Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We can do better

This is me in Grade 8, with my best friend Kaylee, in a frame I made and had hung on my bedroom wall. I look at this and grimace at our over-tweezed eyebrows, our mouths full of awkward metal, our super-skinny faces after going through another growth spurt. I also see a girl I desperately want to hold. I have been thinking a lot about this girl these past few days, ruminating over things I had completely pushed from my mind and forgotten.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think most of us can identify with Amanda Todd on some level. I will never understand what she went through-- that was extreme, relentless harassment over a period of years-- but I saw a lot of myself in her story. I abused the Internet at a young age with my friends, being curious about all things "adult" and basking in the attention and compliments from strangers across a screen, and I consider myself to have had a pretty typical middle-class suburban upbringing like hers.
I was bullied in school, and I imagine many people are and were.  For me, it began in Grade 7. Isn't that year just the epitome of awkward and hormonal for most of us? Some girls in my grade and older started rumours that I was a slut, that I'd steal your boyfriend, and that they would beat me up. The truth was I hadn't even kissed a boy, I didn't want anyone's boyfriend and I was terrified. Since when does the truth matter to these types of people, right?
I hid during lunch and practically bolted home from school when the bell rang, scared they would corner me and hurt me. They told my boyfriend I only liked him because I wanted to get with is friend, so he dumped me one day by my locker in front of everyone (or what felt like everyone). I was visibly upset and my parents were on my case, sympathetic and trying to get me to talk. I remember finally breaking down and telling them, but asked that they please, please, please not say anything because I didn't want to make it worse.
My mom picked me up from school every day for a week, and I'm pretty sure went to talk to school staff without telling me. Those girls eventually left me alone, but only after spreading the rumour that they had slammed my head into my locker, made me bleed and laughed at me.
Another night that year, two boys in my grade called my house on a Saturday night. They were sleeping over at one of their houses, and I had a big crush on one of them. I was watching a movie in the basement with my mom when they called, and when I heard who it was, my pubescent heart skipped a beat. Then it sank. Those boys took turns reading to me from a long list of all the things they hated about me, from my appearance to my laugh. I sat there silently, listening, until they laughed and hung up. I excused myself from the movie, went upstairs and cried. I remember feeling like I wanted to die. Not out of mortification, but like I actually did not want to live. I scared myself. I called Kaylee and she came with her mom to pick me up for an impromptu emergency sleepover.
In Grade 8, I was talking to some "friends" over MSN (it was so new and exciting!), while at home. It turns out they liked making lists too. They told me I was ugly, that I was flat and no boy would ever like me. They told me I was pathetic, annoying, and that they never had liked me.
That year rumours started that I was bulimic. Granted, I was alarmingly skinny, but I attribute that to my gangly teen growth phase and my genes. Every day after lunch I would go to the girls' washroom to brush my teeth (being a braces wearer and all!), but one girl told everyone she heard me puking my lunch up. Who isn't paranoid about the way they look in high school? And here these girls were telling people I had an eating disorder. I felt so ugly. I tried to gain weight. I couldn't.
I remember going for a drink at the fountain during class one day, and a girl came up behind me, shoved my fave into the water and murmured, "anorexic bitch.".
I remember liking a boy, telling someone in confidence, and then having throngs of people taunt me during recess with chants of "Sarah likes Nick, she wants to suck his dick."
During junior high, things were rough. I think all teenage girls have hormones to deal with, self-doubt that comes with a changing body and sensitivities to social hierarchies. I felt isolated, ugly, unlovable and sad. Really sad. I had a few amazing friends that I love to this day, and a family that consistently made me feel worthy and lovable to them. I drank and did drugs at a young age, because everyone did and because I figured I'd blend in. Be cool.
I persevered with my army of solid friends and a stable home life. I am lucky. I enjoyed the rest of high school and think back on it with a smile. I am confident, well-adjusted, and strong.
I want so bad to hug that girl and tell her what I know now. That there is so much more to life after Grade 8. That being different and kind of weird will be what makes me a successful adult later on. That I am indeed beautiful, and that I will get through it with a backbone and with major empathy for people who are hurting.
Today, honestly, I rarely think about those days. Until I read about Amanda Todd, I hadn't revisited Grade 8 since I was physically in it. I am appalled to think of what I endured over those years, and wonder why I kept trying to be friends with those girls, why I kept hoping the mean boys would one day ask me out.
It is nothing as serious as the horrors Amanda Todd went through, but it made me relate to her. It makes me wonder if one girl was bullied in high school 14 years ago, how many more in that time felt the same way. Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Every girl?
I am a mother of three girls, and I will fight to the end of the earth to save them from a fate like Amanda's. I will also work just as hard to make sure they are not the bullies or the apathetic passers-by.  I sometimes want to message all my old bullies, remind them of what they did, and ask them to do better by their children. That's not really the answer, vindicated as it might make me feel.
I hope that each of us that has our own story will tell it to those we know entering junior high, and do what we can to stop it from happening any more.

Related Links:
- This interview with her mother. It broke my heart and answered some questions.
- Her Facebook memorial page
- My friend's post on who's to blame


  1. Sarah, I had no idea. I'm so so sorry. It's terrible, horrible, awful how those people treated you. So mean. How and why? How could other kids that age be so mean?
    It's amazing how many people have been coming forth with their stories in response to Amanda Todd's story. Hopefully more awareness and change will be made in light of this tragic story.

  2. Thanks for opening sharing so much!

    Grade 7 through 9 were nightmares for me. I have to say I am so thankful that this was before internet and cell phones. It just takes it to such a horrible, new level.

    I was saved by a group of friends and I don't know what would have happened to me without them. I am still close to them now.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  3. wow I didn't know either. I would never have suspected that the strong, confident woman I know today was a bullied teen who went through some very traumatizing situations. You triumphed and I hope you one day, if you haven't already, make a difference to another young girl who feels hopeless and trapped in the hell that can be junior high/high school. It's true what Johanna said, so many people are coming forward with their stories, sharing and letting the world know they aren't alone and that we won't be silent.

  4. Kara: We had ICQ and MSN but holy moly am I grateful we didnt have FB the way kids do today. It would be non-stop with no escape, wouldn't it?

  5. I think it's true that more kids are bullied than we realize... maybe even everyone. I was bullied, too, and hated Grades 6 through 8. I felt sad and lonely, too, and I didn't even get treated as badly as you did. I feel lucky, too. I'd always felt different from everyone, so even though I wanted to fit in, I didn't really expect to. I think that gave me resilience to get through it. And having gone through the bullying makes me a more compassionate person, I think. I'm just so grateful it wasn't worse. There is testing the mettle of a person's soul, and then there is breaking it. Great post.

  6. Thank you for sharing. This is something I worry about all the time, teaching our kids to be strong, stand up for themselves, not be afraid to talk and to be able to lead rather than follow. I hope my kids are able to help any school mates in need and show the compassion I hope we're teaching them as well as speak up to any issues they are having themselves.


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