Yah, I am not even going to try to mask what I am saying here. If you know me, you know where I stand on most things. I don't keep my opinions, feelings, and morals to myself. I try to be respectful of everyone, which can be very difficult sometimes, but I try my hardest. This post is going to be a little bit scattered, I think. Hang in there, it might be a few-parter. . .
I was bullied growing up. I was bullied throughout my entire fifth grade year (and may I thank you, Mrs. fifth-grade teacher, for doing absolutely NOTHING to help me with that). I was bullied by this awful gang of little girls who were mean to me because my boobs grew faster than theirs. I was bullied so badly that I came home crying every single day from the 5th grade. My mom asked me if she could do something, but I wanted desperately to try to handle it myself. I asked for help at school, but the teachers ignored it. The principle called me into his office once, to tell me that I was overreacting. My Dzetha (Russian grandfather on my mom's side) gave me some advice I've carried with me throughout my life. He told me, after being fed up and sad seeing me cry again, to tell the girls to stop it. Whatever they did next, I was to tell them, nicely, to please stop. Then when they did it again, tell them to stop again. And add that I won't be asking again. If they continued to do whatever hurtful thing they were doing, I was to turn around, ball up my fist, and hit them as hard as I could. (Now, he was never one to promote violence. He was a soft-spoken yet firm grandfather who was playful and reserved, kind, and a man of God). I never did end up having to hit them, but I definitely became more confident after that talk. (That coupled with the fact that my sister provided some heavy-duty actions against these awful girls). And it is something I've carried throughout my life. (And I will absolutely be passing along that advice to Phinneas, because I will not tolerate bullying.) But I began to doubt, hard, my image and my friendships. I began to doubt that I was worth having friends. I began to doubt myself. In the fifth grade. Because of other girls.
Freshman year of high school. Different set of girls, same awfulness and bullying again. These girls literally had me trapped in one of our school buildings; it had three entrances/exits and they had them all covered. There were a gaggle of these girls (quick aside: I won't name you, because I am sure you will stumble across this blog at some point in your life as you try to be my "friend" on Facebook. I am hopeful that you have reconciled this meanness and evilness inside you, and hope you know you are shamed for the rest of your life because of the way you made me feel. You know who you are. And I remember you. You now have little girls and boys of your own, and I hope none of them are ever made to feel the way you made me feel.) Anyway, the exits were covered. My bestie Olivia (yes, the same one you know) was there beside me, trying to provide comfort and safety. But I felt like we were going to die. Like, these girls had SO MUCH power over me, I was terrified. We made a break for it and ran to our choir room (choir and dance have always been my sanctuary, and Ms. Ray never let me down, she had my back and kept us safe). We made it, and the girl gang didn't dare try to come in, they were like a bunch of vampires hovering outside an unwelcoming house. Olivia and I were in the classroom, the gaggle of girls were waiting eagerly outside for us to come out. (I was completely ready to start a new life in that classroom, I was never coming out). But what I didn't know was that the friends I made in choir would not only be my friends through high school, but through life. My choir friends became like family. I made a friend who literally walked me from class to class until the girls calmed the fuck down and left me alone. But those girls started a rumor that I got into choir because my mom and dad paid the teacher off to get me in. So, imagine. I am a young woman, with boobs and a body too old for me to know what to do with, proud of my voice, proud of my audition, and proud of my acceptance. Then BOOM! Blindsided with this rumor that it wasn't actually because of ME that I was accepted, but because my parents paid for my spot. (I asked my parents. They did no such thing). So, I ignored the rumor and kept on trying to live my life in a positive way. I tried to keep my head high, travel on the high road, and just move on. I was torn down by other girls, but I stuck with my newfound tribe and moved on. But. The seed of doubt was reaffirmed. "No one truly likes you", my inside voice would say. "They are always making fun of you behind your back", I would have to swallow that fear down so often, I hated it.
Fast forward to my post-college years. I had a group of friends at a job of mine that I thought were solid. I thought this group I had created was going to see me through the rest of my life. I thought they were like family, and I treated them as such. I welcomed them into my home (remember Rancho Monday's anyone?), I was there for them when they needed me, and I was a great friend. And it was really awesome for years. Years! Then, one of them told me one day over coffee that she no longer wanted to be my friend or work with me, and that she was honestly surprised that I didn't know that no one liked me. She could not believe that I honestly thought that all of these people, who I'd treated like family, actually liked me. Woah. I was devastated. Like, kick-me-in-the-gut devastated. Like, this pain I just had inflicted on me was honestly worse than my divorce, worse than finding out that my ex-husband had cheated on me with two other women (that's another story for another blog). And I didn't question her at all. I figured that she was honest and being truthful, not being spiteful or mean or jealous or anything. Just immediately thought, "yup, of course. I thought that all of these wonderful women that I had confided in, loved, and laughed my ass off with for the past 4 years, it's all been a mean joke against me. Of course they don't like me. Of course they probably come and enjoy my pool, my Wii, my food and drinks, but then go home and talk shit about me and laugh at me behind my back. Of course. Why would this woman lie to me? Why would she make such hurtful comments to me if it weren't true?" So once again, I was bullied into thinking I wasn't worthy. I was told, by a decades-older mentor-type woman, who I thought would never hurt me intentionally, that I was stupid and un-friendable. My inner child, high-schooler, and 30-year old selves were done. ALL of my insecurities came flooding back. All my old hurts were reopened and it was like I was being taunted again by the fifth-grade girl gang. I was actually told by one of these older, post-college friends that she was prepared, from the minute she met me, to not like me. She said the fact that I was pretty, nice, and really talented as a stage manager was unfathomable and she was surprised when she realized how truly kind I was. WHAT? I am sorry, but what the serious fuck? So yet again, another woman tore me down for being successful and kind and pretty. Instead of building other women up, my example had been that women fear each other, and therefor treat each other like crap. I don't buy it. I didn't buy it growing up, and I still don't. (I buck against that trend, thanks to the extremely strong and capable women in my family. If I see you wearing a cool outfit, or if you've just completed an awesome and hard project, I will absolutely call you out for being a fantastic woman. I am glad this is starting to be norm now; it is so refreshing!)
I have to be honest. I didn't know this blog was going to turn out this way. I just let the words come out, because I apparently have a lot to say about this. I had started this piece out thinking it was going to be about something else, but it took a left turn and I went with it. I will get to that other piece, later. But this needed to come out now. And I didn't understand why until I was talking it over just a bit with Eugenia (a friend so near and dear to me, since 1996, that she is part of my family for sure). Anyway, we were chatting, and I realized that even now, in my early 40's, I am still struggling with being bullied. I still have to battle to have my voice heard. I have to walk the fine line of being strong and confident, but god-forbid not too confident because then I come across as bossy and controlling. Armor up and don't share too much of myself with my coworkers because I don't want to be hurt like I was previously, but allow myself to build friendships because I also choose not to believe that all people are mean. (I wish bullies were made to wear a badge, like the Scarlett Letter, a big "B" on their chest). I don't want to believe that just because I am talented, pretty, kind, and funny, that other women are going to be mean to me. Even though I have still been battling that for the past 2 years, I try every day to be better. To choose the high road. To turn the other cheek. It is a constant struggle. I feel like I, as a woman, have to be on guard mostly all of the time. Because that one time I allow my guard to come down, I fear the other shoe.
But maybe I should just recall Dzetha's advice and ball up my fucking fist already. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. . .)