8th Grade Hell: a Bullying Incident

After I wrote my adoption post a couple of weeks ago I started thinking over my other memories on the subject. I came up with one that’s more about bullying than adoption. It was the culminating event in a long series of incidents. Looking back I can see that many of my beliefs about what people thought of me in high school spring from this encounter. That sad thing is, so much of what I assumed to be true wasn’t, but after experiences  like this, I wasn’t willing to take the risks necessary to learn that. I believed I was hated and shunned by most of my classmates, so that became my reality, even though many kids had no more malice for me than I had for them, and some of the bullies were only trying to avoid being singled out themselves. When you’re 14 you don’t have the perspective to see outside of your own experience.

I wrestled over changing the names and ultimately decided to do it. Not because these people could sue me, or because they deserve the anonymity, but because it felt wrong, almost like a form of revenge, to include them.

8th Grade Hell

I sit at the back of my 8th grade Language Arts class hearing laughter up front where a big knot of kids pulls in tight to discuss A Separate Peace. I don’t join them. I’m not welcome, so I huddle out of the way in my Goodwill clothes and my glasses that have the earpieces held on with black electrical tape.

Lexi Smith is up there. My best friend and worst enemy. On our “friend” days we sneak money out of her dad’s 5-gallon bottle of coins, which is so heavy it takes both of us to tip it. We ride to Dave’s Country Market on her motorcycle, keeping mostly to the fields, except for one quarter-mile stretch where we brave the Scenic Highway. Though we stick to the edge of the road, outside the white line, somehow that never fools cops into thinking we’re obeying the law.

On “enemy” days Lexi calls me Space Freak because ever since I saw Star Wars I’ve been crazy about science fiction and astronomy.

Up by the white board the laughter gets rowdier. There’s something malignant in it, and I strain to hear, eyes locked on the book I’m supposed to be reading. I know from experience that this kind of snickering means its time to hide or run. Lexi’s voice weaves in and out of the laughter. I catch a snippet of words that sound familiar, and then a whole sentence. Shame and outrage flare up, bigger than a supernova. My journal!

I leap up, charge to the front of the room, snatch the pages from Lexi’s hands. Her face is one big, nasty grin. Laughter swells around me, raucous now, because I’m making a scene. Kids like this feed off the energy of an emotional reaction the way a star feeds off hydrogen and helium. I attack Lexi, wanting to slap that mocking look off her face, and then the teacher is there, pulling us apart. Where has he been all this time? He’s supposed to be my friend! How could he let them do this?

*          *          *

We’re in the conference room in the library seated around a long table. Me, my teacher, the principal, and the whole Language Arts class.  I feel hopeful, because someone’s finally doing something, and humiliated, because everyone’s staring at me.  Deep down I know that this is only going to make things worse.

“She asks for it!” Tony Davis says, and it a way it’s true. I call him Tony “Davidson”, because he’s wigged out about Harleys.  But the difference between my insults and theirs is that I never start it. I only fight back, and I tell the principal so.

Tony knows he messed up. He goes for a distraction. “Back in first grade my mom told me I had to be nice to her because she’s adopted.”

My skin flashes cold and my gut crumples on itself like a wad of paper. No one’s made a secret of my adoption, but I didn’t know people were talking about it, making me into some pathetic Orphan Annie.

“But I’m tired of it,” Tony rages. “She’s a freak!”

That’s true, too. I make up little astronomy quizzes for our Language Arts teacher, who’s a grown-up, closet space freak, or maybe just pretends to be because he feels sorry for me. Every night I pray that God will let me see a UFO, because I want aliens to abduct me, and I’d go willingly, no matter how weird they looked.

The principal talks, the teacher talks, the kids mostly sit there wishing they were someplace else, except a few like Tony, who keep blaming it on me.

In the end, nothing is resolved. The bell rings. We get up to go. I walk out of the room, head down, wishing I was dead, and knowing that nothing will ever change.

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8 Responses to 8th Grade Hell: a Bullying Incident

  1. Casey says:

    Sounds like an awful experience. I have a few tucked away in my history. I matured far later than my peers and then matured too fast because of them.

    That was really well written though!


  2. susanls says:

    Middle school kids are the meanest on earth. I’ve got a few of these tucked away as well. But, on another note, I’d be glad to abduct you anytime.

    -the alien


  3. Roxie says:

    But, things HAVE changed, haven’t they? You are a competant, self-actualizing adult with a vivid, creative mind, and coterie of friends who are proud to know you.

    And you have a lot of empathy for the victims of bullying.


  4. Katy Skinner says:

    I *devoured* this! Even tho the writing style was like fiction, because I knew it was non-fiction, I loved it. See? I’m weird. I was almost late taking the kids to school because I had to finish reading it. 🙂

    I had a middle school bully, too. She wasn’t at times my friend; she was just pure bully. She shoved me and pushed me. At the same time, I felt sorry for her and was convinced that her mom must’ve been mean to her.


  5. Lisa Nowak says:

    Yeah, I think a lot of us have these stories. The interesting thing I’ve discovered through Facebook it that a many others have stories about being the bully. All these years later, I’m learning the reasons for their behavior. Some were put up to it by friends while others were lashing out because they had it bad at home. Universally, these people are sorry now, and they’re amazed that their victims would even talk to them, let alone forgive them.

    I recently read in an advice column how one victim was befriended by her bully on a social networking site. The victim still harbored resentment and was miffed that the bully would ask for friendship. I think this person was missing an opportunity. Forgiving is both empowering and healing. Beyond that, it’s satisfying to see that these bullies have grown beyond their self-absorbed behavior and learned compassion. That’s all I ever wanted from the as a kid, so why shouldn’t I be satisfied with it now?


  6. Katy Skinner says:

    That’s interesting; I have yet to come across *any* story about a childhood bully telling their side of the story. Only stories from the bullied. Josh had some bullies in Jr. High, too. They sound exactly like any childhood bully: You felt sorry for them even at the precise moment they were bullying you, they seemed white trash, and they seemed not very smart. I remember when my bully would curse at me (just walking by, for no reason!) my jaw would literally open because I was like, ‘I would never do that to someone!’ But I must confess as an adult, I have typed in my bully’s name into Google just to see what would come up.


  7. shelli says:

    glad your back online 🙂


  8. Barb says:

    I think I blocked out middle school. Of course when my kid went though it, the iron lid I’d jammed on the sewer of memories flew off and I got to sort through the old crap. I talked to my neighbor ( a principal) about some problems D. was having with other kids.

    This school official’s response was: “Middle School is Hell. Absolute Hell.”
    Okay. That sums it up pretty succinctly.


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