Friday, October 19, 2012

Being scared. Every. Single. Day.

I stared at the screen for a while trying to decide how to talk about this--as that kid from so long ago or as a mom, hoping her boys never go through anything like this. Then I thought, I have to talk about the little girl. It goes without saying, I want better for my kids and I watch carefully, I talk to them, and I do everything I can to protect them. That's all I can do.

Racism used to be an every day part of my life--from all sides. Nobody was immune, though I do know that I cannot begin to truly understand what it's like to be black in the rural South. As a little girl, I didn't understand that there was racism, not really.

My first year of public school, I started riding the bus. I was a first grader. I was painfully shy. I wasn't a racist, even if I didn't know what that meant at the time. I sat with a friendly girl my age and we grew to be friends. I'll call her Lynn. The bus was all ages. 1st grade through 12th. Of course I sat with the kid my age who smiled and talked with me. There were a few others my age and eventually we grew to be friends, but Lynn was my first school friend. Ever. Wonderful, right?

Apparently not.

You see, Lynn was black. I am not. A few of the older black kids on the bus started picking on her, teasing her, tormenting her, for being my friend. She cried. Really, when a mean high school student is pinching you and taunting you for talking to the white girl, what are you going to do? As a first grader? She stopped talking to me. (Just to be clear, when I say "they" I don't mean everyone on the bus, but there were quite a few in the group.)

It didn't end there. They picked on her until she had to pick on me, or they'd hurt her. The forced her to become a bully. Eventually, she did bully me. From then on, I was physically threatened, taunted, and completely miserable every time I had to ride the bus. I was only in first grade then. I'd never faced anything like that before. I eventually did everything I could to sit near the bus driver. This helped some. But I couldn't always manage that. When I had to sit near the back, I was hit. My hair was pulled. I was made to sit on an older boy's hand and he tried to fondle me. At that age, I didn't understand anything other than it was wrong and I managed to get away.

I was truly afraid of riding the bus. I became the favorite bully target of my once-friend, Lynn. I carefully planned things so I could get to the bus fast enough to sit up front. The bus driver didn't do much to protect us other than yell. He didn't report bullying. It wasn't really done, then. It wasn't really reported by anyone. This continued through elementary school and middle school. By high school, I decided to wait hours after school to ride with a family member after work--all to avoid being bullied on the school bus. I'd rather sit in my grandfather's truck for three hours than ride that bus.

This is what I went through. Every day. Scared of being beat up, pinched, hair pulled, being taunted. I dreaded it. It had a huge impact on my life. But I was so very lucky, in the end. Because this kind of bullying, though it scared me and made me scramble to avoid being beat up (even hiding behind seats), I knew it really had nothing to do with me. Not really. They didn't know me. They never touched my self worth. I was scared, but I never thought any less of myself, not even for being scared. So yes, I was lucky, because no matter what they did, it wasn't about me.

And I hope that's what anyone being bullied can hold onto. It's not about you. It's about them--how they're striking out, how they're the ones in the wrong. Not you. Hang in there, and report it. Today, I know I should've made that bus driver face what was happening on his bus, I should have told the principal (one of them--this happened through three schools), and I should have told my dad. I didn't. I faced it alone and stayed silent. Don't do that. Speak up. We'll all listen.

Please visit more authors participating in Authors Against Bullying. There are so many stories out there, so many people who can help, just by being there and telling you what they lived through. Let's stop bullying in its tracks. Let's stop the fear.
photograph by The U.S. National Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Rees, David, 1943-


mandymroth said...

I can't imagine what that must have been like, being afraid of being trapped on a bus with them. Thank you for speaking out now and thank you for sharing your story.

Graylin Fox said...

The horrible dread of being on that bus twice a day for years, I can't imagine.

You are wonderful, talented, and I'm proud to know you.


Lynne Silver said...

Thank you for sharing. I love what you said about it not being about you. It's about the bullies and their own self-worth. So true

N.J.Walters said...

Your story made me so sad. That others would turn two little girls into enemies for no reason is sad. Thank you for sharing.

Donna said...

I was too tall, too skinny, to smart, too whatever. Haters are going to hate. I was never one of the cool kids so I was bullied on occasion at school but it was nothing compared to the bullying I got at home.
I think my kids had it worse at school as some of the social filters we had as kids have eroded to the point of non-existence. In some ways it is better. There is more information out there and role models are speaking up and out against bullies. More needs to be done at home, in schools and in the media.
My daughter is Jewish and a lesbian living in the bible-belt. How she has grown into the incredible woman she has despite all the negativity is one of life's great mysteries and one of my greatest blessings.
I think blogging about this is a good thing. Thank you for sharing your story.

Michelle Pillow said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Ella. When I hear things like this, I can't help but think, Where the hell was the bus driver during all this? You have 12th graders picking on little kids. Got his address so I can go smack the guy upside the head?

I’m very proud to be a part of this important event, and empowered by all the stories of hope and encouragement I’m reading today. It’s wonderful that people can get together and promote the positive.

Taryn Raye said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I just can't imagine. Makes me wonder if she ever looked back and wished things could have been different and that the two of you could have been friends. {{hugs}}

Julie Chicklitasaurus said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I wonder where "Lynn" is today and how she feels. Being bullied into becoming a bully herself. Horrible. And I'm glad you're strong and shared your story. Thank you. xo