Surviving the Bully Brigade

This post is directed at those in school dealing with bullies and/or the parents and teachers of a child who is on the receiving end of the torment.

Middle School was literal hell for me. My Mom got a job in Atlanta and we moved here from a small town of about 1400 people in Nebraska. The schools were different. The people were different. Life was different. I was a fish out of water and just hoped that I could fit in.

On my first day in school, a girl came up to me within an hour of being there and asked me if I knew what a certain term was. The term was a sexual term and I had no clue the meaning of it. Small town life can be sheltering and freeing at the same time. I thought it meant stripping paint from an old car, and that’s what I said. Wrong answer. It didn’t take long for the conversation to be relayed throughout the class. And so began the hell that would follow me all year long.

It started off as words and I could ignore that. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I could weather this. I could make it though. However, it became more when the bullies upped their game. I remember sitting at a round table in one class and sadly, I was seated with the two main bullies. Out of nowhere, the one looked at me and said, “What did you say about my mama?” I looked up, surprised, because I had said nothing. Then he said it louder, enough that everyone, including the teacher could hear. The teacher came over, asked me what I had said? I told the truth that I had said nothing. So the teacher asked bully number 2 if I said something and bully number 2 corroborated bully number 1’s lie. I was sent to the principle where I got a talk on insulting other people. I was now in the Twilight Zone.

This type of thing continued in various classes and my fate was in the hands of teachers who could believe the mob or believe me. Why would they believe me? I was one against what amounted to 4 or 5 others and the rest of the students just remained silent. It would get worse.

When the insult game got tired, it became physical. Everyday was hell between classes. I had to get out of the class I was in and get to the class I was going to before I was cornered and the hitting and beating could take place. Every day was a gauntlet and during the colder months, I was glad the coat I was wearing was heavy and deflected the blows to some extent. I ended up wearing that into the warmer months as spring arrived. It was hot but it was necessary to soften the punches through the gauntlet. The teachers and even the principle asked why I would wear it and I would tell them the truth and they would call my Mom and tell her that I was lying. Nothing I said or did mattered because the mob had framed the narrative.

Throughout the year teachers kept hearing the “insult game” the bullies played and believed them. I was called in to the principles office several times and when asked what was going on, I responded that “I told you, you won’t believe me. You just believe them.” The principle called my Mom, told her I was bullying other kids. My homeroom teacher told my Mom that she wanted to quit teaching because she had never had an issue like this. The issue being me. How is that for laying it on thick to a kid that was on the receiving end of a nightmare every day?

Trust me, I know what being set up feels like. It does not feel good. The mob will turn everyone against you. I couldn’t wait for the school year to end because my Mom had bought a house and we would be moving to a new school system. I just wanted out of this nightmare.

I made it out alive and the new school system was better than the last, though there were still a few bullies there, they didn’t team up and attack like the bullies from before. I was able to make some friends in the new school too. Going to school wasn’t a constant torment every single day. I would never be in the “in” crowd but I had friends and acquaintances in various crowds.

The most eye opening thing in all of this was how the bullies had formed a mob and the people in charge believed the mob. The people that were supposed to be there to protect me from the bullies were just as bad as they were. They defended the mob because the mob had the greater voice. Kids being bullied often get into this situation where they can’t go to anyone because no one believes them. They are alone and that’s when a downward spiral begins.

I’m not going to lie, there were some bleak moments there where I didn’t know if I could make it through. If I had to go back to that same school system the next year, I don’t know how I would have navigated that. I looked ahead and hoped I could just make it to the end of the year. I had to have a finish line and a marker in my head that said, “You’ve made it.”

The problem is, when bullies get together, they defend and stick up for each other. The one being bullied has no evidence or proof to provide the teacher and the teacher thinks the group is telling the truth. The mob gets those in positions of power to go along with their narrative and before you know it, the one getting bullied has no friends and no one to turn to, even in a position of power.

Not long ago, there was a boy on the news who was being bullied and got into a a hallway fight between classes. He brought a knife to school to defend himself. Well, of course, he got into the most trouble and he was the one that all eyes looked at as the trouble maker because he brought the knife and pulled it, in order to keep the bullies at bay. I remember watching the video and seeing the look in that kids eyes and knowing exactly what he was going through. He was like a deer in the headlights. He wasn’t using that knife to attack or hurt anyone, just to defend himself from the daily beatings. Even worse for him was the fact that the news piled onto him for a couple of news cycles. I remember watching that and saying in my head, “It gets better, you just have to make it through.”

Henry Rollins (vocalist: Rollins Band and Black Flag) was on an MTV show about bullying in the 90’s and what he said stayed with me forever, I’ll paraphrase, “There are two roads that open up when being bullied and it is up to you to decide which road you choose. You can take the first road and let the bullying take you down, defeat you, and for the rest of your life you will see yourself as the victim or you can take the second road and push through it, and set yourself up as a fighter that will find greatness later on.” Those who choose the second road can come through the darkness and find success and greatness. When the world is against you, you have to make that decision for yourself because no one is going to help you otherwise.

I had to learn self reliance and that’s probably where I developed the loner streak and individualism that I possess. The point of all of this is that if you are being bullied, you can make it though. The Middle School years mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Bullying begins to fade out as High School comes into play. More important things show up in life and you will experience them as long as you make it through and realize that this time in life is just a tiny blip on the radar to what life has to offer. Don’t be a victim. Don’t let the victim mentality overcome you. Turn those dark feelings into something that can work for you and not only get you through but take you higher, focus on what you can do and what you will do (whether that be music, writing, art, or a hobby). You can make it.

For those who are teachers and parents, you must try and look beyond the mob narrative that the bully sets forth. If you want to help a child that is being bullied, you actually have to listen to what that child is saying. Don’t reinforce the bullies just because they defend each other’s stories. There are kids bullied into suicide because they can find no help, get no back up, and have already lost all hope. Those kids need someone to listen to them and back them up. You as a teacher or parent can do this. You just have to listen.


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