Were you picked on a lot in school? You seem so popular and well liked, but I remember reading somewhere how people bullied you all the time. Were you popular in school, too?
– Reader has chosen to remain Anonymous
Growing up, I was bullied a lot.
I wouldn’t say I was “popular”. Well-liked, sure. But even liked people have bullies.
All of my bullies were other women.
I remember how girls in school would make up awful stories about me and spread them around to other students. I remember how they’d talk about me behind my back, pass notes about me in class, stab me with pencils, or whisper in each other’s ears when I walked by while laughing at me with these cruel looks on their faces.
One day, I burst out of class to hide and cry behind the art building after one horrible girl very loudly announced she had just caught me giving a blowjob to some stranger behind a gas station.
Who makes up that kind of crap about someone? That was and is literally the furthest thing from what I would want to do, ever.
I was too scared to confront her. Too hurt to react. But I guess if her goal was to make me cry and feel like shit, it worked, because there I was, 16-year-old Cheri, hunched over behind a bush in the cobwebs, sobbing my eyes out, and wanting to kill myself.
I remember hearing leaves crunching, then a familiar voice.
I looked up.
“Are you okay?” *Andy asked. He had followed me out of class and was bending down beside me, hover-handing my shoulder, afraid to touch me.
“I would never do that,” I said, dropping my eyes to my knees. My arms were around my legs in a fetal crouch, and I was wiping tears from my face. “I would never do that! Why would she say that? Why??”
“No one thinks you actually did that, Cheri. *Melissa is a bitch. Everyone knows she’s the slut — it was probably her sucking dick behind the gas station.” He moved to sit beside me on the dead leaves and brown-patched grass, making himself comfortable.
I was still crying.
Hesitantly, he reached to put his arm around my shoulder. I think he was shocked at how I dove in immediately because I remember him stiffening, like crying against a rock. But after a while, he gently placed his arms around me and rubbed my back while I let it all out. I hated everyone. Everything. I wanted to disappear.
“I’m sick of everyone picking on me,” I sobbed, wiping snot from my nose and onto my sleeve. “I’m not mean to her. I’m not mean to any of them. I didn’t do anything.”
“If you’re talking about *Karen, she looks like a donkey. They’re both jealous that you’re prettier and nicer, and that all the guys at school like you, and all the teachers like you. That’s all.” Was that what it was? Was I “pretty”? Was I “likable”? Sound the fucking alarms because that is the stupidest fucking reason for bullying a little girl on planet earth. That is 100% how I felt then, and 100% how I feel now. What vicious, awful, monstrous human beings.
“I hope she dies. I hope they both die,” I said through tears, angry, hurt, and meaning every word.
“Karma is a bitch,” he said, giving my arm a squeeze. “You’ll be okay. Everything’ll work itself out.”
Fast forward 11 to 12 years later …
Every memory I have of being picked on as a child still hurts me, but it’s amazing how strong you become and what you’re able to let go after 27 years of putting up with life’s lemons.
I’ve already forgiven my bullies. In fact, I remember reaching out to several of them at one point and leaving them kind messages of both apology and pardon.
I did not receive replies.
Also, despite my feverish wishing for their joint deaths, Melissa and Karen never did actually perish. They did, however, both become pregnant before they turned 18, and as far as I know, they both still live in Stockton, and are both still with their parents. Is that the karmic retribution Andy was going on about? Who knows. I hope they’re both happy, and that their now 12-year-old children are both as healthy, adorable, and loved as my perfect, one-year-old nephew is.
So, to answer your question …
Was I bullied growing up?
Yes. I was absolutely bullied by other women. But I don’t hold it against all of woman-kind. It’s kind of like Pokémon, right? Like, there are no such things as bad Pokémon, only bad PokéMasters? In the same way, several awful bitches in a row does not an entire gender make. I just happened to come across a string of terrible people.
That was then.
This is now.
And now, well …
Today, I’m surrounded by smart, strong, and confident women who would push a bitch off a barstool for me if they ever saw someone come near me or look at me in the wrong way. We’re like this (fingers crossed).
I have girlfriends who’ve been naked with me while we shop for lingerie together, who vent with me over sauvignon blancs and Spanish reds, who laugh with me like crazy while we act like total idiots together in public, who have “romantic” dinners with me when it’s been too long and we need to catch up, who giggle with me during yoga class and need to be told to “shhh” because we’re disturbing the other students, who drop everything they’re doing to go on fabulous trips with me around the world, and who I can see after years of being apart and speak to as if not a day has passed — I mean, that’s love right there. And sure, we get annoyed with each other and have tense moments sometimes, but we also get over things quickly because we’re adults and have better things to do than stress out over basic bitch nonsense.
My friends are the best.
Thank god for all the crap I went through. It’s hard not to be grateful for my shitty experiences. My thick skin didn’t magically appear from thin air; I earned this armor. It also makes me realize that all the effort I put into nurturing my current relationships is totally worth it, because my friends today are great.
I know I have a lot of younger readers.
The girl who sent me the question that prompted this blog post is 16, actually.
With my younger readers in mind, I’d like to say …
It’s not that life gets better. It does, sure, in some ways, but it will always be hard. The only difference is that as you age, you learn how to successfully deal with stressful situations and shitty people. You learn to nurture the friendships that matter to you, and you learn to invest in relationships, experiences, and things that make your life better overall. You stop wasting effort on things that don’t matter, and you learn that the only way to “win” is by filling your life with so much awesomeness that not only does it balance out all the negativity the Universe will absolutely throw at you, it also reduces that negativity to the equivalent of a a fly buzzing near your ear.
Open up a window.
Let that negativity go.
Here are some quick and dirty tips for surviving teenaged bullshit:
- Respect yourself, always. Don’t let anyone stomp all over you and your feelings, and if someone does, be clear that you aren’t going to allow that sort of behavior anymore, and mean it. There will come many times in your life when you’ll need to walk away from toxic relationships or stand up to someone who is treating you poorly, and it will be hard. Get your practice in now. Build your thick skin. You’ll need it.
- Don’t let anyone tell you who you are; you define that. Just because someone calls you a slut, or a loner, or a weirdo, doesn’t mean you should jump off the deep-end and embrace the sluttitude (I know that’s not a word), lonerism (also not a word), or weirdness (that one’s real). And on that same note, if you want to be a “slut”, be a slut! Want to be a loner? Go for it! Feel like being weird? Fuck it! Who gives a shit what anyone thinks? It’s your life, your body, your brain, and you only have one of each. Do you. Forget everyone else. Seriously. Nothing matters but how you feel about you. See Tip #1.
- Never give up. Ever. Life is so long and full of so many incredible adventures. Trust me; you do not want to miss out!
You’ve got this.
PS. Thanks for writing in, you-know-who. I hope this helped. To everyone else, if you have a Dear Cheri question, feel free to contact me. I’m listening.
* Names changed to protect reputations and retain anonymity.