My Childhood Bullies Apologized to Me -- on Facebook -- 20 Years Later
Much of the reaction to the list of teen girls who were so-called sluts, posted by anonymous antagonists who have yet to be caught, focused on how evil Facebook is, and blamed social media for making it all too easy for kids to text, post and tweet their bullying far beyond the walls of their own schools.
But Facebook has another application for bullies: allowing them to apologize 20 years later for their bad behavior. I should know -- that's just what happened to me.
I was bullied all through elementary school. I have vivid memories of the dread I felt waiting for the big yellow bus. I'd stand at the bottom of my driveway and watch it approaching; every day, I heard the kids on board screaming "GO! GO! GO!" in hopes the driver would skip my stop. Usually, he stopped and got booed, and I entered the bus to a hail of wadded-up paper, flying pencils and assorted lunchbox crap, to sit scrunched up on the edge of a seat while whoever was unfortunate enough to have to share with me slid as close to the window as possible.
Then one day, there was a substitute driver, and he went past me. I heard the bus erupt into cheers, and I turned around and went back up the driveway to tell my mom the bus had skipped me, shrugging when she asked why. I was too ashamed to admit what was going on.
It went on like that for years and years. By seventh grade, it had changed from name-calling to weird sexual taunts, in which 12-year-old boys took what little sexual knowledge they had and tried to use it to say they knew things about me –- that I wore curlers in my pubic hair, that I had flooded my mattress at summer camp with menstrual blood. J.F. would sit across from me on the bus and narrate elaborate tales illustrating exactly why I was so disgusting. The trip to junior high was half an hour.
I hardened into a weird little shell. You would think I'd get quiet and try to go under the radar, but you'd be wrong. One of the reasons I was so easy to pick on in the first place is my naturally ebullient personality. In other words, it was easy to get a rise out of me. And I tried to combat the teasing with humor, which, let me tell you, works a lot better in the movies.
I just became obnoxious, and the older I got, the weirder I looked. I blossomed early, but that just made the teasing worse. Oh, let me tell you, it was a joy and a pleasure. Meanwhile my parents were furious that I kept missing the bus to school -- yet somehow I still couldn't express what was going on. Nightmare!
Fast-forward (please!) past high school. I got into a fantastic college by the skin of my teeth, and reformatted myself as quickly as I could. I left New Jersey far, far behind me, joining the ranks of the other misfits across the Hudson in New York. I pierced things, I dyed things, then I unpierced and undyed and went to work at my dream job, and then I moved to San Francisco and got hitched.
And then I joined Facebook.
I was surprised when the first Morristown person contacted me and asked to be "friended." Most people would have just said no and moved on, but I was curious. And I think there's a part of me that was, at last, glad to be included. Hot guy who teased me in the high school show? Yes, please! Bitchy girl who never left the confines of our home town? Show me the big butt!
The apologies began rolling in. "I can't believe I made fun of you for your big eyes," one said. "Big eyes are beautiful! I am sorry!"
"I want my kids to meet you so I can tell them I teased you," said another. "I don't want them to treat kids the way I did."
I was sort of put off by this, but happy to see that people grow and change. It was fine, but, don't get me wrong, I wasn't about to hang out with these people off-line.
Then J.F. showed up. He didn't try to friend me -- he just commented on a photo of our sixth-grade class, which I had posted. "What was I doing in a Talented and Gifted class?" he posted, in what I guess he hoped was self-deprecation. Someone made fun of our old teacher, and he said something about "those who can't do, teach."
I glared at the screen and, after a while, blasted him. "I guess the guy who called me 'spic' despite the fact that I'm not even Latina wouldn't know how valuable teachers are," I said.
The bitchy girl with the big butt scolded me, but J.F. remained silent. Then he took it to email. I got three increasingly desperate messages in a row: "Don't hold me responsible for what I did when I was 12. My parents were getting divorced, and I was confused."
Followed by: "I was saying that about teachers because I'm a teacher now."
And then: "You're not the first person to tell me I did things like that. I get this all the time and I don't remember doing any of it."
But no apology. I looked him up: He was teaching at our old high school. He looked unhealthy and not so fit, considering he was a coach. He had two daughters, who presumably would menstruate at some point. There was so much I wanted to say. I clicked on his message ... and found he had already deleted his Facebook account.
The next time I heard from a bully, it was J.K., the little pigtailed girl with the ice-blue eyes who terrorized our elementary school. I had once written her a letter asking her not to make fun of me anymore, which of course led to her making fun of me for writing the letter. She was amazing: she could make people do whatever she wanted, didn't even have to tease me herself if she didn't feel up to it. She was brutal. I wanted to be friends with her. I wanted her to die. I wanted to move away from her. I wanted to be in her family, to be her sister. She was magnetic and repellent.
She Facebooked me.
With a heartfelt apology.
That asked nothing in return.
I emailed her back to ask why –- why did she think she behaved that way? She said she didn't want to make excuses. But she was bullied herself, by the bitchy girl with the big butt, and in fact had decided against having children because she couldn't stand to have a kid go through what she went through.
I was gobsmacked. I forwarded the whole exchange to my mom, who has been in agony almost my whole adult life over missing her opportunity to do something about the long-ago bullying. I said, "She never had kids. I would hate that. She's beautiful and has a great life."
"Well, you can forgive her, but I don't," my mom replied.
I did. I mean, I didn't even feel like the forgiveness was mine to give. That little girl dealt with it a long time ago; the person I am now doesn't feel there's anything to forgive. I wanted her to forgive herself. I wanted the pain to stop, no matter who was still feeling it. So I gave it, and she thanked me and said she hoped the experience felt like a net gain.
She did. But I didn't friend her.
And I still want to run over J.F. with an Escalade.
Amy was a staff writer at Cosmopolitan and has written for Glamour, Self, Redbook, Maxim, Men's Health, and Inc. Since spawning, she's been blogging for Babble and tweeting as Madfoot. She's hard at work on a memoir of her preemie's first months.
Around the Web
- What Drives Men Away and What Attracts Them - YourTango
- Bill Clinton: It's Still the Economy, Stupid - The Daily Beast
- Do You Want to Know When Your Friends Run Into Your Ex? - The Frisky
- Would You Marry Someone Who Didn't Have a Job? - The Gloss
- And the City That Has the Most Sex Is ... - The Stir, CafeMom
- 3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Makeup Sweat-Proof This Summer - BellaSugar