I was bullied in high school, and I still bear the scars from it 40 years later

Teh Ee Thai/Shutterstock
  • One boy with a grudge against me convinced a group of kids to harass me throughout my senior year in high school.
  • The adults in my life failed or refused to stop the bullying. If the same thing happened today, I hope the outcome would be different.
  • This happened decades ago, but the scar sometimes still hurts.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

By my senior year in high school, I was used to getting teased for my high-water pants or my bookishness. I was short on social skills, but the teasing didn’t get under my skin – until my senior year.

A group of boys chanted insults at me from the back of the school bus every single day that year, and the bullying took over my life.

The worst part was that the adults in charge couldn’t or wouldn’t make it stop.

Forty years later, I’m still bearing the emotional scars.

My bullying started with one student with a grudge – but quickly got worse

At the start of high school, I decided I would graduate early, since I could get all the credits I needed in three years. It seemed like no big deal.

But one of the girls in my class had tracked all our grades for years. She told people that I was likely to be the valedictorian of the senior class. That made a boy in that class – I’ll call him Alex – angry. He thought he would be No. 1 and felt I had stolen his crown.

For the record, I was valedictorian, but I didn’t steal anything from Alex, who ranked fourth. I didn’t care about that at the time and still don’t – but Alex sure did.

Alex spearheaded a campaign of bullying and harassment that spanned the whole of senior year. The worst of it was on the school bus. Every afternoon, the (mostly) boys in the back chanted a mean nickname they had made up for me and my sister. Sometimes they threw fruit at us.

It’s hard for me to convey my misery at having a whole bus full of kids chant insults at me in unison.

The day before Christmas vacation, someone on the bus threw an ice ball and hit me in the back of head, hard. I turned around to see who did it and got a second ice ball in the eye.

I lost it. Fistfights weren’t frowned on then in the way they are now, and I was not shy about whacking a boy who was out of line. I went after the kid who threw the ice balls. He was younger and smaller than me but surprisingly strong. Neither one of us got hurt but, in the fracas, my glasses fell off and someone ground them underfoot, shattering the lenses.

For the rest of the ride home, the kids in the back pelted me with sugar cookies the school had handed out, a shower of tiny Santas and Christmas trees. I was 16. It was the worst day of my life.

My parents spoke to the principal, who spoke to the bus driver, who took the side of the bullies. The harassment continued.

Similar scenes are playing out across America today

I have no doubt that similar scenarios are playing out across America today, but I hope the outcomes are different. I believe in the power of restorative justice to turn enemies into allies. Programs like No Bully teach adults and students how to break the cycle of bullying. And, sometimes, social media comes to the rescue.

The bullies’ targets aren’t the only beneficiaries of these types of interventions. NPR reported that children who bully others are more prone to illness and poverty as adults.

I eventually moved cross-country in my 20s, and my hometown became just a sour memory. But one day, when a teenager thrust his crotch in my face on a crowded train and gay-baited me (I had barely come out to myself at the time), an old terror returned. After that, when there were teenagers on the train, I wouldn’t get off at the Castro, San Francisco’s gay neighbourhood, even though I lived there.

I’m older and tougher now. I thought I had put the bullying behind me. So I was blindsided by the rage that resurfaced during last year’s confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. When Christine Blasey Ford said the worst thing about her assault was the boys’ laughter at her expense, I was right back on the school bus, with those kids who thought that picking on me was a tremendous joke.

I can’t change my past. But I can speak up for all the kids who have been bullied, threatened, or assaulted, and say that this must end.

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