When I was in 2nd grade, I had two best friends. I trusted them completely when they said they liked me—I had no reason not to. Then one day, walking to school, I looked down to the sidewalk and found three horrible words written in chalk: I hate Natalie.
In the next square of sidewalk, it was written again. This time with my name spelled wrong: I hate Natilie. Over and over this was written down my entire path to school. Other kids walking stared at me as I tried not cry, and by the time I got to school all I wanted to do was crawl back home and hide forever. But worst of all? When I found my friends on the playground, they were with another girl. They were whispering and laughing as they looked at me.
That's when I knew it was them. That's when I learned that people can lie about liking you, and that is when I decided that lie was more painful than being alone.
After that, I stopped letting people in. What's strange is that the event was so traumatizing that I forgot it for many years—when I was about 16 or 17 I had to ask my mom if it really happened, because it suddenly came back to me all that time later. She told me it really did happen, and it hurt all over again.
But even though I forgot, the impact was still very clear. I had very few friends after that, and those that I did let in had to work for it. I didn't have a boyfriend until well after high school. I didn't trust any compliment or over-friendly person. In the back of my head, I took almost all kindness as a potential lie. Even from my family. Everyone must be lying—everyone must really hate me and they are just pretending.
Sadly, my friends today can tell you I still struggle with this. There are times when I honestly doubt they like me, when I have fits of paranoia that make me wonder if they are secretly plotting to cut me out. I hate this about myself, that I can pin all this worry on a single event of bullying. But this is the truth behind all the "Bullying is bad" rhetoric. It does hurt people, and the effects can be long lasting. They can stay with a person for their whole life, haunting them in the dark corners or late at night when doubt creeps in.
I try not to let these feelings rule my life. I fight back. But the hurt I've experienced as a child has shaped who I am. I am 28, but I still remember people asking where my horns were because I'm Mormon. I still remember boys snapping my bra straps. I especially can't forget people laughing in my face when I told them I was part Polynesian (Maori, grandma was from New Zealand I got all the recessive genes, okay?). And once even, I asked one of my bullies why he didn't like me. You know what he said?
"I hate you because you were born."
How that still cuts when I think too hard about it. There's nothing you can fix when someone hates you for existing. That is such a helpless feeling. It's a feeling no one should feel.
Kindness can heal. Standing up for someone means more than you can ever know. Bullies have shaped my life, but so have the few friends I let into my life. School was brutal for me much of the time, but I would come home and go straight to the Phan's house. Lam and Phung—they were a few years older than me but took me in like older sisters. I practically lived at their house, where I felt safe and happy. Their mother was from Vietnam and didn't speak any English, and yet she was so kind to me and always happy to see me. She taught me how to weave nets and crush spices in a mortar. Lam and Phung taught me that shriracha made all instant noodles taste better. I would sleep over there sometimes, crammed between them in one little room as their parakeets squawked all night. I loved it all.
Lam and Phung shaped my life, too. They made everything bad at school go away with relentless kindness. They gave me faith that not everyone in the world would hurt me. When we moved, I hated to leave them (this was long before email and Facebook). I still miss them, and I have no idea where they are now. But I still think of them often, about summer days spent in handmade hammocks, eating cold cucumbers with a spicy powder I still crave and can't make to save my life, and playing Mario Kart until my thumbs hurt.
Be kind. Be the person that heals the hurt. That's a much better way to be remembered by someone. Because people don't forget cruelty, but they also don't forget kindness. Especially when they need it most.
Amazingly awesome post, Natalie, and one that hits home.ReplyDelete
Great post, Natalie -- and that's no lie.ReplyDelete
This hits me in a big way, actually, because I've got a story similar to yours... except that I was 1 of those 2 mean little girls. :/ There's more to it than that, obviously, but I think I'll write my own post about it, rather than ramble in your comments section.
Anyway, I'm sorry that such an awful thing happened to Wee Natalie, but I'm glad that it led you to forming such strong friendships with Lam and Phung, and that you're bravely sharing your story now, and in doing so, contributing to the collective healing.
Beautiful, beautiful post.ReplyDelete
I am honored to be your friend, truly. And I always will be. :)ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing this.ReplyDelete
This one hits close to home; I think it hurts all the more when someone who we're supposed to be close to or count on is the one doing the damage. In my case, the emotional abuse comes from my sisters.
I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing. It hurts just reading about your experiences b/c I know exactly how you felt, how you sometimes still feel. It's amazing, and a little sad, how many people can relate, but this is why we need these posts. Thank you <3ReplyDelete
I'm glad to see how many authors have been speaking up for anti-bullying month. Your story sounds so similar to mine, and I know completely what you mean about never wholly regaining that confidence that you can trust that a person likes you. I still struggle with this, especially in the online age when it's so hard to read between the lines of an email (are her emails shorter/fewer because she's busy or because she's losing interest in me and wishes I'd stop writing?). So much of that foundation of hurt and distrust is laid in those vulnerable formative pre-teen years; and I'm not really sure what we as adults can do to fix it. At least we have a community of support from our peers we can draw from. Thanks for sharing, Natalie.ReplyDelete
A very powerful and painful story, Natalie. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
The one thing I remember from being around that age -- kids change on a dime. I never understood how quickly they can turn on each other, or why.
This a wonderful post. Thanks for being that person who tries to heal the hurts.ReplyDelete
Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience.ReplyDelete
Wow, 2nd grade? This was such a thoughtful and beautiful post and one I won't forget, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
My heart goes out to you. In reaching out, we all become stronger.ReplyDelete
Love you, my dear friend. :) Glad you're in my life.ReplyDelete
So true. I was also bullied at school. At church, though, I was in the "cool" group (we were pre-teens) so I didn't get bullied there, but I remember one girl who did. She was different, didn't pretend to fit in, and the girls were nasty-mean to her for standing out. I stood up for her. I played with her when the others wouldn't. And I really liked being with her because she always seemed so real. We ended up becoming close friends until I moved away.ReplyDelete
Like you and so many of your commenters, I went through this too. I'm glad all this is finally getting talked out.ReplyDelete
This is beautiful, and so are you!ReplyDelete
There's always a light in the darkness. And sometimes we have to be our own light, even if it hurts to realize that. But regardless, we are important. We are worthy of light.
Thank you so much for sharing. It's horrible what happened to you and sharing always takes guts. So many of us have such similar experiences. While I was never bullied, per say, I always felt like I didn't fit in, whether it was school, dance class, church; something about me was just an outsider. It's those few close friends or a kind word from someone unexpected that really makes the difference.ReplyDelete
Everyone needs a Lam and Phung. Or I suppose everyone needs to BE Lam and Phung.ReplyDelete
I've felt that fear, Natalie. For years I would even be afraid to approach my friends if I saw them across the concourse in college, or to call them up. I hope you get to see Lam and Phung again some day.ReplyDelete
My daughter got bullied a lot in second grade as well. It's amazing how young kids can be so cruel. I ended up moving daughter to another class halfway through the year because I worried this experience would also shape the rest of her life. She did much better in the next class, thanks to an extra kind teacher and a new set of friends.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you had Lam and Phung.
Fabulous post, Natalie! As I always say and drive into my own children, we can never know what the ripples are that we leave on others. (Whether that might be good or bad.) I too deal daily with the result of bullying and being made fun of, so I know how deep those wounds go. Just know that now you have a whole army of friends - TRUE friends - surrounding you. I'm lucky to have found you through the writing world. xoReplyDelete
I'm with you - and very timely. I've been dealing lately with the balance of being myself and being popular. I spent so much of my life being my weird, stand-out, outcast unpopular self that in the last few years I really wanted to be the hot, popular one for once in my life. But that seemed to require me not being myself as much. So now I'm going back to being the weirdo who got alienated alot, but hopefully I won't be as alienated. I've rarely felt that I belonged (ANYWHERE) and still don't (living in L.A. doesn't help). I had to call Christa Desir the other night to talk to someone else who was real, and different, and stand-out-, and honest, and herself, just to reassure myself that I wasn't alone in the world.ReplyDelete
It's broken, but we limp along and make beautiful things and find beauty anyway.
I was talked about by a group of quilters after I had left a retreat early. One of them told me in a very unkind way (publicly) and it has been a hurt ever since. I have pretty much stayed away from that group even though some of them have approached me. I am pleasant but will never trust them again. I have lots of other friends and a wonderful family. Life is good in so many ways. And I try not to let that horrible experience have power over my happiness now.ReplyDelete
I am so sorry that you had that experience when you were young and so much more vulnerable. Try to feel sorry for those girls who have to live with their actions and maybe even guilt. Hopefully they have learned to be kinder. I think some of the women involved in my situation feel really bad about it now and they have lost my friendship which they will never get back. Hugs and comfort to you!
Great conversation here!
I've been thinking about and remembering my own experiences with bullying. I recall trying to be friends with and nice to two girls who got made fun of for being different. I'm hoping I really was nice to them and not just wishing that I was the kind of kid who was. I've been remembering the boy who tormented me in Jr High and how I responded and dealt with that. And I am realizing just how poor my memory is. Great post - I know things that happen when we're kids stay with us.ReplyDelete
Bullying happens wherever you are & i'm sorry that happened to you as well, Natalie. I live in England and I got very badly bullied in my last year of school (I'd been bullied a bit on and off for years before that too). I didn't understand why it should happen & I ended up being so insecure about myself. I've only just learnt to let go of the hurt and learn to love myself again.ReplyDelete
Now I always try to stand up for others if they're being bullied because I know how it feels and no one should have to go through it. Unfortunately, this world isn't perfect and most people do experience this king of thing. But this is a great post.
You're part Maori? That is SO COOL. Now I have the urge to watch the All Blacks rugby team haka again... here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdMCAV6Yd0YReplyDelete