Back in 1970, I was 10 years old. Flaming red hair, crisp blue eyes and a face full of freckles.
All prime targets for bullying or as we called it back then “teasing” .
Recently, I spoke with a long time friend about a situation that forever cemented my view of bullying. It has taken me a very long time to realize that it wasn’t “teasing” it was bullying in 1970.
After sharing this experience with my friend, I realized many things were affected by this one incident in the fabric of my life. I felt compelled to share this one incident, that lasted for an entire school year.
But to fully understand you must have the back story. So here it goes as I remember it.
I was in 6th grade at a typical Midwestern school in a typical Midwestern town. In my family my mom was the breadwinner, she worked hard, but it wasn’t enough. My Dad worked but not with the consistency of my Mom. In 1970 there were 4 of us to bathe, clothe, house and feed.
One of the offerings was a free hot lunch in exchange for some sort of service. My service was to work in the cafeteria over the lunch hour cleaning tables etc. I did not feel badly, despite the stigma on free lunch at the time. Those were the poor kids, but I wasn’t poor I had a job and frankly, I found it kind of fun (this may have been an early precursor to my career in the USMC as a cook) . I would even go as far as to say I had pride about the “position”. I enjoyed the idea of a mission, the socialization with other kids and the feeling of accomplishment when each table was cleared and ready for others. It wasn’t beneath me or degrading. As a matter of fact it was setting the stage for the way I view work and treat other humans to this day.
My pride in my “work” continued until a group of boys in my class figured out why I was “working” and dubbed me the heinous nickname of “garbage disposal” and insinuated that I was not merely cleaning tables but eating the scraps left behind. The taunting continued on a daily basis and I did what I was programmed to do, I laughed along with them, that was my armor. I guess instinctively I was not letting them get the best of me. I was manifesting the USMC mantra Improvise, Adapt, Overcome in my 6th grade brain.
The taunting continued and some additional flaws were added into the daily mix of bullying. Freckle Face Redhead, ugly all became the daily grind. I survived mostly with laughter, but looking back it was formulating my image and perceived flaws that I carried with me for many years.
I never embraced my red hair and face full of freckles until much later, it was a stigma and a flaw back then. We were anomalies, freaks of nature. Perfect breeding ground for teasing or as I now know bullying.
That year was one of great pain, I spent many days playing sick, to avoid the bullying although at the time I had no idea that is what I was doing. I have carried that damage with me for many years, too many years.
Why do I allow that insignificant group of bullies to occupy time in my memory bank for so long? They certainly didn’t deserve it or carry the bullying around with them. But I remember and always will. The difference is now I am able to see it for what it was, bullying.
I think I successfully but subconsciously use the pain every time I need to reach an insurmountable goal, completing boot camp, graduating while working full time and raising kids, every single day when I get up, pushing myself to new limits. That treatment fuels my drive that allows my brain and heart to succeed. I do not succeed because of bullying but despite it.
Bullying should not be tolerated in any form. Having an open and frank discussion with a trusted friend has allowed me to speak about this in a way I never did before. Out Loud.
My experience may seem insignificant to some, but to me it was a turning point in my life. When I decided the kind of human I wanted to be.
The moral of the story is listen to your kids, be aware of their pain, do not discount feelings and if you see or hear bullying be an advocate and step up and say something.
If you have been bullied, reframe your mind and use it in a positive manner to propel you to greater things. They are the weak ones, not you.
To my bullies, you are forgiven, for I am strong.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.