(Originally posted May 18, 2011)
This past Saturday evening was the 30th Reunion of the Cullman High School class of 1981. It was never a question of whether or not I would attend…after the Epiphany that was the 20th Reunion a decade ago, I had signed on to be at the 30th months ago! Life sometimes has other plans. Such was the case of “The trip to Alabama that was never meant to be!” Beginning with my original travel date to Alabama being cancelled due to the devastating tornados on April 27 and the crazy feeling of not knowing what to do about anything that engulfed my brain post weather disaster left life in limbo.
So the 30th Reunion is living on through photographs and warm ‘I missed you’ messages from classmates. Receiving so many messages all including wishes that I could have made it to the big event, have surely been as heartwarming as the hugs that were missed! I still have trouble comprehending that I even wanted to attend my high school reunion. When I left the Cullman High School campus after receiving my diploma on May 22, 1981, the feeling of pure euphoria that washed over me was palpable. There have been few days filled with such overwhelming joy in my life as was the joy I felt in leaving high school. Possibly, for that reason, it makes the happiness felt in that moment all the more special. For those who might not know, High School was not a pleasant place for me. Where classmates were reveling in special friendships, I for the most part was alone. I had many acquaintances, but very few friends. Alone is a term that well-describes my social status on the school scene.
Beginning elementary school in Hanceville, Alabama was a pleasant place for learning. That is if learning to be Bullied is on the class agenda, and boy did I learn! From about 3rd grade on I became the source of repeated harassment and bullying at school. Day after day, week after week, school year after school year it continued…hateful name calling, anonymous mean-spirited notes slipped into my locker and between the pages of my textbooks. There were notes taped to my back, prank phone calls made to my home phone, laughing at me behind my back. But by far the worst…”blessed” with especially rosy cheeks, more than once I had someone come up to me and take a finger, rub it across my cheek, and say, “I just knew you had make-up or rouge on your face!” then laughing as they walked away. This was just one type of incident that I would endure over the months and years that was my experience of school.
Things truly reached a point where I contemplated suicide as the only way I could imagine to get away from the hell that greeted me each day. I began pilfering over the counter medicine from my parents medicine chest, with Sinutab being the mind numbing elixir I would take by the fours, fives, sixes in the morning before leaving for school. Drugging myself up at least provided the emotional numbing I craved. Had it not been for my parents providing a place of unconditional love for me at home, Sinutab would have only been the beginning of my ending. The love of my Mama and Daddy is what brought me through those days, and nothing more. Well, that and the fact that there was nothing stronger than Sinutab in the medicine cabinet!
The worst years in high school were my freshman and sophomore years, as might be expected. Upperclassmen flexing status–bringing another down was apparently the way to the top of the social strata. By my Junior year, when underclassmen were joining the bullying bandwagon, it just became insulting. It was not in my DNA to fight back. Taking the ‘high ground’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ sound like a noble path when faced with a personal attack. Bull shit. Besides not being in my nature to retaliate, standing up for myself was uncharted territory as well. I have never been a confrontational individual, and that trait remains with me even now.
During the spring of my Junior year, I began to get so tired of the constant, never-ending onslaught of demeaning comments and being the one singled out for ‘assault.’ Gradually, it began to reach a rolling boil. In more recent years, I have identified this time as the boiling over point–the point where the students at Columbine took out their rifles; the point where a bullied student at numerous school campuses across this country entered classrooms and opened fire. Thank the Lord above, that I chose another avenue to express the rage boiling inside my soul.
There is some insight I have gained by living through this that I must share with my readers. When you are the victim of bullying, enduring relentless verbal, physical or emotional attacks for months, even years at a time, that “boiling point” WILL be reached at some point. I mentioned the Columbine shootings above, as an event where the attackers had been victims of school bullies for years. When I heard the stories of how they had been treated by their peers and classmates, I could totally understand why they did what they did.
**PLEASE KNOW THAT I AM IN NO WAY CONDONING OR EXCUSING THE TERRIBLE ACTIONS OF THE TWO COLUMBINE ATTACKERS.**
But I DO understand why they did it. The pain endured through bullying by adolescents is so deep and the wounds can take years, even decades to fully heal. If they actually ever do heal.
I hope by pointing out that my ability to understand the motive behind the Columbine shootings is a result of the bullying I endured in school. The marks left on my soul and spirit were…are, as deep as the wounds of those who chose to use weapons.
Please allow me to share with you my boiling over point that was reached my Junior year. Although 31 years have passed, its details are as fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday.
It was late on a spring Sunday evening. Homework was looming, due on Monday in my third period English class. An oral report, summarizing a news article or topic of interest and was to be presented in front of the class each Monday. Every week I would present my report before the class, watching as several of those in the back of the room would mock and make fun of me while I struggled to endure my assignment to the end and return to my seat.
Sitting at our kitchen table searching for an report topic, my entire soul was churning and anger building with the weight of years of being the tormented. I honestly did not think I could take it one more day. Then, the perfect topic for my report was lying right in front of me: a news article about the upcoming Hurricane season. In that moment, I knew what I was going to do, because I was mad as HELL and I wasn’t going to take it ANYMORE!!
Here was my plan: when it was my turn to present my report, I would do just that, but when finished I was not going to sit down. This week there would be a ‘personal agenda’ item tacked on after the Hurricane report. Cullman High School didn’t know it, but Hurricane season was starting a bit early in 1980 with Hurricane Barry making landfall in third period English! I was going to tell them all off once and for all! I would call names, point fingers and let this class spread the word that the Police would be notified if there was ANY problem from that day on. By the time I had got the entire script in my head of how it was to play out, no doubt my blood pressure was approaching stroke level, full tilt! I remember that I couldn’t sleep at all that night, the adrenaline pumping faster than I ever dreamed possible.
The next morning I arrived at school about to explode from the nerves and apprehension of it all. In my Homeroom, the Art room, my seat was between two girls that I had only gotten to know that year, Micki Denney and Lisa Crawford. These girls had become good friends and I shared with them my plans for standing up for myself for the first time. I remember Micki and Lisa were most encouraging and supportive, something I desperately needed at that moment! It was only two periods until Hurricane landfall!
Then, the unthinkable happened. An announcement came over the loud speaker in the classroom. The voice said: “Third period classes will not be held today as everyone will be attending The National Honor Society in the school auditorium.”
THIS HAD TO BE A MISTAKE!! FINALLY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I WAS TAKING THE LEAP TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF!!
I WAS READY!!
NO THIRD PERIOD?!?
I sat there absolutely stunned, feeling the adrenaline draining from my body. Lisa and Micki looked almost as shocked as I did. They knew what a big step this was for me.
Adrenaline depleted, I sat through the assembly knowing that it would be yet another day until my life changing moment would take place. Similar to the Hurricane brewing off the coast before making landfall.
Actually, the delay was the intervening hand of God no doubt telling me to cool off and simmer down! Composure was the best attire for this performance.
Tuesday dawned much calmer than Monday, yet the resolve and determination were as focused as ever! Third period arrived, and before I knew it, it was time for the Hurricane season update, to be quickly followed by an insurmountable tidal surge….ME!
At the end of report, I stood tall, my entire body quivering. Voice focused to be concise and clear, eye contact deliberate.
Thirty one years passed, I can still recite word for word: “There is something I need to say now to some people in here who know who they are. I have come to school for the last time prepared to take the harassment and abuse I have been receiving every single day for years. It will stop today. If anyone continues to harass me in ANY way, I will not hesitate to report the names to the juvenile authorities for charges to be filed immediately. If there is anyone else you think might need to hear what I have told you today, be sure and let them know, because I mean business!”
You could have heard a pin drop as I was talking. Mouths were hanging open on folks sitting at the back of the room. Never in the years any of these people had known me had I took a stand like this. My entire body was trembling, and my feet were like jello as I walked back to my seat. For effect, I had managed to have my report fall at the end of class, so after I sat down third period was coming to an end.
After class, I walked over to my teacher, Mrs. Linton’s desk. I apologized to her for using my report time as a platform, but these were things that needed to be said. Mrs. Linton, usually a bit gruff, was so kind assuring me that it was quite all right and here are the words she said that shocked me: She said she had NO IDEA there was any problem at all. She had no idea.
As I walked away from Mrs. Linton’s desk, she returned my report paper to me. My grade: A+
Leaving English class, heading for American History, my next class was a short walk to the end of the hallway. As I arrived in American History, there was a buzz in the air. Faster than the speed of light, news had spread regarding my newfound backbone.
Can I say there was never another bullying problem? Of course not. However, I CAN say that there in my third period English class there was a line of sorts drawn on the asbestos floor tiles…a defining moment in my life that I still view as pivotal in my growth as a human being.
The damage had been done. Being harassed and abused verbally and emotionally, for years just about did me in.
I survived. Battered. Banged up. Broken. Then, just as I had been praying through tears for so very long…It Got Better.
It Got Better. I SURVIVED! I didn’t think I would. BUT I DID!
I SURVIVED. I SURVIVED! I SURVIVED!!!!!!!!!!! Now, I could LIVE! FINALLY!