And I Took It

by V

via Flickr user pitzyper

This is something I really haven’t talked much about, not since I was in my brooding early and mid teens. And even then I don’t think I honestly ever delved very deeply into it.

When I was a kid, I was a follower and not a leader. Growing up I was not one of the In crowd. I wasn’t even belonging to one of the Outcast crowds. I had my own special form of Outcast crowd of which I was the only member. To this day, I don’t know why.

Most of my friends back then were only friends with me when it was convenient for them. In other words, when nobody else was around to see and when they were bored enough, I was good to be friends with and do things with.

I had one friend in particular, whom I’ll call P. She and I were best friends. Okay, let me rephrase this. She was my friend when it suited her, and I was so desperate to have someone to play with and hang out with that I generally took whatever she dished out at me. She and I first met when we were in first grade, and we remained “friends” until she was 13 and I was 14. 

She sometimes would invite me over when she had other friends over with her. But, this was not to share in a play date. Not really. This was because they were bored and they wanted me to be around to gang up on. And she would be right there in the middle of it, laughing about it, cheering them on, purposely lying right in front of me because she knew they either wouldn’t care or wouldn’t believe me if I said it was a lie, and she would actively participate in the name-calling and even (with certain friends of hers) hitting, grabbing, shoving, or pulling.

And I took it.

Why? Well, because I had such low self-esteem that I thought while I may not necessarily deserve what I was getting…it was the best I was going to get so I’d better just suck it up and take it. Because, otherwise there was loneliness and boredom in my future and…nothing else.

My mother disliked P, and so did my grandparents. But, none of them stopped me from associating with her, because it was my decision and I think they also knew that if she wasn’t around for me to play with then nobody would be around at all.

P had a sister, whom I will call R. R was younger than P and she had some sort of developmental disability. I don’t know what it was called, I don’t know what circumstances lead to her having it, although I think it was inherited through her mother’s line. P would often lie to her friends and tell them that I hated R and that I refused to let R play with us.

This was actually not true. I liked R, she was cute and sweet. P was the one that didn’t like to include her in our games, because R didn’t often understand what we were doing. I could’ve stood up and said that wasn’t right, I could’ve stood up for myself as well and said that I wasn’t going to hang out with a girl who so obviously only wanted a punching bag (whether verbal or physical). But, I didn’t want to take that risk. Because, I knew what it would mean if I didn’t let her continue as she was.

After a while, P even began to dictate whom I could and could not be friends with. If I even just spoke with a person that P didn’t like, she would shun me. P and I had a falling out in 7th grade and that was the end of our association with each other.

But, this was not just an isolated situation. This sort of thing did not just happen with P. She was simply the only one that lived close enough to take full advantage of what an easy mark I was.

At school, people would spread rumors, stupid rumors, which are laughable now but at the time they were quite offensive. Kids would spread rumors that I was a cannibal and that I was going around threatening to eat people. This also tied in to the way people picked on my weight. Which, when they started, was not a problem. But, I thought it was. After all, if your entire class tells you that you’re fat…well the whole class can’t be wrong, can they? Yes, they could. Or they could just be lying. But, I didn’t see it that way.

Later this expanded to the whole school. People that I did not know would come up to me in later grades, people who were in higher grades than I was. They obviously knew me, they knew me by sight and by name, and they would randomly walk by me, grin or smirk devilishly, and say something insulting. It might be a name, it might be something else. It might be a hand gesture. Who knew, it went on a case-by-case basis.

Boys would corner me in the hallway and hit me or kick me. Girls would spread nasty rumors right in front of me and smile while they were doing it, thinking they were so sly, and obviously hoping that I would say something about it, they probably already had a quip or excuse (and likely made up or twisted) to combat whatever I might say to them.

And I took it.

By this time, I was afraid that if I didn’t I’d just make an even bigger fool out of myself than they were already making me out to be. Instead, I was just making myself into a doormat. I was making it easier for them.

Instead of learning to stand up for myself, I withdrew into myself. I blamed everyone else for my problems, but I never thought to blame myself for making it so easy, for not even bothering to try to stand up to them, for being such a coward. I didn’t bother to try to take pride in who I was. I would hide my interests from people, afraid that they’d just be another thing for them to latch onto and make fun of me for.

Even though I was not at all overweight when the picking on my weight began (back in first grade), it became a problem later. I used to eat when I would get upset. Whether it was a coping mechanism or a self-sabotaging/self-injurious behavior that I wasn’t consciously aware of, I don’t know. This followed me into my very early twenties. At my heaviest, I was 283 lbs. I was having chest pains, dizzy spells, poor circulation, back trouble, and breathing problems.

I’m still overweight today, but I’m down in the 180 range. I happen to be short, so while this would be a good range for a girl of average height, its not quite ideal for me. I also have a large-frame bone structure, so I will never look like those Victoria’s Secret models. But, that’s okay. I don’t want to, that was never my goal. My goal is health. If I happen to gain a good figure in the process, well, I won’t lie…that’s a definite bonus.

The teasing and harassment at school, however, was terrible and I even quit school a year before I was legally able to (my mother felt so sorry for me she just told the school system I was being home schooled), because by then I was so depressed I was contemplating suicide and I would cry in the mornings and beg not to be forced to go to school. As soon as it got dark, I would start to get anxious and worried about the next day, because soon it would be time to sleep. And that meant I would lose the rest of those precious hours before morning that I was still free. I didn’t bother with school work, anyway. I learned that if I didn’t make eye contact and if I kept my eyes on my textbook or my worksheet, I wouldn’t be called on by the teacher to give an answer. I never knew the answer, so it was embarrassing to even have to say I didn’t know, let alone give the wrong one. The students would laugh or chuckle when I did, and none of the teachers ever told them not to do it.

That was the policy of my school’s staff. Don’t get involved unless you can’t avoid it. One time, in a hallway that echoed, right next to the office with the door wide open, all the boys turned around and barked at me. I walked down the hallway with my books, staring straight ahead and refusing to look at them, refusing to give them the satisfaction of seeing that it registered with me at all. Not only did none of the faculty members come to see what was going on (it was freaking loud out there!), but they didn’t even come out of the office and did their best not to come too close to the office door. You see, as I said, it was wide open. If they walked by, it would be difficult for them to pretend they didn’t notice something was going on.

These things are what came to a head when I was 15 and I just gave up and stopped going. I was so happy that my mother let me stop going. I’d even begun to have dreams shortly before that the school had closed down, or been destroyed, or that a law had changed and I didn’t have to go anymore. And then waking up would be so upsetting, I would feel trapped in an almost claustrophobic sort of way. All I could think about was if I could get out of going to school that day, and if so, how would I manage that? Generally, I didn’t, but I had my fair share of faking sick days. Or just crying my eyes out and begging my mother not to send me.

In fact, when my mother (who was divorced from my father) told me that she had a new boyfriend I remember just being relieved that she wasn’t telling me I had to go back to school. You see, she took me outside onto the deck that morning and said that she had something to tell me. I thought it was going to be, “You have to go back to school.” So, naturally, I was relieved beyond words when she said, instead, “I have a boyfriend.”

Finally, though, just a couple of years later, when I was 17, I decided to go back to school. I was able to take a test that allowed me to completely skip the grade I was in when I had stopped going, and even though I was 17 years old they put me in the freshman class. I was 15 when I had originally quit, a year older than most of my classmates at the time of that incident.

It was in high school that I finally grew a backbone. It was in high school that I finally put my foot down. It was in high school that I finally refused to let my self-esteem plummet any further and began to repair the damage done. The damage that, though what they had “done” to me was not right by any sense of the word, I had still allowed them to do. I took back my life.

I won’t lie. It was easier because the class I was in included students that I did not already know–who didn’t already know me. This time around it was easier to make friends. But, the students who had hurt me before were still there. They were just a couple of grades ahead, but they were still there. And we did intercept a few times. Before school, during lunch, and after school.

I remember a moment when I faltered. Two boys I’d gone to school with before had started up their teasing again, just like time had not passed at all, during lunch periods. It wasn’t easy to get away. The commons area was large, but it wasn’t that large.

I spent the next day at home, refusing to go to school, no matter how angry my mother got about it. She convinced me to call the school, though, and speak to a guidance counselor. I didn’t give my name, although I suspect they knew who I was. The day after that I did attend school again, and I went that morning into the Assistant Principal’s office and told him what was going on. I did this despite the fact that it might be considered taboo, especially at my, among my peers. I remember he didn’t seem to understand at first. He had this, “boys will be boys” attitude about it. But, I somehow managed to make him understand that this was not a situation like that and I was feeling very uncomfortable at school, that it was interfering with my education. And, that it was making me contemplate quitting again. I don’t know what it was that I said in particular that made him realize I was not just being dramatic, that I was being serious, but after that the teasing stopped. Only one of the boys kept at it, but it was severely toned down. I could handle that.

Despite the fact that I became a “tattle tale” for it, I had stood up for myself. And I had gotten results. And, that resonated with me. The situation was not hopeless. Something could be done, but nothing was going to get done unless I first took action myself.

I also learned that I actually liked school, once I wasn’t afraid to go. Learning was actually fun and interesting, even math, which I had always been terrible at before. What’s more, the more I learned, the smarter I felt. It wasn’t a pompous sort of feeling, it was a liberating feeling. I wasn’t stupid. And I was proving it. Freshman year I did get some C’s, but after that year I didn’t get below a B- in any class…especially math. That made me feel the best out of all of it, because math had always been like being tossed into a foreign country with no idea what the language there was, let alone how to speak it.

But, now? Now that I was able to relax and concentrate on what I was being taught? That changed. And with that came more self-confidence.

I spoke out more in class, I answered questions, I raised my hand to be called on, I was confident in the answers I gave and if I was wrong or if I didn’t know and was called on out of the blue, I didn’t sweat it. I wasn’t afraid anymore.

It was amazing to me. It was eye-opening. It was breath-takingly wonderful. I can’t really describe how freeing it was. And all because of a change of attitude. My parents had been right. Nobody was going to like me if I didn’t first like myself. Nobody was going to respect me if I did not first respect myself. And nothing will ever change if we do not take that first step forward to change them ourselves.

I finally found happiness within myself and the courage to expect more out of myself as a woman and as a person. And all it took was one decision to take that first step forward and say that I was not going to take it anymore.

How does this tie in with women’s issues? Well, too many women today are still afraid to say anything. Some women live in societies where they can’t say anything. I’m lucky that my society allows me to say something. It wasn’t really all that long ago that it didn’t. If it were still like that here…then it really would’ve been impossible for me to help myself. And that thought makes me shudder. I wasn’t weak because I complained and asked for help. I was weak before that, when I spent my time turning my frustration and anger inward and running away from problems. Women have the right in this society to stand up for themselves. And, damn it…I’m going to continue to exercise that right.

4 Comments to “And I Took It”

  1. Looking back at my own school years, I can relate to how you felt, though it probably wasn’t to the same degree. I was sort of an outcast myself and had friends that were only friends when it was convientent for them. I know all about rumors and stares and comments and teasing and the likes as well. Mine weren’t about my weight, but about my sexuality, but it doesn’t mean it hurts any less. I remember staring at the floor as I would go from class to class in high school just hoping no one would see me. I would dread every morning as I waited for the bus because that would be when it all started. I also thought about suicide or about the school suddenly bursting into flames so I wouldn’t have to go. My family though wouldn’t let me drop out so I had to find another way to deal with it.

    It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I broke down in front of one of my teachers that things really started to turn around for me. I also went to a guidance counselor who gave me the same attitude until I got her to understand the extremity of the situation and what it was doing to me.

    Luckily I soon met people both in the real world and online that I could talk to and still to this day consider true friends. Having them helped with my own low self-esteem issues and helped me to find peace with myself. I stopped caring and listening to what everyone else was saying about me and slowly began to recover and stand up for myself. And life turned itself around.

    So what I’m trying to say I guess, is that I understand, and I’m really glad that things turned around for you. And I hope that all young girls who feel the same way now can learn to stand up for themselves as well.

    • I certainly agree, I hope for the same thing when it comes to other young girls in similar or worse situations than ours. I’m really glad that things turned around for you, too, and that things worked out. 🙂 Thank you for commenting and thanks for sharing this here! 🙂 It means a lot. *HUG*

  2. V, this is really beautiful. What I love most about it is how you took responsibility for what happened to you instead of becoming a victim. It is such an important lesson and most people do not ever learn it.

    Brava!

    • Thank you. 🙂 I don’t really like playing the victim. If something is happening to me and its contributed to on my own part, then I need to face it and change it.

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