To the Katies and Kens in the World: In Your Face, Nameless Bully From Long Ago!

If you have not seen the story of the “Star Wars Girl,” click here and read it (Portrait of an Adoption) then come on back here. I almost titled this blog, “Of Geeks and Things…and It Gets Better.

Who wasn’t bullied as a kid?

I was. Constantly.

I was born in the PNW (Pacific Northwest) but was raised in Wisconsin almost from day one, so am a Badger, through and through. I grew up in Milwaukee…well, really between Milwaukee and Kenosha. I spent the school year in Milwaukee and the summers in Kenosha with my grandparents.

It was during the school year that I was bullied. Horribly at times.

I attended 8th Street Middle School (which was and has again become Fulton Jr. High), an old school in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. The saving grace of the old school was that it was right across the street from the Milwaukee Public Library. Three stories of more books than one person could possibly read in a lifetime, or so I thought, packed into an imposing stone edifice that enchanted me.

Jr. High, for those who don’t know, encompasses grades 6, 7, & 8, ages 11-13/14-ish. The school was an old brick building with three entrances, one facing north (the postage-stamp-sized “playground”), one facing east (8th Street) and one facing south (the street that ran under the freeway). Hardly anyone ever used the south entrance, or at least nobody I knew.

I’m not much different now than I was then, at least physically (though now much older and a little bit taller). I was a short, stocky little blonde with short hair. Square-ish build. Fairly muscular, but not…overly, you know. Little blonde fireplug, I guess you’d say.

I was pushed and poked at daily, but one day really stands out for me. I was hanging out after school, in sixth grade, and decided to run back up  to my locker for a book that I had to return to the library—it was due that day. The doorways mentioned above were also access-points for stairs leading up to the 2nd and 3rd floors. So, after grabbing my book from my locker I ran down the nearest stairs, those that led past the south entrance. I remember seeing a big boy in the entryway, really big. Well, at under four-feet, everyone was big to me. Anyway, this kid/boy/young man stretched out his foot as I came down the last steps and I went flying.

He then grabbed me and shoved me up against the wall, asking each time he slammed me against the cold brick, “How come you gotta act so much like a girl!” Over and over again.

I kept saying, “But…I am a girl!”

Every time I said it, he slammed me harder into the wall and I soon saw stars. I remember thinking, When is a teacher going to come? So I told him again that I was a girl. And he hit me again. So I stopped saying it. Then I remember thinking, “Uh oh, what if he figures out that I really am a girl!” Suddenly I was less afraid of being beaten up than I was about having something…worse happen. And, in sixth grade, I could barely define “worse,” but I knew there was a “worse” and I didn’t want it to happen to me.

After…a lifetime, I think it was…of being slammed into the wall, punched in the face and shoulders, etc…I finally broke free and ran.

I left my book behind.

I don’t really know how he missed the fact that I really was a girl. I’d developed early, a year before when still in 5th grade, and was mortally embarrassed by the giant things suddenly attached to my chest. They got in the way, stretched my clothes, made people notice me, and just were a general nuisance. How was I to know that 14 short years later those things would hold something that could have killed me had I been less diligent?

But…I digress.

The teacher never came.

I got away on my own.

And never told anyone.

What little girl wants to go home to tell her mom that a boy beat her up ’cause he thought she was a boy pretending to be a girl? I was so embarrassed. And upset. And impotently angry. And to top it off, I had to lie and tell the nice librarian at the library that I’d lost the book and then ask my mom for the money to pay the fine. That cost me library privileges for two months, which was worse than being beaten up.

Thinking back, I’m pretty sure my bully didn’t even go to our school because I can’t remember seeing him before or after that incident.

That was the worst of the physical bullying. The emotional stuff continued for years. And it wasn’t always overt. It was the whispering of teammates, the snide comments of girls in the locker room. I was smart, though I didn’t know it. I thought you had to be pretty and popular to be smart. It was years before someone said to me that I was bright and talented.  I was told by a high school counselor when I asked her how to apply for college, that I “wasn’t college material.” So I didn’t apply right away. When I did finally apply, it was such a bumbling attempt that I’m sure had the admissions people laughing and they admitted me out of pity. Bullying doesn’t just happen with shoves, pokes, or slaps. Sometimes bullying is more subtle. Telling someone they’re not smart enough to go further is, I think, another form of bullying.

Back to my nameless bully. I didn’t have Katie’s (see link at beginning of this blog) courage. I didn’t dare bring something unusual like a Star Wars water bottle (mainly because the movie came out one short year before this incident and nobody’d heard of movie marketing then). I begged my mom to let me buy hot lunch in grade school because I was teased constantly for my brown sack lunch. It never occurred to me to deliberately stand out. I tried too hard to blend in, and look where that got me?

The crap kicked out of my by a kid that probably didn’t even go to my school.

Well, here’s the thing. Like the recent “wear purple” campaign said, IT GETS BETTER.

Honestly. It does.

We’ll leave the gay thing out of it for now—though on that front, too, I can assure you that it does get better.

Knowing the demographics of the city of Milwaukee, and especially the demographics of the kids that went to my middle school (or hung around beating up kids who went there), I am fairly certain my nameless bully didn’t get past high school. If he didn’t do time, I’ll be surprised. He was (and still is, I’ll bet) nothing but a loser.

On the other hand, Miss “not college material” has a Master’s degree (I sent that idiotic “guidance counselor” an invitation to my Master’s graduation) and is two-thirds of the way through her doctorate in education. I am a college professor, I am married to a wonderful person (who is my senior by 11 years) and I have two great step-kids (who are older than you’d think, but still awesome). I have friends whom I love who love me; colleagues who respect me and have my respect and admiration. Oh…and I have a book coming out in May, 2011. So…bite me nameless bully-boy.

I am a geek of the highest order. I frequently shop at ThinkGeek and take great pride in wearing my “/(bb|[^b]{2})/” shirt (it’s a fairly famous Shakespeare quote. Trust me, it’s funny). I can, and have, fixed computers for friends and family (and various employers). I can code if needed and understand it (if necessary). I have a lightsaber-bearing Weeble-like toy on my desk and a Stargate as my key-ring.

Science is cool and geeks rule.

Remember Katie (the real Katie and the other “Katie’s” of the word, as well as the bullied “Ken’s” out there), if there were no geeks there would be no PlayStation, GameBoy, Wii, cell phones, and worst of all, no Internet. No way in which experienced (rather than “old”) geeks can reach out a hand (or lighsaber) in loving friendship and support to a new and younger generation.

I know it’s hard when you’re young to hear someone say, “it gets better,” but it really does. I know it’s hard to believe. I know it’s hard to wait.

Trust me. I really do know.

But I also know that it really, really does get better.

And the best part is, those who bully you now for standing out, for being different, for owning that cool thing they secretly wish they had, will someday be coming to you to fix their computer.

Or to teach their children.

Or to heal their children.

Or…to build their spaceship.

Don’t let the bullies get you down. They’re not worth it, and you…you are worth everything.

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6 Comments on “To the Katies and Kens in the World: In Your Face, Nameless Bully From Long Ago!”

  1. tammy says:

    Wow. Beautiful.

    I’m making my way through the brilliance that is Boston Legal (writing research, you know) and one of the last episodes I watched dealt with a controversial pill that would ‘make one forget’ if administered within a certain timeframe. In this case, an underage girl had been inappropriately touched and wanted to forget – regardless of the harm the medication could do to her.

    The argument, that incidentally won the case, was that our experiences in life are what make us who we are. That girl could, because of that singular experience, go on to do great, beneficial things.

    I can’t possibly know what it felt like to be in your shoes. Events like you describe above shaped who you are today; a kind-hearted, hella-talented woman whom I feel very blessed to be able to call a friend.

    And, dammit. I WANT that R2 trash can I saw on ThinkGeek! 🙂

  2. Pol says:

    You want that probably as much as I want the little lightsaber pointer. LOL

    Thanks, Pal.

  3. Tammi K says:

    Just tonight I was having a conversation with my 12 year old. Someone of her acquaintance who is 18 has Aspergers and has all the traits you would associate with the condition. As such, she can be incredibly immature and, ummm, to put it delicately, distracting. As we were discussing some of her behavior that we observed earlier in the evening, I asked my daughter if she ever found it annoying. “No, not really” she said. We’ll does it seem immature to you? “Yeah, she is kind of immature.” And that doesn’t bother you? “No, she’s still really nice. I just take her as she is.”

    It’s conversations like this that give me hope!

  4. Shannon says:

    Pol – it breaks my heart because I was bullied for as long as I was in school. The problem with being a third culture kid is that you are an easy target for people who expect conformity. I was laughed at by my classmates in Australia because I called the “toilet” a “bathroom”. Then I had my class in South Carolina laugh because I called an eraser a “rubber” which is what it is called in Australia. I was ostracized and my sexuality questioned (though I am straight) because I hung out with another girl who was mocked regularly. I got into sci fi because of the teasing – strong women who were smart and respected and thought about the world around them.

    It’s affected me deeply. My parents tried but kids are cruel. I still have moments where I can’t believe people actually like me and want to talk to me. Life turned out okay but I’m still that awkward girl in my head and I worry about my son.

    To some extent I still feel like the odd man out, watching everyone fit in while I struggle to belong. It’s why I love the sci fi community. Most of us are characters in our own right and despite being incredibly different we belong. It’s an unusual situation indeed.

  5. DJ says:

    You’re right, Pol. Bullying is universal.

    I was not athletic or strong, so when physically strong bullies took me on, I would respond with cutting words (my only, yet ineffective, defense). Three or four times in my elementary and middle school years, that resulted in me getting beat up after school. I also remember being teased for being different.

    When I was in first grade, it was open house night at my new elementary school and I was there with my dad. My parents had been to Hawaii recently and bought me a muumuu (I don’t know how to spell that word.) Anyway, I wore it to the open house. A couple of the other kids (age 6, like me) teased me about what I was wearing. I was humiliated. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip and explain what I was wearing, but they still laughed. I managed not to cry until I got home. I remember when we got home, my dad telling Mum how proud he was of me for not crying. Wow. That’s something I haven’t thought about in over 40 years.

    When my family moved to SD, it was at the semester break of 9th grade. We came from Whittier where 9th grade was high school. In SD, it was middle school. It felt like a step back for me, and I think it’s fair to say that I believed I was more mature (read smug) than my classmates. I had an art class where 4 or 6 students sat at each table. Each day, the kids at a different table were responsible to clean up the art room at the end of class. One day it was not my table’s turn to clean up, but some kids at the table took paint bottles and squirted paint all over the table for the cleaners to deal with. I said to this one girl, “Oh grow up.” Not surprisingly, this girl and her side kick (both bullies) took offense. That afternoon, they waited at school until after my play rehersal was done and cleaned my clock. I had quite a shiner to show for it. I was too humiliated to tell my parents what happened. I just tried to cover the shiner with eyeshadow and avoided those girls for the rest of my jr high and high school years.

    Nothing happened to them then for that, and the 14-yr-old in me still hopes they ended up in prison or divorced with too many kids, a deadbeat ex, and minimum wage jobs.

    One of the girls had hip-length (or longer) hair that was very pretty. In high school she pissed someone off and that person cut off her hair at the base of her neck. Karma.

    Man, how sick am I that those bullies still resonate with me to this day.

    Yes, it gets better. Much better. But I sure understand how hard it is to handle at the time. More so for young people who don’t have a strong support system.

  6. DJ says:

    @Shannon- I feel your pain. I understand that odd-man-out feeling. I still feel that way.