Bullies Bite The Little One
By Paul Joseph
I was in seventh grade. The bell dismissed me from language arts. I proceeded to the locker pod. I opened my locker and removed my lunch, a daily ritual since my small Christian private school did not have a cafeteria. It was ‘brownbag or starve.’
As I shut my locker, my left arm was grabbed by a hand – a soft hand, perfectly manicured, that pulled my arm towards her teeth. Before I processed what was happening, my skin had been punctured.
The culprit was no stranger – she lived in my neighborhood. We were in the same carpool (my small Christian private school did not have transportation, either). We were in the same sixth grade class. We were in the same seventh grade class. We went to the nurse every afternoon at 1:00 to take our allergy medication. We worked together on a project for religion class – she liked to draw and I liked to write. We were a good team.
But the rules of society forbid us from being friends. She was a 5’4” attractive cheerleader - blonde, thin, and athletic. I was a 4’8” overweight nerd – the honor roll student who would rather read a book than play basketball in the driveway, and who couldn’t get picked in gym class for all the bonus points in the grade book.
I never found out exactly why she bit me. I know that when confronted by a teacher, who was not a real teacher by certification standards, her explanation was that she didn’t like me. In her mind, the reason justified the behavior.
I suspect she was tired of taking heat from her popular cheerleading friends. They most likely heckled her for associating herself with me, so she sought a divine moment, one where half the grade was present, to make her point. Her point had been made.
Ten years later, I returned to a seventh grade classroom. As I got ready for my first day as a History teacher, I noticed the faded scar on my left arm – the remains of a ten-year old bite.
The scar has faded with time. My dark, hairy Italian DNA worked overtime concealing it. But it’s still there. It will always be there.
As a teacher, it wasn’t long before realizing bullying was alive and well – that rather than making progress, kids find new methods with time. I was often quoted for saying, “I’m so glad I graduated before facebook existed.”
Kids today face a new genre of fear: the fear of online harassment. They post disparaging comments forgetting the world can read them – and that once something is posted on the Internet, it is never gone for good. As a society, we have not been able to convey to children that despite the stupid sticks and stones saying, words do hurt. Words scar. Words matter.
As an anti-bullying advocate at my former school district, I heard stories I never needed to hear. Kids reported bullying situations that left me stunned. What makes someone alter a pornographic photograph and distribute it with the face of a fellow classmate? What makes someone invite a kid to a party that never existed – only to show up and sit for three hours because he was embarrassed to call his dad for a ride home before the ‘party’ would have ended? What makes kids destroy each others property out of hatred or revenge? I never understood it. I don’t want to understand it. I just want it to stop.
At twenty-seven years old, I remain scarred (physically and emotionally) from situations I encountered as a kid. On June 14, it will be ten years since I was handed my high school diploma, yet I continue to get anxious in social situations. I hate meeting new people. I hate getting nervous before meeting new people. I hate worrying about things I shouldn’t worry about.
There is a part of me that will always wait for the next mouth to bite me. The good news is, with age comes wisdom. We find our niche and connect with people worth our time – people who embrace us for who we are, not who they want us to be. We have opportunities to use our experiences to make a difference. For me, that venue has been writing.
My mission in writing YA fiction is to help troubled teens find comfort through the characters; to give kids a voice when they feel they don’t have one. I want teens to find themselves through the stories – to learn through the characters, and hopefully, feel inspired to apply that new knowledge in a positive way.
Literature is a valuable teaching tool. It’s no surprise I chose bullying as the focus for my first YA novel. It is an epidemic in our country, which produces a need for high interest literature that addresses the issue while holding a teenager’s attention. Regardless of what happens with my novel, I look forward to the day we no longer need to write books on bullying. I look forward to the day when bullying has become a thing of the past. Spreading awareness and educating others is the first step.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Draven for inviting me to guest blog and talk about bullying. It was an honor to be here and share my thoughts on this important topic. Draven is a great friend and supporter; he is also a talented writer who sparks great discussions on his site. You are wise to be reading his words.