It began as daily torture
and sickening waves of dread bellowing in my belly
with tears collecting behind dark circles in my eyes
too stubborn to fall.
I learned the art of holding back the floods of hurt,
that stung my eyes and soaked my pillows at night
They never betrayed me in public
and would wait
for the shame-filled walks from the school bus to the front door,
re-playing the taunts from the day in my head until I found a place of solace
to cry in peace,
to be in peace,
away from the judgment of peers too relentless to care about my feelings.
The stress led to migraines in the fifth grade and by the sixth grade I had failed six times at my attempts to put myself out of my misery. I never admitted to where all the weekday sadness came from.
They called me ugly. Black. Stupid. Crazy. Itch-Bay (pig latin for bitch, because they said I was too stupid to know the difference). There is little escape for a little black girl desperate to be accepted and forced to face the same vicious group of peers from kindergarten to the eighth grade
reminding me, daily, of everything
(supposedly) wrong with me.
I would have rather swallowed glass than face their scorn
but instead I swallowed hands full of pills that were not mine
wishing myself invisible
or to wake up somebody else
I spent years being angry with God
for waking up at all.
from the precious tongues
of girls not unlike me
but finding me
an easy target for their practice
of self hate, inflicted on me like
too many wounds
too many days
of harsh words
telling me I wasn’t shit ‘til I believed it.
The taunting still haunts me
and inspires tears when I sit in silence too long, or stare in the mirror too long
looking back at the
not smart enough
not tall enough
not good enough…
Teased for everything from living in a trailer
to the way I talked
to the cheap tennis shoes my mother could barely afford
to how I could not play basketball,
to how I didn’t have a daddy at home
from girls who
lived in single wide trailers
lacked my vocabulary
had the same shoes with different laces
excelled in sports but
failed in school
and didn’t even know their fathers
and who looked somewhat like me (regular, country, black)
but they never saw (or cared about) the damage they were doing
whispered words, intentionally loud enough for me to hear
waiting for a reply
that never came
because I didn’t know how to defend myself
They created hierarchical games
so that I would be perpetually last
Who is the tallest? The lightest? The smartest? The prettiest?
I was always last on the list.
My failings escalated them.
I have never gotten over the trauma of those public ratings.
Decades later, I still hate remembering my childhood, and refuse to look at yearbooks or go to class reunions. My memory never fails me. And I am confused at the recent requests for friendship on facebook by people who refused to “friend” me when I most needed it, and instead stood on the sidelines watching me struggle to breathe. The childhood assaults on my psyche followed me to adulthood. And I sometimes still struggle with self-esteem.
Recent events of bullying have been popularized as media attention is focused on teen suicide resulting from teasing, taunting, picking, and bullying. Bullying is in the national spotlight but it is not a new phenomenon. Young people have always been punished by their peers for being different. The consequences are ongoing. Bullying is not blameless, nor is it harmless. We have to take responsibility for the weight of our words, heavy like fists.
Before I ever started school I remember being told that I was supposed to take up for myself. My grandmother told me that if someone ever hit me, I’d better hit them back–harder! She never told me what to do if someone hurt my feelings.