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.
- This interview with her mother. It broke my heart and answered some questions.