I’m in seventh grade, and I’m the new kid. (If anyone else reading this was the new kid in seventh grade, you know what I’m talking about.) I’m also painfully insecure, and certain people can smell that a mile away. And unfortunately, there are a few kids in my class who belong to that group of “certain people”. We also call them bullies.
Every day, at lunch break, someone from the class has to go and pick up a crate full of individual size milk cartons, one for each kid. (Hey, it’s the nineties, and there’s no such thing as oat milk or individual food preferences. Kids drink cow’s milk to grow strong bones, and that’s that.)
The only thing is, these “certain” kids in my class have started throwing the milk cartons to the rest of the kids, as opposed to just handing it to them. And you’d better be fast. I’m not fast. I hate P.E., and I suck at playing ball. The bullies are very well aware of this, and they’ve turned it into a sport, throwing the milk carton at me, knowing that I won’t be able to catch it. Almost every day, I fumble and flinch and end up having to clean milk off the floor, with the other kids laughing at me. The teachers are nowhere to be seen.
Every day, as the clock in the class room strikes 11:30 AM and the lunch bell rings, I’m filled with absolute and crippling dread. I’ve started volunteering to go pick up the dang milk crate myself, to avoid the whole throwing ritual, but of course the bullies have also picked up on this, and rush out ahead of me to get it.
This goes on, every day, for months and months, and it’s just one of many ways the bullies are making my life miserable. I’m developing signs of PTSD. Whenever something comes flying towards me, whether it’s a ball, a milk carton, or even a bird or an insect, I flinch and yelp, and sometimes I burst into tears. The constant bullying has made me skittish, hyper-vigilant, and highly anxious.
School’s out for winter break, finally. I cry for joy as I get to go spend the holidays with my mother and older sister. My sister is otherwise away at college, and I miss her like crazy. Not only my best friend in the whole world, it appears she is also my only friend in the whole world. I reluctantly tell her what my life is currently like, and her face turns red with anger as she threatens to call every person in the school administration. I plead with her not to. Anyone who’s ever been bullied has felt this fear. If you tell, you get hell.
Instead, she grabs her least favorite Christmas gift from that year; a token gift from the cleaning agency she works for part time. It’s two cheap candle holders in a small box. “This is about the same size as a milk carton, right?” she says, weighing it in her hand. I’m totally confused. Then she raises her arm and says: “I’m gonna throw this to you from a yard away. If it breaks, I don’t care, and you don’t have to clean it up. Are you ready?” I nod. She slowly throws it, it’s barely even in the air, that’s how close she is standing… but I catch it. I almost cry with joy. “Throw it again!” I say, and she nods. She takes two steps back, looks at me, and throws. I catch it again.
For the rest of the winter break, whenever we’re at home, we’re throwing that box back and forth to each other, walking through the house, talking. It’s becoming second nature. Mind you, I have dropped it a few times, and the two candle holders inside the box now sound more like a percussion instrument as it comes flying towards me and my hand closes around it. But for each catch, I gain some ground. For each catch, my confidence grows the tiniest bit.
I’m back at school after break. It’s really the last place in the world I want to be, but I’m there, staring defiantly at the bullies as they eye me from the other side of the room. The first flying milk carton comes my way… and I catch it like a boss. The bullies stop mid-laugh, looking at each other with confused expressions on their faces. They stare at me, then they slowly walk away. A warm feeling spreads in my gut, and I feel the urge to laugh out loud, but I don’t. I’ve become a master at quiet survival.
Fast forward to a couple of decades later. No, I’m still not a fan of objects flying at my face. But I don’t have to be, cause I’m an adult now, and I’m not trapped in situations with deplorable people, and I’m not obliged to play stupid games if I don’t want to. I have no tolerance for bullying or mistreatment of kids, and that will never change.
So what’s the moral of this story? Maybe that bullying happens in very intricate and unexpected ways, and adults need to be more aware. Maybe that bullied kids need to be seen and heard and validated. Maybe that sometimes it just takes that one person in your life, the one who is always in your corner, to help you get through. Maybe all of the above. Let’s all keep our eyes open and show support wherever we can. It might be the brightest part of someone’s day. It might create some hope where there was none.