I’ve been reading a lot about bullying.
I got interested, this streak, because Melania Trump seems to have made cyber-bullying her crusade as First Lady. I have no beef with Melania Trump. I think she made the bed in which she’s now got to be comfortable. Everyone else in the entire nation knew what Donald J. Trump was, and I’m assuming that Melania also did. Whatever she gets from their marriage is between her and her husband. I don’t care with whom he sleeps or has slept; or whether Ms. Trump knew about his affairs. Oh, I care if a misogynist occupies the Oval Office, but that doesn’t sour me on the misogynist’s wife.
So I am glad that she’s combating cyber-bullying. Hearing of her mission, I started thinking about bullies in general, and in specific, about what I experienced as a child
The boys who grouped behind me, mimicking the way I walked — those were bullies.
The girls who mimed contorted faces while I gave presentations — those were bullies.
I recall two girls in particular, who exclaimed with loud voices about how gross they found being assigned to work with me. They knew that I was trapped in a stall in the girls’ bathroom where they stood applying make-up to their pretty faces. They, too, were bullies.
When I got tripped as I walked down the aisle, by cackling popular kids showing off for their girlfriends;
When a boy jerked my uniform over my head and pulled my slip down to the floor;
When a teacher bored a red ballpoint pen into my check and carved a large check “to match [my] freckles”;
these, too, were acts of bullying.
I’m not even a little bit mad anymore.
A lot of dark hours flowed from the thirteen years which I spent in Catholic schools, tortured by the same kids who wore chapel veils and knelt with folded hands and bowed heads. I chugged Scotch-on-the-rocks at the Pub in the Student Union straight through my three-and-a-half years at St. Louis University. I stumbled to and from class, ignoring the caterwauling of guys in shorts and tank tops lounging on the ground in the Quad. My brain turned within itself. I convinced myself that I deserved the taunts, the jabs, the jeers.
I didn’t even flinch when a classmate asked me if being crippled kept me from having sex. I answered him with all seriousness. I never saw the smirks from his buddies clustered in the back of the dorm room. I must have thought he really wanted to know.
The teasing and the rude questions continued for decades. Only in the last ten years has it eased. Perhaps now that I’m middle-aged, I don’t stand out as much. But those early bullies set the tone for my life. And they were not alone. Law students, lawyers, blind dates, ladies at lunch, suits in networking breakfasts. Like pregnant women, people with disabilities seem to be fair game for rubber-necking and unbridled cross-examination in public places.
My over-riding goal, for the last sixty-two years, has been to keep a giant chip from growing on my shoulder. I can’t claim to have been entirely successful.
So, Ms. Trump, First Lady of the United States of America — please, know that as someone who survived bullying long before the internet gave free reign to the act, I am grateful for any effort to stop bullying.
On my #journeytojoy, I’ve had to let go of a lot of pain. Today, I’m letting go of the pain of experiencing all those acts of bullying. So to all the boys and girls at Corpus Christi Elementary School who treated me badly; and the girls at Corpus Christi High School who took up the effort when I crossed the parking lot as a freshman; to the students at SLU and UMKC School of Law; and everybody since then who seemed intent on building themselves taller by tearing me down, I say this now:
I forgive you. And I’m taking back my power.
It’s the twenty-first day of the fifty-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.