It was kindergarten. I was in my colorful floral dress that flowed over my bright magenta leggings. I wore white socks that had lace on the ends. I might have even had my purple patterned headband with gold outlines.
I was learning how to be a four-year-old, navigating herself in the world.
I was learning how to go from preschool, a place where I was pinched over and over by a peer, to lower elementary, where little did I know the teasing would continue. I wanted to make friends. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be myself. And then I met the three girls that would make kindergarten through 3rd grade miserable.
One of the girls, I’ll never forget her, was the one with white blonde hair. We were friends. We played often. And then there was betrayal.
She crossed over the friendship line to the group of bullies. She engaged with the two other girls, followed them in whatever they did, even if that meant hurting her friend’s feelings. The three of them became my enemies, only at the time I didn’t know what an “enemy” meant.
One day they all decided to make fun of me. To tease me for being quiet, for wearing glasses, for being who I was. It was as if the sight of me made them gag and they needed to spell that out for me.
I would come home crying, telling my parents how my feelings were constantly being hurt. How even when I told them to stop they would continue to be mean. How I just wanted to be friends.
These emotions, they continued for a long time, the girls never stopped. One evening, I remember sitting on my mommy’s lap, crying about how the girls treated me that day when my mom picked up the phone to call the parents of these girls.
One mother,in particular, said I was lying, that her daughter wouldn’t be capable of doing such a thing, that I was making the whole thing up. This being said to a mother whose child is in their lap in tears.
Making it up? Bullshit.
As a teacher of young children, I am aware that children don’t know any better. They don’t know how much their actions can influence another person’s emotions. It’s awful but I can’t place blame since they do not know right from wrong. But as children grow, as they begin to learn right and wrong, they can begin to understand why bullying is wrong. And certainly parents can influence their behavior and hopefully guide them.
I’ve written so many stories and have expressed my emotions when it comes to having been bullied as a child. As an adult, when I think back to those experiences I wish so much that I could have had more courage to stand up against bullies.
One night I finally did.
I was thinking about the three girls, thinking about how awful they made me feel and how much I wished they could have seen me for who I was, as opposed to a target for teasing. I sat in my rocking chair and swayed, thinking about what I would say to these girls now, as an adult.
I whipped into detective mode and searched for them on Facebook (the modern world!). Low and behold I found two of the three. And that’s when I drafted a letter, not knowing whether I send it or not.
You might not remember me because we knew each other from way back in the day in Northern California. We went to elementary school together. You hung out with Lindsay J. and Amber G. The three of you didn’t like me. You all teased me and hurt my feelings. On more than one occasion.
I am not writing to you to get an apology or anything. It was just something that I wanted to do. I am an adult now and I am a huge advocate for children, particularly when they are bullied in school. I wish I spoke up more and defended myself better to you three girls.
Again I am not looking for anything from you, and I know this totally sounds weird, but after all these years, after all the growing up, I needed to say something. I have channeled my emotions and wrote the following:
Why do you torment me so? Why do you make me cry every time I come home from school? Do you know that what you’re doing is hurtful and makes me feel terrible? Deep down I know that you feel bad for what you have done to others. You didn’t realize your actions would cause pain.
I forgive you for hurting me. I forgive you for my tears.
All I want is to show you that I am not going to let you affect so many people anymore.
I am standing up to fight against people like you and make the world a kinder place. But I do have faith in you. I have faith that you can cross over to my side of the line and be another person who is putting an end to bullying.
I know you are capable of being kind. You just have to be willing to give kindness a shot. Love yourself first. Then let others love you. Know that you too aren’t worthless. Lend a hand, not a fist. Smile, don’t scowl. Still be yourself, but be the kinder soul we all know you have.
When people tell you that you cannot do it, listen to your inner voice telling you “You can do it!” It’s going to take some time, but in the end, will we all unite and spread kindness together. I am rooting for you. I am not giving up on you. Be a part of the change.
I am not showing this to call you names or gain sympathy. I’m simply acknowledging my younger self who couldn’t stand up to you girls.
I hope you have done amazing things with yourself! I really do!
And then I hit “send” and took a breath.
I felt so powerful, so brave as if I finally won a match against a huge creature that had wanted to squash me for so many years.
A couple days later, in my bed, dreaming pleasant thoughts, I was startled by a loud *BING*.
Why didn’t I remember to silence my phone? Who could possibly need something from me at this hour? I glanced at the notification, my eyes barely open, my brain not ready to read words.
It was a message from the girl who hurt my feelings so many times. The name struck a nerve. Seeing that she responded I almost started tearing up with anger, remembering how she treated me and remembering her mother who believed so much that I was making it all up.
I couldn’t face the words.
I couldn’t face the possibility that the message would be complete nonsense.
I didn’t want to accept that maybe she changed.
I was too sleepy to face all of my emotions, so I ignored it for the time being and shut my eyes.
Of course, when you know there’s a message you have to read, a message that could be powerful, it is very hard to resume your sleep. I tried so hard to block it out of my mind, to simply go back to sleep, get more rest, and then check it later. After all, I waited this long, I could wait a couple more hours, couldn’t I?
Somehow I managed to fall back asleep, dreamless, my body cozied up under my fuzzy blanket. I awoke, unsure how long I had been asleep. I took a deep breath and grabbed my phone. I tapped on the message, breathing a little harder, and read it:
First of all, I want to thank you for reaching out to me and for being so open and sharing all of this with me. I absolutely remember you, and remember the way we treated you in kindergarten.
I actually frequently think about it, and am struck by the timing of receiving your message because I was telling someone just last week about how I treated you and how my own desire to “fit in” as a kid and adolescent transformed into an ugly exclusion of others. I’ve realized how terribly that manifested in how I acted with you and I am truly so sorry.
I hear you wholeheartedly, and I can only hope to continue to learn and grow. Thank you so much for the work you are doing to support and advocate for young people.
Wishing you all the best,
I read this message again and again, about four or five times, each time trying to decide how I felt. Was it authentic? Did she really feel bad for how she made me feel? And then I remembered something. After her mother was convinced that I had been making the whole thing up, her daughter, Ashley, finally broke down in tears and admitted what she and the other girls had done to me.
Maybe she was sincere after all. Maybe she really did feel bad for how she behaved. I was so unsure of how it made me feel but then I thought about it and said to myself,
“It’s been over 20 years later and I have just received an apology from someone who tormented me as a child. It’s never too late to apologize for your actions.”
And that’s really the truth in the end. It is why I chose to feel fortunate and brave that I had the courage to face her. It paid off. Over twenty years later…it was unbelievable.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge yourself, whether you are young or old. Stand up and speak the truth to people.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to acknowledge yourself, your feelings, and not let them destroy or control you.
Being vulnerable is not a weakness, it is what will make you so much more of a badass! Apologizing to others, acknowledging your actions, taking responsibility for your choices, that is also not a weakness.
Keep standing up for yourself, being vulnerable, being brave, and being a fucking warrior!