I haven’t shared this post since I first posted it 4 ½ years ago because when it went really viral I became overwhelmed by its aftermath. But… a good friend of mine is dealing with some serious bullying issues involving her child right now, so I chose it for rerun week. Keep in mind, this was written shortly after I started this blog.
Just to warn you, some of the things I am going to share with you today may make you uncomfortable, but the truth is often just that. Uncomfortable.
Perhaps the only image that needs to be shared in this discussion is this one, scanned in from my seventh grade yearbook. It was in 1993, and I’ll never forget the haste with which I permanently disfigured my own photo so that those in my future would never be able to see that hideous, fat loser from my past.
The recent news events about the drastic and tragic bullying going on have caused me to pause and lend incommodious thought to my younger years. You see, I haven’t always been the extremely confident and sexy man who you know as Single Dad Laughing. There was a large span of my young life when I hated myself, I hated my life, I hated the world, and my daily wish was that it would all end. Somehow. Some way.
Forgive the length of this post, but a real discussion about bullying is not something that can take place over a few paragraphs. Please read to the end; I have put everything I have into this message because I can no longer sit back and do nothing about this ongoing problem which is leading our children to kill themselves and others. I just can’t anymore. Not knowing what I know about it.
I’m sure your heart has raced, again and again, as you watch and read of these horrible events going on around us. Children retaliating. Children hurting. Children dying. This bullying is an enduring endemic right now, for which there are solutions.
I only hope that my words today will be potent enough to spread to hundreds of thousands, or if God is on my side, millions. I pray for the right words to help me do my part in the quest to drastically reduce these heart-wrenching events. I have faith that those who read this will have the courage to share it, look at it, and change it.
No part of me wants to write this. The truth of it is something I’ve never openly discussed, with anybody. It is something I’ve never had the courage to confront. It’s somewhere to which I have never allowed my mind to wander. And yet, it’s something that has probably had more impact on me than just about anything else in my past.
I was bullied.
Repeatedly, and without end.
Up until fifth grade, I had friends. I fit in. I was “normal.” We moved around a lot, but it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t remember any serious heartache or sadness during my first ten years of life.
But in fifth grade, all of that changed. In fifth grade, somehow a permanent target got placed on my back…
It was my first day at a new school. The desks were grouped into sets of four. At the beginning of class, the teacher introduced me to my pupils and assigned me to an empty seat. As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.
I felt my heart throbbing in my throat. I wanted to run crying from the room. Was I fat? I never thought so. Instead of crying, I forced myself to act unaffected and shrug it off.
Every bullied kid quickly learns that to do anything but shrug it off, will always make it worse.
By the end of that first day, John had marked me as his territory. He had a friend, Mike, and the two of them spent day one making sure I knew that I was unwelcome and unwanted. They called me every “fat name” they could think of, including fat-ass, fat-lard, and fat-boy. By the end of the day, they had rallied at least half of my classmates to refer to me simply as “Lardo”. I went home that first day and told my parents that “school was fine”. Then I went to my room and cried.
On day two, the “fat” comments got worse. Most of the class was now participating. Not one person defended me. Not one person stepped in. The teacher heard some of the worst of it, and never offered me assistance. At recess, I asked another boy where the bathroom was. He pointed to the entrance of the girl’s bathroom. Not realizing what it was, I went inside. Girls started screaming, and I ran back out to a playground full of pointing fingers and raucous laughter.
Day three. Worse. Day four. Worse. Day five. Worse.
Day six. I went home from school and began bawling uncontrollably to my mother. I remember it as if it was this morning. She kept asking me what was wrong. I finally mustered the words, “this one kid keeps calling me fat”. I didn’t tell her the whole truth. The real truth. She gave me a hug and told me it would be okay. Things would get better.
They didn’t. Day seven. Worse. Day 10 Worse. Day 30. Way worse.
Because, John and Mike never stopped. They never gave me a day off. And while their bullying hit maximum levels within a few days of school starting, the self loathing grew until I actually hated myself. You see, I actually began to believe that I was all those things. I believed I was fat. I believed I was ugly. And for me, every day it did get worse, because every day their words and their punishments took me to a level deeper and sadder than the day before.
It was by the end of fifth grade that I officially hated myself. My first day at that school was just seven weeks before we let out for the summer. It took only seven weeks to siphon out every droplet of love that I had for myself.
The next year brought no better days.
It got so bad, and my despair grew so deep, that by the middle of sixth grade the only thing I could do was wish that John and Mike would die. I would pray nightly for something, anything, anybody to come and kill them. I would fantasize about gruesome car accidents, fire-filled buildings, and random violence coming to my aid. I would not have cried one tear had those two boys ended up covered in dirt, resting eternally in pine boxes. In fact, I would have been happy. Very, very happy.
But, they never died. And my life got worse.
And then junior high hit. John and Mike kept dishing out their normal routine. I kept praying for them to die. God never did answer that prayer. At least not the way I wanted him to.
And I, the fat-ass, ugly, and worthless seventh grader, became a target for bigger, more vicious bullies. Little did I know that my life was about to get a lot worse…
Besides the bigger bullies’ ongoing determination to make sure the “fat names” grew harsher and wider-spread, they started in on new bullying tactics like sneaking up and cramming food from the floor into my mouth, knocking my lunch tray to the ground, throwing dangerous objects at me, tripping me with the intent to seriously hurt me, shoving me with the intent to seriously hurt me, and pushing me with the intent to seriously hurt me.
In eighth grade, I stopped crying at night.
I just went to sleep and prayed that God, the devil, anybody would kill those boys. I wanted them gone. I would have given anything for them to be gone.
In ninth grade, the girls started getting involved. The popular, “hot” girls started doing things like asking me out, then laughing in my face before I could answer. They would invite me to come to parties or hang-outs and then laugh some more when they saw that I had hopes that their invitations were sincere. It only took a few of these moments before I believed that any desire, by any girl, to hang out with me would always be a joke. At the end of ninth grade, a “hot” girl approached me in the hallway, and asked me if I wanted to see her breasts. Most teenage boys would be delighted. I just turned and walked away, having been hurt by this girl more times than I could count. She laughed and started yelling down the hall that Dan Pearce was a faggot.
Death. Sweet death. I would have given anything for it to come. To me. To them. It didn’t matter.
On the last day of school that year, some of the bullies on my school bus started pushing me toward the exit and out the doors. I fell backward and landed on my “fat ass”. I remember the laughter that erupted from the school bus windows when I hit the pavement. I remember my peers’ boisterous faces glued to each pane of glass. I remember looking up at the school bus driver as he said, “you guys knock it off and go sit down”. He then looked at me and said, “are you getting on or not?” I shook my head, quickly gathered my things, and ran somewhere. I don’t remember where. Anywhere but there.
I do remember hearing the squeak of the bus doors closing. I do remember the sound of the engine, revving as the bus pulled away. I do remember crying that day.