What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by Alexandra.




Okay, first things first. If any kid
was “asking” to be bullied, it was me. At age twelve, I was big-nosed,
small-breasted, and daydreamy, with no knowledge of contemporary
fashion or makeup. I wanted to be a Goth, but I had little knowledge of
what that entailed, so I simply wore fishnet stockings and a black shiny
skirt that was made out of saran-wrap-like material. However, despite
my “tough” aspirations, I went as Tinky Winky for Halloween, and I was
so tall that my mother had to sew me a custom Tellytubby costume.
Despite the Tinky Winky fiasco, I still considered myself a bona-fide
bad-ass, which included putting blue paint in my hair as makeshift hair
dye and triumphantly changing my name to “Volcanica”, insisting everyone
refer to me as such.

Middle school kids are mean to begin with,
and when a girl who looks like an uglier Howard Stern starts asking you
to call her Volcanica, it’s pretty hard not to make fun. However, that
doesn’t mean it’s okay. As adults, we see plenty of people we think are
ridiculous but we generally don’t invite them to parties that don’t
exist, or tell our opposite-sex friends to ask them out as a joke.

One
of the biggest issues with bullying is that kids who are getting
bullied are too afraid to tell anybody. It breaks my heart to see how
many kids are committing suicide over bullying, when their parents had
no idea they were even suffering in the first place. But the bigger
issue is that parents of the actual bullies seem completely blind to the
idea that their child could do anything wrong.

One of my biggest
tormentors, who told me I was so ugly that I had a “one in a million”
chance of ever getting married, was given the Compassion Award by her
PTA mother at the graduation. And I was only one of this girl’s many
targets.

When I was in fifth grade, a few girls banded together
to tell me that the boy I liked was dating another girl. He wasn’t, but
I suppose they thought this would be funny. They told me that this
fictional girl would be transferring to the same private school I had
applied to, that she was beautiful, popular, and far better than me.
They even wrote notes “from” this girl to the boy I liked (apparently,
he was in on it, so at least they had good teamwork skills). I worried
endlessly about having to spend time with her at my new school, until
one of the girls finally broke down and admitted they had made the whole
thing up to upset me. I was too embarrassed to tell a teacher, and
although this scheme must have taken a lot of effort, the parents were
none-the-wiser.

Now, I was far from blameless–as I said
before, I was a pretty easy target, and I had also done some things that
were reprehensible. I was never popular enough to be a bully, but once
I accidentally published an entry of my Microsoft Word 95 diary when I
was attempting to write a school newsletter. Unfortunately, this entry
was about a particular girl I didn’t like. But my parents were never
quick to deny my culpability. If I did something wrong, they were aware
of it, and they punished me. I always told them they were being
unfair, but their ability to admit when I was wrong was one reason I
never tormented anyone to the point of suicide. I wasn’t perfect, but I
was never a bully.

The other kids must not have had parents who
were so open-minded about their child’s possible faults–or perhaps
their parents were too busy to notice what their kids were doing. I
imagined many of these kids were alone in the house when they
prank-called me, asking if I was a lesbian prostitute. And I imagine
when a kid wrote, “I hate you, slut” on my locker, there was no way for
his or her parents to know about it.

While I’m wary of “playing
the victim”, incidents like this have followed me into my adulthood.
Being referred to as the ugliest girl in school, for five years
straight, didn’t exactly help me at a time when I was self-conscious to
begin with. Sure, I asked for it, but children are often unaware of
what they’re “asking for”. While the other kids thought I was an ugly
idiot, I thought they would see me and think, “Oh, look at that
Volcanica, her K-Mart leather skirt is rockin’!”

So even now, ten
years after all this ended, I feel awkward and anxious when I enter a
room of girls, and there’s a little part of me that thinks they’re
making fun of me. When I find a great friend, I consider the
possibility that it’s all a joke, or that she doesn’t actually like me.
When my boyfriend first asked me out, I was worried that within days,
he would realize I wasn’t good enough for him. When he first brought me
to meet his high school friends, he said he could sense me tensing up
around the girls, afraid that they were judging me (it turns out, they
were–but the point is, I shouldn’t have cared).

Of course, the
older I get, the less all this matters. But I still don’t think any kid
deserves to feel bad about themselves, or dread going to school. I was
lucky enough to have parents who were able to understand when I was at
fault, and who were supportive and loving when I was the victim. I
understand that not every kid has parents they see all the time, or
parents who have the ability to observe their child’s behavior–but do
the best you can. It’s not “girls will be girls” or “boys will be
boys”. Understand that middle school is a pretty bad time, and your
daughter might not be the victim–she might be the mean girl. She’ll
thank you later.