Friday, May 13, 2011

Kirsten Miller's Story

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the kind of kid who falls prey to bullies. Got a clear picture in your head? The person you just saw is a stereotype. She’s the person none of us ever wants to be. A victim. A weakling. A pariah.
There’s a reason this stereotype persists. Adults who were bullied as kids don’t like to relive the experience. We keep our stories to ourselves. If more of us chose to share, you’d see that anyone can end up suffering at the hands of a bully. There’s absolutely no shame in it. Being bullied doesn’t mean you’re weak, repulsive, or deficient in any way. It only means you’ve been unlucky.

I wish I had reached these conclusions earlier in my life. For a long time, I bought into the stereotype. That’s probably why I’ve never told my own story. I didn’t want anyone to think I used to be that kid. But then I realized no one ever is. That kid simply doesn’t exist.   

I think it’s safe to say that I have never been anyone’s idea of a “victim.” I’ve always been tough, smart (or so I’d like to think), and outspoken. I’m not the sort who backs down from a fight. In fact, I tend to enjoy them. Yet I spent most of the ninth grade being tormented, chased, humiliated, and physically threatened. I didn’t have one bully. I had dozens. There was no point in fighting. I had no hope of winning.
How did it start? You might be surprised. The summer before my freshman year, I met a boy who’d soon be senior at my high school. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how good looking he was. (And still is, I’m told.) It wasn’t long before I was suffering from my first serious crush. A few people who knew us both told me that he liked me, too. I never acted on those reports.
I was arrogant back then—some might even say conceited. But I was also a fairly decent human being who was painfully shy, terribly naive, and incredibly young. (A year younger than my fellow freshmen.) By the time school kicked off in August, I had exchanged no more than a few flirty words with the object of my crush. At no point did anyone mention that the boy had a girlfriend who was away for the summer.
The day the girlfriend returned, I found myself on the top of her hit list. Kristy was a dainty, pretty sophomore with a very popular older brother. Oh yeah—and she had gorgeous hair. That’s all I can say for certain, because I don’t recall actually speaking to her. Still, she hated me with the sort of passion that’s usually reserved for mass-murderers and trophy-wives.

When I first heard someone whisper the nickname Kristy had given me, I had no clue what it meant. To this day, I can’t recall the incident that inspired it. Apparently some upperclassman had once teased me about being a freshman. I jokingly responded that I planned to be “Super Freshman.” That was it. That was how it started.

 It must have been fun to make me suffer, because at least a third of the school decided to join in. Some of the kids really relished the opportunity to be cruel. Most of them probably thought that making my life miserable would be the perfect way to win favor with Kristy and her big brother. Soon the “Super Freshman” whispers became snickers. The snickers became shouts. An astounding variety of objects were hurled at me. The contents of my locker were repeatedly vandalized. Midway through the school year, I was actively avoiding several athletically-inclined girls who were quite keen on kicking my butt.

Believe it or not, living inconstant fear of physical violence wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was discovering that Kristy had a spy in my camp. My very best friend had seen a chance to be the popular kids’ favorite freshman—and she’d happily sold me out. She was the one who had given my tormentors the combination to my locker. (Other delightful things they left inside!) She was the one who’d fueled the fires by whispering lies in Kristy’s ear. (“Repeating” things I’d never said.) She was the one who made Kristy think I was still drooling over her boyfriend. (I thought he was cute, but I was disgusted that he’d never once bothered to defend me.)
By the last month of school, most of my friends had turned against me. Only two had displayed unwavering loyalty.(And I will be eternally grateful to them.) My teachers must have known what was happening, but not a single adult ever attempted to intervene. My grades plummeted. My attendance record was shockingly bad. I was sinking deeper and deeper into depression.
I have no idea how long the torture might have continued if I hadn’t been caught skipping school. I was sentenced to detention—and given a desk next to Kristy’s brother. In one of the strangest turns of fate that I’ve ever experienced, he and I became friendly. Suddenly, it was all over. There were no more whispers or threats. In fact, byte beginning of my sophomore year, most people seemed to have forgotten that the episode had ever taken place. But I will always remember because the experience changed me—and altered the course of my life.

 When I was in high school, I would have argued to the death that nothing good could possibly come from the suffering I’d endured. And if you’re currently being bullied, I don’t expect you to believe that life can get better. I know exactly how much it must suck right now. But you will survive. Then one day, you will step out of the fire with the knowledge that you can endure almost anything. You will be more cautious, but less fearful. Less trusting, but more loyal. You’ll have an inner strength and powers of observation that most people will never possess. And you’ll have enough fodder for at least six young adult novels. (Take my word for it!)

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