Names have been changed.
Middle school was the worst period of my life because of bullying. I was awkward, antisocial, and shy. I liked nerdy things like video games, anime, and comic books. I didn’t dress like most kids in school, and I had wild, untamed hair that was thick and messy.
I did find a small friend group, though, and we were tight-knit. I first met Kiara in 6th grade. She was reserved and slept in class. She let me borrow her markers, and I liked how nice she was. She was quiet, but carefree, and easy to talk to once she opened up to me.
Aubry, who I met in 7th grade, was loud and funny and lively. I liked her boisterous energy. The next year I met Rylie, who was eccentric and chatty. I could listen to her without having to respond, which I enjoyed because I’m an introvert. April was the last to join our clique. She was kind and shy; we bonded over our interests, primarily anime.
The five of us liked and accepted each other, but in 8th grade, we realized we didn’t fit in with the popular kids. We were more reclusive, and we didn’t dress like everyone else. Even Rylie and Aubry were sociable and animated only within the confines of our group.
The popular kids were well put together with nice clothes, and they seemed wealthier. They were beginning to smoke juuls, skip school, and date their classmates. They seemed to have themselves figured out. I was nothing like that, and I didn’t comprehend how they’d grown up so fast while the five of us struggled with the changes of adolescence.
We Became Targets
Unfortunately, a small group of popular kids liked to bully the five of us. It started off with a taunting remark here and there, which we dismissed as just jokes, no big deal. But then it escalated into our bullies bluntly making fun of our appearance or how quiet we were. They stole our MetroCards and other small belongings. They saw our silence as a pass to escalate their cruelty.
The core group of four or five bullies, mostly boys, insulted us every time we were in the same space, so we avoided classrooms and lunchrooms. To escape being in class with the bullies, I would walk around school pretending that I was going to the bathroom. They’d managed to push us into a corner, socially.
I was absent 19 times in 8th grade. Sometimes, I’d skip school with Kiara and we would linger around the nearby stores. My parents didn’t notice, and I never told them about the bullies.
The bullies called me “weird” and often cursed at me. I hated it so much that I have mentally blocked out most of the insults spewed in my direction. For that I’m thankful, because I do remember that the bullies’ words sat in my head constantly. They weighed me down and made me mad at everything.
As a group, we never spoke about the bullying. It was so overwhelming or scary that we refused to acknowledge it, as if we could wish it away. Now I see how that refusal to talk about what was going on led to the next chapter, one I’m not proud of.
Turning My Anger Outwards
I was angry, and by the middle of 8th grade, I needed to direct my displeasure at someone else. I chose Aubry as my target. She seemed like the easiest target: Whenever people teased her, she almost never defended herself.
Bullying comes in many forms, and I chose exclusion rather than fighting or insulting Aubry. I’d pretend I didn’t hear her when she spoke. I’d stop waiting for her when she fell behind us while we walked along the halls. I stopped laughing at her jokes.
My friends caught on and did the same. I didn’t think of it as bullying for a long time. I refused to admit the cruelty of my actions. I held onto the feeling that hurting and excluding Aubry was my only way out of my misery. It felt like relief, but also sickening, knowing that someone else’s pain made me feel better.
One horrible day, I was particularly rude and impatient with her. Eventually, Aubry asked if I was OK, and I just couldn’t hold my tongue.
I stared at her, my gaze unwavering, hands forming fists. I called her stupid for asking such a thing, the first time I’d insulted her to her face.
She blinked at me slowly through the frames of her glasses. In a wobbly voice, I said that I was joking. I was trying to tell her that I didn’t mean it.
Aubry didn’t say anything. Her expression was unreadable. Overwhelmed, I hurried away from her toward our next class.
Pushed Out of the Group
Aubry pulled away from us after that, and she was alone. We four had each other, and she had to scramble to find new friends. Cliques had been established, and there were no slots for her. At first, I watched her scramble to find a group that’d welcome her, which made me feel guilty. So I turned away from observing her in an attempt to emotionally distance myself.
Soon, the bullies eased up on us because of how we were excluding Aubry. They picked on her more than us.
Despite this, I found myself continuing to turn my anger on Aubry, not the bullies. I continued being rude to Aubry, out of fear that if I let her be my friend again, it’d all go back to the way it was before. Mistreating her was like my shield, protecting me from the bullies and guarding my weaknesses.
When graduation day finally arrived, I was incredibly happy. After a year of being on edge, at last I’d be away from the bullies. I was going to a high school where none of the bullies went. They’d be just a bad memory that I’d forget as time went on.
Summer passed by quickly. I spent most of the time travelling with my family. Kiara moved to Buffalo, and then our group faded away. I didn’t really know how to feel about it. Because we’d bonded in such toxic circumstances, I chose to look forward to 9th grade instead of dwelling on the past.
From Anger to Reflection
When I began high school, I was alone and scared that I’d be bullied again. I tried to dress and act like everyone else so that I’d blend in.
It was tiring to put on a more extroverted front, but it worked, and I made friends in every class. I wasn’t being made fun of anymore. With no bullies, I had no reason to be so angry, and over time I relaxed.
As I matured and got a better grasp on why I was feeling the way I did back in 8th grade, I began to understand why I was mean to Aubry. Once I processed what I’d done to her, guilt set in.
I refused to let myself be vulnerable back then because I believed that showing emotions was weak. I lashed out at Aubry, I think, because I believed that channeling my vulnerability into anger and meanness would transfer my hurt from the bullying onto her. I channeled my fear and gloom into snide remarks and insults.
Now, I push myself to communicate my fears and insecurities to a friend, family member, or therapist. I saw what happened to me when I didn’t, and I don’t want to ever be a bully again.
The first person I opened up to was my best friend, Willow, in 9th grade. When I told her about everything, she understood. She told me she was bullied too. By talking to someone else about the bullying, for the first time, I began to see that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t weak for expressing how much it hurt.
In hindsight, I feel horrible about how I excluded Aubry. If I could talk to her now, I’d admit I was hurting, and that targeting someone felt like my only escape from my pain. I would apologize and let her know that she never deserved to be excluded and mistreated.
Bullies thrive when their victims are voiceless and susceptible to silence. Even if it’s impossible to stand up to them, don’t let them silence you. Tell someone how you feel. And as much as possible, be yourself, try to be OK with who you are.