and said, “You are brave to share this with me and I will do everything I can to see this changed.”
And she did.
For the first time, I cried too. Relieved and surprised. I felt heard.
My message is:
Be the change for someone. Listen. Watch. Stand up. It takes courage. Offer that extra hand. Help someone.
I will never forget Miss M. and how brave she was to listen and believe me. She never wavered in her quest to get things changed.
To the Miss M’s of the world, thank you. My tender 12 year old year heart remembers well and I bow to you.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Wiki Commons