I never told anyone. Not the painful details, anyway. Instead, for my own sanity, I chalked it up as a rough patch in my horrible preteen (tween?) years. And used it as a proud reminder to myself of how far I’d come.
Until this week. Until I read about that school bus monitor in upstate New York.
I know how she felt being bullied by a bunch of seventh-grade brats. Because I was, too.
It’s tough for me to write about because when I really stop to think about it, I feel the scar in my heart. Yes, at an age I never even fathomed at that age, I still feel pangs of humiliation.
When it happened to me, most kids wouldn’t dream of using the F word. Hell, they wouldn’t even use the word ass. Let alone the chilling insults and threats they lobbed at her.
But kids can still be so cruel at that age. No matter what decade.
In my case, it was typical tween stuff, in a middle-to-upper-class part of Nu Joisey near Bruce Springsteen’s early stomping grounds. Think Sopranos with more Jews.
We were middle-class. But my dad, a dry cleaner, was doing OK; and we had graduated to a split-level dream (at least for us) house with a big, paneled recreation room (that’s what they called family rooms in those days). Good times. My mom, a housewife, was thrilled with the heady chore of picking out the fixtures and the floor tiles.
I had longed to be in with the so-called popular kids (another expression from the Back In The Day glossary.) But I was shy, far from rich, and a knock-out for all the wrong reasons at that gawky age.
So my entree into the club was by the skin of my crooked teeth. It was pizza. A bunch of these kids agreed to my meek invite to a pizza par-tay at my house. I was beside myself. At age 12, this was as close as I’d ever get to being prom queen.
My mom and I set out the pizza, Coca-Cola, and my record-player just-so in said rec room. I was about to bust out of my skin with excitement as I decided on the music: Monkees, Beatles, and Four Seasons. It’s my party and I’ll kvell if I want to! (Those of a certain age will know what that means.)
Sadly, it was a disaster. Things got waaaay out of hand. There were pizza shards melded with sticky Coke (not that kind of coke) everywhere, and boys and girls were — gasp — making out. (See party scene from Sixteen Candles.)
Since I hadn’t been to many parties, I thought this was normal and smiled a lot. My parents were under strict orders from me not to come downstairs. It just wasn’t cool. Being the cool parents they were, they obeyed.
My father did enter the lion’s den once, to deliver more pizza. He’d seen enough, and was ready to pull the plug on the record player. He didn’t have to. Everybody cleared out, with barely a thank you.
My popularity cratered from there.
I had a best friend. I liked her so much, I hoped it would be BFF. When she become More Popular, she decided I was no longer suitable friend material and turned on me. That wasn’t enough; she enlisted others. Suddenly, kids I didn’t even know had it out for me. (See Mean Girls.)
They made fun of my hair — sometimes it got a tad oily and stringy. And one time, I had some hard-boiled egg stuck in my braces and didn’t realize it.
Today, I would have been allowed a Bad Hair Day. Or my ‘do wouldn’t even be noticed, in light of the gunk we all use now. As for the egg, a big faux pas for sure, but give me credit for not chewing with my mouth open. And in my book, a tongue or nose-piercing is much worse.
Boy, those twerps would have had a field day with this.
Anyway, one day, some of the cretins were taunting me in English class. The teacher, about as big as a mouse, squeaked at me to stand up. Pained, he removed a piece of paper that one of the dweebs sitting behind me had taped to my back. The message didn’t say Kick Me, but it was close.
I took to hiding in the girls’ bathroom during lunch. I suppose I ventured in to the cafeteria long enough to buy food and then left. Hard to remember; it’s a blur.
I was so ashamed, I never told anyone in authority. The English teacher obviously knew of my pain, but did nothing, as far as I could tell. And I never told my darling parents because I didn’t want to hurt them. Though my outspoken dad would have been right on it for sure, and probably not in a good way.
I confided slightly in my older brother, home from college. Told him that I though I adored English class, I felt uncomfortable contributing sometimes because my classmates would give me ‘tude (OK, not the phrase in those days.)
You have just as much right to speak up as anyone else, he said. So from then on, I just did, my courage fueled by his advice. Why didn’t my brother tell anyone? Guess I made so light of my predicament, there wasn’t much to tell.
Anyhoo, I ended up having a blast on the high school newspaper; wrote about my first trip abroad at 16 and was a star, at least in that circle. And never looked back.
OK, I did.
The first time was in my capacity as older sister. My little sis, the age I was when I was bullied — 12 — was sending Valentine’s Day cards to classmates. Told me she was leaving out a boy that everyone hated. When I asked why, she had no answer. I gave her a mild lecture without telling her why, and made sure that kid received a card — from me.
The second time was when I was watching one of my favorite movies of all time, Broadcast News.
Uber-nerdy Albert Brooks tries to ward off high school thugs by telling them, “You’ll never make any more than $19,000 a year, and I’m gonna see the whole damn world!”
They beat him up anyway, but he did see the world.
And so did I. So there.