Someone posted a video on Facebook the other day and I can't get it out of my head. It's kind of painful to watch (at least it was to me) so I'll just save you watching it if you prefer to pass and just say it's a video of a boy being relentlessly bullied by a girl, until he just snaps and nearly strangles her.
A big part of why it hit me so hard was that it took place on a bus.
When I was in middle school I was relentlessly bullied by one of the girls in my neighborhood. When we were very small we were friends. We played together, I have pictures of us swimming together, doing each other's hair. But as we got older, she became cool and I became a dork. I wore polyester pants that, in spite of the fact that they were custom tailored for me (a nice way to say my mom made them) were two inches too short. She wore jeans. I was a fat little kid, she wasn't. I was a shy only child with few friends. She had siblings and friends and a family that, at least on the surface, was far less dysfunctional than mine.
So when we got to middle school she would take the seat behind me on the bus and pretty much torture me. She pulled my hair, spit on me, poked me in the eye and hit me, all while her friends laughed and cheered her on. And when I inevitably broke down in tears, that just gave her more to laugh about.
The bus dropped us off a few blocks from my house, so since she lived across the street she could continue to insult and harass me all the way home.
Many days I walked in the door to my house in hysterical tears, hyperventilating and begging my mom to start driving me to school. Just sobbing "Please don't make me ride the bus again"
In the days when this girl and I were friends as little kids, our moms were friends as well. That friendship had long ago ended, but my mom still felt that the best option was to talk to the girl's mother. And that helped just about as much as you'd think it did.
This went on for months. Even now, 35 years later, I'm a little nauseous thinking about those days. The complete and total dread I felt any time I had to leave my house. Just walking to the end of the driveway at my mother's request to get the mail was an invitation to ridicule. And my clothes, my face, my body, my EXISTENCE in the neighborhood just gave her ammunition which would be used to make my life miserable when next she had me outnumbered and surrounded by her friends.
There were a pair of sisters who lived a street over from us. Everyone was afraid of them. They were a year or two older than us and, looking back, they were just kids. But to us they were tough and mean and you did not mess with them.
So imagine my surprise when one of them stuck up for me! It was on an unremarkable ride home. I was, as usual, just trying to endure the humiliation and shame, hoping the hitting and poking and hair pulling wouldn't escalate into anything causing permanent damage to my body. The damage to my psyche, self-confidence and self-esteem had already been done. And I heard someone say "You're real tough with all your friends around you right?". She didn't answer. And I heard "You want to try doing that to me? Yeah, I didn't think so"
She never messed with me again.
I'd like to be able to say that the tough girl and I became BFF's, but we didn't. We didn't even speak until ten years later when, by chance, I moved in next door to her. She had absolutely no recollection of me or even the day she stuck up for me. She probably saved my life, and she didn't even remember it. What she didn't know the day she put the bully in her place was that it was occurring to me on a fairly regular basis that I would rather die than continue to endure that daily misery. I saw no other way out.
Thanks to her I stopped being bullied. I think the bully and her friends thought the tough girl and I were friends, and that was fine with me. I made some friends, ditched the polyester, and I actually enjoyed high school.
Senior year I started dating The Boy's dad, who was best friends with the bully's older brother. His family and the bully's family were friends. I actually spent part of my honeymoon with her and her parents in their fishing cabin. I smiled and made nice, and I tried to remind myself that I wasn't that scared little kid anymore so it was reasonable to assume she wasn't the monster I remembered. I came to the conclusion that she still wasn't a very nice person, but she couldn't hurt me anymore.
They say living well is the best revenge. If that's true, then I have evened the score and then some. That video was the first time I have given that evil little girl a thought in the 20 years since I last saw her at her brother's wedding. And even when the video brought her to my mind, the thought was less about her and more about how much difference a person can make in another's life. Whether you're a sick little girl who enjoys hurting people, a parent who doesn't take it seriously when they're told that their daughter is torturing another child, or someone who sees someone being picked on and has the guts to speak up. Your actions matter. So choose them wisely.