I was a poor kid. We had no money for a decent car or for me to buy brand named clothing for school. I had a gap in my two front teeth because there was no way my mother could afford braces. She went without food sometimes for us. I lived in a tiny town. The population was around 1,900 people when I lived there. We had some amenities, lots of churches and farms. The people there are kind-hearted and generous and full of honest love. They worship God, they pay their taxes, they work all day and they have families.
I was home taught for Kindergarten because we lived very far away from town, along a 14 mile dirt road full of adventure. I had the most amazing childhood and never realised we had nothing. I loved my life that my mother filled with music, the arts, laughter, happiness and creativity. I remember my first day of school. This might sound silly but I was amazed and bewildered by the students in my class of colour. I hadn't spent much time around anyone other than my family, and they're white as snow. A girl in my class who I thought was beautiful as anything I'd seen before, and who I remember complementing on her gorgeous hoop earrings, was black, tall and overweight. I loved her instantly. I remember my heartbreak in high school when she made fun of me in the hallway years later for wearing the same style of clothing as her. I'll remember that more than the good times we shared as children.
When I became an adult who earned my own money, my first purchase wasn't a car or a holiday, it was braces for my teeth. I remember when they came off, having to re-learn how to smile. For years I had trained my mouth to cover up my front teeth, to hide the fact they weren't perfect, straight, white American pearlers. I remember crying when I walked out of the orthodontist on my "day of freedom". I wasn't just shedding a large hunk of metal in my mouth, I was shedding years of merciless bullying.
My teeth. My pale, pale skin. Our family car. Our home. The fact I got good grades. The way I dressed differently. My enthusiasm for the world and critical thinking. My love of comic books and being in the marching band. My commitment to my teachers. My punctuality. My honour roll listing. My face. My body. My everything. How I was bullied!
I realise now that almost every kid I went to school with was tortured in some way, be it by peers or authority figures. I remember when I first recognised how silly it all was in retrospect. I remembered all the times I wished I was dead because of the way other people felt about me. I remember planning the ways I would do it, sitting in my darkened room, listening to dark music and thinking the darkest thoughts. I remember just wanting to be free. I remember being afraid of telling my mother because she would always say, "Just stand up for yourself", or "they're just jealous". Jealous of a short, poor, pale kid with bad teeth? Yeah. Sure.
I'm myself now, or as close to me as I'll ever be. I still feel sad when I think about the times I came home crying or feigning illness just to get away from the people I wanted so much to like me. My Mom always loved me, and my sister (though we did fight very much in the old days) is now one of my very BEST friends. A lot of the people who were ass holes to me during school are now lovely people.We were all ass holes back then, just trying to survive. I forgive them for any and all sins as I'm sure they do me. Live and let live.
The worst part of all of this was that I too was a bully. I made fun of people. I would have done anything to feel superior to at least one person back then, and I really hated myself for it. One boy in particular, a military brat who was a strange character for sure, was constantly picked on about true and made-up things. This kid had been to so many schools in his life, he never was able to get a sense of himself much less of his classmates or the environment in which he'd been plonked. I'll never forget the times I joined in as a group to attack him, only to see him react as any wounded animal backed into a corner would, with fierceness. I wish I could find him and apologise. I've rarely been so awful and I don't think most people have.
The gay teens who've been killing themselves recently, I know what they must feel like. I was as much of an outsider in my town as any gay kid could be. No end was in sight. I never thought I would be able to feel anything other than awkward, sad and displaced. Then, a wonderful thing happened. I left my home town and discovered life. I realised that there were people like me absolutely EVERYWHERE. I had great conversations and learned more than I thought I possibly could.
Sure, I've encountered bullies as an adult. With what I know now, their schtick is far less intimidating.
So I say to you, outsider, don't be a statistic. Don't remove from this Earth a unique spirit, a talented observer, a weekday poet, a charitable heart. Someone, somewhere, will always care for you. Even at your lowest of lows. So please, reconsider ending your situation by ending yourself. If you do that, they'll win. Who wants to see that? I for one would rather spend time with you. Talk to someone. Buy a ticket. Do whatever it takes to survive. We'll miss you when you're gone, but at least you'll be a phone call away, not 6 feet under the Earth with no reception.
Take it from a former bullyee and bullier: life is indeed beautiful.
Aussies call Lifeline 13 11 14
or Beyond Blue
or Beyond Blue
From bully and homophobe to thinker and champion of the underdog: