Coming Clean: School Edition

The heart and mind are funny things. All this stirred up by the upcoming high school reunion, it wasn't until a few weeks ago that it really started to bother me. Knowing I had zero interest in attending I was caught off guard by how my body reacted to seeing photos of certain classmates. For me, most of the time I spent in school was fraught with angst and unease. Being different meant I was picked on more than most of the other kids. I was small, easy pickings. The only black kid in most of my classes. Painfully shy. This knee jerk reaction of sick stomach and serious anxiety wasn't something I expected.

My kindergarten teacher physically snatched me from my mothers car and called me stupid. My 'friends' in first grade took me into a backfield and whipped me with grass for fun. The principal told my parents I brought it on myself.

I took an old classmate out of my news feed and felt guilty because I like her. Some of my worst tormentors? Her friends. I literally couldn't stomach the sight of them. The worst part is that there was a moment where I did to myself what so many others have done to me over the years; I questioned the validity of what I was feeling.

Then I took a step back, gave myself a little shake and a gentle reminder: sometimes it was worse. I went to school with the same kids most of my life. Some of them picked on me through the entire 12 years of it. There was the time one of my classmates spread a rumor I didn't bathe because I said we didn't take baths but rather showers. A moment in math class when someone grabbed my hair and a pair of scissors. My teacher nearly weeping when he found out who my older sister was.

Or the time that the Mayor's son (!) and a buddy of his broke into my locker, stole my books and put them on the roof one rainy weekend. Even after the admitted it they weren't really punished. They got a slap on the wrist while my parents were informed that they would have to replace hundreds of dollars worth of books.

The vice-principal, a complete idiot of a man, told people that my father threatened to beat him up.What really happened was that my father demanded the boys in question be punished and made to pay for the books. He slammed his hand down on the desk and roared the way any angry father would "But they broke into my daughters locker!"

I can actually feel my blood pressure rising and I'm left with a vulnerability hangover.

I got teased about my name constantly. Teachers would mispronounce it on purpose and yell at me for not responding thus giving license for fellow students to get on me more. My hair was a constant source of torture because if it was curly it was too weird but if it was straight I was trying to be white. High school wasn't as bad as the rest of the years, but people still needed desperately to categorize me in ways that were just never funny. Token black girl anyone?

It's terrible for me to share. There has been a lot of shame for me around not fitting in, causing my parents so much trouble. My dad spent a lot of time at school. Most of my cousins were fairly popular and I'm convinced that's the real reason I survived high school.

Someone out there will say 'we all got teased, you teased people too, right?' Shamefully yes. Though I never broke into anyone's locker or whipped anyone with grass or put spiders in their hair, so you can see there are levels, right? Before you tell me to 'move on' or 'let it go', scroll right back up to the top and read it again. Knee jerk reaction. I was bullied by teachers but no one believed me. I was threatened on a regular basis. Someone once put a spider in my hair. This share is a multi layered thing. Not going to my reunion will raise questions from certain people and they will be directed here.  They may not understand how any of that felt, but it felt awful to the point that I spent many an afternoon hiding out in my room.

I want you to listen to your kids when they tell you someone is bullying them. I want you to step up. I want you to not ignore what they are saying. Because being bullied is really hard on the psyche long after you've grown up to be a fairly well adjusted adult. The heart is a fragile thing, like glass.

Most importantly, I want to be free of this. Feeling sick to my stomach when I see a twenty year old picture is not the way for me to live. Keeping quiet and never talking about it is the reason I do. I'm done with being quiet because somewhere someone else is suffering the way I did and that kid needs help. Now. Desperately. With any luck, they won't be alone for long because someone will step up. Step up.



  1. I am so proud of you for honoring yourself and not going to the reunion and for choosing to be friends with people who treat you well. Life is too short, my dear friend, to revisit unpleasant pasts or to spend time with unworthy people. Love to you.

    1. Heather, you are the best. Really. So glad to have you!!

  2. I hear you! My son has been bullied by teachers and it's so amazing how many principals will label their yelling as "passionate"...really? One principal suggested that my son's challenges might make him more sensitive...anything but face the facts. I speak up for my son and I'm so glad you're dad slammed his hand on that desk. i was bullied too. My sister stood up for me, and after a while I just got quiet. Good for you for deciding to take care of yourself!


    1. Jennifer, I am sorry about your son. It is amazing that the adults we trust to take good care of our kids often fail on so many levels. It is awesome that you stand up for him and that your sister stood up for you. So glad that you share your voice and I have heard it!