by Alex Kaufman
This is the story of how I was bullied for four years. Now for those that are familiar with Mean Girls, you know that bullying in “girl world” is much different than in the animal world. It involves a lot of talking behind each other’s backs, spreading false rumors, and the dreaded “silent treatment” – all of which I was subject to throughout high school.
To put things into perspective, those that know me now would describe me as comfortable in my own skin, fairly outgoing, and entirely sarcastic. I’m very proud of the person that I’ve grown into, and grateful for the experiences that have made me this way. But you aren’t reading to hear about this version of myself.
In high school I was shy, a bit reserved, and far too concerned with what others thought about me for my own good. These teenage insecurities made me putty in the hands of one of my “friends” – who will be called Ana in this piece.
Ana and I had known each other for quite a few years through our youth group. We attended different middle schools, but we would soon be attending the same high school. I loved the idea that I would now get to see not only Ana, but my many other friends from youth group more than once or twice a week.
My relationship with Ana grew quickly, and the summer after freshman year, we were nearly inseparable – having weekly slumber parties and spending all day at the pool. I couldn’t wait for the school year to start, so we could continue building on this already flourishing friendship.
To my surprise (and I’m sure not yours) Ana was different once school started. She wouldn’t give me the time of day. She would physically pretend like I didn’t exist at school – turning away from me when I was in the middle of a sentence to talk with someone else, or looking right through me when we were standing in a group of friends. I was so hurt. Where had this friend whom I had spent so much time with gone?
I would mention times we had hung out when were with a big group of friends and she’d look at me like I was crazy; as if she had no idea what I was talking about. This mental game she played felt like psychological warfare to an impressionable young teenager, and yet I still stuck around. I felt like I needed her acknowledgement, her approval – because she so willingly gave it out to other friends.
Ana was fairly influential in our group of friends and would get them in on the joke, too. It seemed the only time she would actually address me in a conversation with others would be with a snarky comment or backhanded compliment. Soon others caught on and joined in, with that “group mentality” taking over. Ceaselessly, I was poked fun at. While the others in the group may not have been aware what they were doing, Ana seemed all too content that she had such great influence over a group of people.
I would come home from school angry, confused, and depressed. My mom noticed these characteristics, and I always brushed her aside. I was reassuring her, and myself, that I was fine. Meanwhile, I would hole up in my bedroom for hours thinking of ways to be less of a target.
This vicious cycle repeated itself for my entire high school career – all while I was pretending that I was enjoying my time with friends. Masking the truth. I thought about death a lot, about whether anyone would even really miss me if I were gone. It was a dark time for me, with the beacon of college as the light at the end of the tunnel. The ultimate escape.
With high school over and college plans bright, I was surprised to receive a letter from Ana in July on my birthday. The letter was an apology for how she treated me in high school. Tying up loose ends before headed to college. I was grateful, but that apology didn’t numb the way I felt for four years.
I went on to college with an unfaltering determination to be my own person, and not let someone else dictate this for me. Now, I should probably be saying that I’m thankful that I went through this experience, that it made me a better person. But I’m not going to.
Sure, I’m a better person because of what I’ve been through – but in no way am I thankful. Bullying is not something that people should have to go through, and while society may be seeing less of physical bullying, it’s psychological bullying that leaves scars too.
This invisible scar will forever be imprinted on my brain, as a constant reminder of my lowest point, of how bad it got – but mostly, of how I got through it.
While college life served as a distraction from all things Ana, it was finding myself, and who I was that helped heal me. Becoming comfortable with who I am as a person and not being afraid of what everyone thought helped me outgrow my shell of insecurity that had become oh-so cozy.
I will not give Ana any credit for having a hand in the person I have become today. It was all me.