You know us because you don’t know us.
You don’t know us because you don’t want to know us. Because we’re fat; because we’re shy; because we’re tall, short, poor, ethnic, gay, scrawny, and wear clothes you don’t like or have hair you don’t like or have habits or facial features or listen to music or watch movies or TV shows you don’t like. So you don’t listen to our whole story. You cast us aside, at an age where we’re developing into the people we’ll become for the rest of our lives and your words are attacking our delicate character, our uniqueness, and stripping our right to be free to be who we are for whatever unchangeable reason.
You see us walking the halls and call out names and whisper and stop us and ask incriminating questions, so we feel vulnerable and attacked and worthless because that’s the way you like it, although we don’t know why. Your attacks are blatant and obvious and sometimes take place right in the middle of the classroom where we’re supposed to feel protected by the watchful eye of a teacher, a trusted adult who is supposed to care about fostering an environment of safety and respect, but who chooses to stay out of it and so when we’re on our way home from school and you’re following us and throwing rocks at us, we don’t tell, because experience has told us that ‘telling’ will do nothing.
Everyone chooses to do nothing.
So ‘nothing’ allows you to get away with being the way you are to us every single day for no reason other than, it’s easy and it’s fun for you. Bullying starts cruelty and bullying ends cruelty. Because it’s hard to be cruel to someone who’s ended their own life because you, our peers, made us feel like our lives don’t have a point.
You make it so we – who could go onto be a doctor, a politician, a celebrity, an engineer, a star athlete – don’t want to learn, don’t want to interact with others, are afraid to show our true selves and our talent and our skills because someone like you is standing behind us waiting for us to say or do something we can attack. And we will go home and cry and our parents and teachers and principal and even our friends will tell us, “It’s because they’re jealous of you” or “they’re just young” or “that’s silly” or “suck it up” or “just ignore them”.
You can’t ignore words.
Words that come to us at a crucial point our lives, for better or for worse, stay with us forever. We can’t remember one good letter grade on our report card, but we remember when Jamie in seventh grade Social Studies class saying, “We all call you penguin because you’re so fat you waddle like a penguin”; we don’t remember that piece of artwork immortalized in the school hallway but we remember Zack biking by me while we were eating a cookie and yelling out, “No wonder you’re so fat!” We don’t remember exactly how it felt to win an award for perfect attendance but we remember the email we got from Danielle, who was given our email from someone we thought was our friend, saying we look like an ugly pinch-faced old man who wears trashy thrift store clothes. We don’t remember the parties we weren’t invited to, we don’t remember the weekend camping trips with the friends we never had, we don’t remember going cliff jumping on weekends which we were never privy to, we don’t remember the goals we never scored in soccer, the school trips we didn’t get drunk on, the inside jokes we never shared, the feeling of being accepted; but we remember being tripped in social studies class and breaking our walkman – the one thing we had that got is through days of silence. We remember being shunned at every high school dance that we went to because we felt we were ‘supposed to’ because it was an authentic adolescent experience, that we spent sitting on the sidelines and wishing someone would ask us to dance until giving up hope of that happening and instead wishing the night was over. We remember Vanessa coming up to us, grabbing our tummy flab and pinching it hard in front of everyone at the rec centre cafeteria. We remember giving a valentine to someone we liked, and finding it stomped on and muddied in the hallway after school.
We wish someone would come and tell us: life won’t always be this way and sometime soon, you’ll go somewhere or meet some people or find romance and good, honest people will appreciate the unique gifts, talents and strengths you have to offer a better world. Maybe deep down we already know this because we’ve seen that in TV shows and movies and read it in a good books, the world allows people like us to triumph, and someday we’ll be the ones laughing from atop our ivory towers when we’re well-educated, smart, productive members of the society we fought and strived so hard to be a part of. But when you’re powerless, not even this powerful and hopeful pearl of knowledge is enough for us. Because we’re just kids and we have a personality of immediacy, desperation, impatience, frustration, and a lack of foresight. And as kids, we want simple things: to be loved, to be accepted, to be popular, to be like the people we see on the covers of magazines. If we’re not, as vulnerable, consistently lambasted youths, that’s all we see.
So we cover up our wit, hide our tastes, sometimes fake our interests at feeble attempts to be a part of that coveted inner circle, even just to have someone to talk to, un-caring if this gives you the power to “win”. We cover our talents and put them away quickly if someone comes close. We retreat into a world of silence in which the moment we walk through those metal doors to the moment we leave, we say nothing. We don’t raise our hand even if we know the answer. We don’t chime in to talk about last night’s game, even if we watched it. We let you win, because you always win.
Later in life, we look back on these painful memories and even though we’ve made it, we still remember the pain. And the pain can still have power over our adult lives; we still feel fat, we still feel unwanted, we make good friends and fear they’ll abandon us. And if or when they do abandon us, it continually proves to us that you were right all along. You may not be as successful as us, or as regarded in society – but you’re happy. You don’t think about how much pain you caused us. We still do. It may not hold us back anymore or make us cry or make us hide or make us run away from those who have shown us kindness and allowed us to realize we’re more than we thought we were. But we remember. We always remember.