Every seven minutes, a child is bullied on a school playground, with more than 85 percent of those instances occurring without any intervention.
Surveys from 2009 show that more than 100,000 children carry guns to school as a result of being bullied.
A child commits suicide directly because of bullying once every half hour, with 19,000 bullied children attempting suicide over one year.
It was the first day of fourth grade.
I was starting a new school, with new people, teachers, and expectations. Third grade was over, and I felt like I was finally beginning to grow up. The night before, with pride, I had set my new (well, not really new, but new to me) alarm clock for six o’clock sharp the next morning. But, of course, I was wide-awake much before that, too excited to get more than a few winks of sleep.
So, there I was, standing at the same bus stop I’d been “assigned” to since the first day of kindergarten. It was the same bus stop, just with different people.
More kids showed up as the lazy morning sun crept over the horizon. They were bigger kids; kids who swore, kids who played ball in the streets, kids who acted as if they owned the neighborhood. I cowered away from the new, scary kids. They, thankfully, said nothing to me then. For ten minutes, I stood at the curb, leaning so far into my enormous backpack that I thought I would disappear.
At 7:20, a puffing, yellow bus pulled up to the stop. It was a new bus—for me. Not for the scary kids. They fought to be first in line, while I hung back so as not to be noticed. They clambered up the colossal steps, pushing and shoving each other. I kept my distance, examining my new bus driver. She was a wrinkly wisp of a woman, her face permanently pulled into a scowl. I said nothing to her and sunk into the first available seat.
To my horror, there were more big kids to come. They were even bigger and scarier than the ones at my stop; they were huge, hulking eighth graders. I watched in awe as they made the kids who had scared me cower in fear. It was almost like a food chain; the eighth graders picked on the seventh graders, who picked on the sixth graders, and so on. And, on this first day of fourth grade, I was at the bottom of the chain.
I nearly sprung a leak when I heard a fifth grade boy say, “Hey” to me.
“…Hi,” I murmured back.
The boy grinned maliciously. “What’s your name?”
Some of the other boys sitting with him snickered to each other. The one that had spoken to me, the “alpha,” said, “Alright. We’ll call you Stevenie.”
And that was just the beginning.
The second day of school, I told myself that I’d make friends with these guys. How hard could it be? They were only a year ahead of me, after all.
Walking home that day, I caught up to the group. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” said the leader.
“Mind if I walk with you guys?”
He looked at his friends. “Of course not!” he exclaimed, swatting me on the back.
We began the walk home.
I didn’t pick up the obvious signs. When I was explaining (and demonstrating) how weirdly my teacher sneezed, I didn’t think twice about the lingering looks between the boys. When I asked to compare the heaviness of their backpacks with mine, I thought nothing of the reluctance in their voices. Let’s face it: I didn’t fit in with these guys, and they knew it.
The next day, the third day, everything was different. I thought I had become friends with these guys, but apparently they had something else in mind.
“Hey, Stevenie,” sneered one of the guys. That got some laughs.
I looked at them quizzically.
“You see?” the leading boy told his followers. “She answers to that. She’s like a dog.”
That’s when the name-calling began.
Loser. Dummy. Stupid. Coward. Dork. Idiot. Retard. Nobody. Moron. Loner. Geek. Dog.
I endured seemingly endless bus rides. Each day, I would sit near the boys. And, each day, I was shunned and ostracized.
Later on, the physical abuse began. Three new girls, Hispanic, moved into town. They were a vicious, merciless trio. And, within the first week of their arrival, they had teamed up with the fifth grade boys. I was ridiculed on a daily basis.
The oldest of the Hispanic girls hated me with a burning passion. Each day, a stream of Spanish obscenities would pour from her mouth, directed towards me, and her partners in crime would cackle away while I sat there, clueless.
I don’t know what I did to make my bus mates hate me so. The girls began surrounding me, their eyes filled with venom. Sometimes, they would kick my shins until I was forced to sit on my knees. They would sneak up behind me and pull my hair. And, soon, they got the boys involved, too.
My fellow fourth graders just watched as I was tormented every day, indifferent to my suffering. I walked home each day in tears as my bullies followed behind me at a distance, throwing rocks to see who could hit me the most.
I dove into writing for comfort. My diary seemed like the only thing I could confide in; not even my parents knew about the situation going on during the bus rides. I couldn’t tell—it would only just get worse.
But, one day during fifth grade, things took a turn for the better.
I was sitting in one of the back seats of the bus, laying low so I wouldn’t be noticed. But, of course, the boys didn’t pass up a chance to slice deeper into my heart with their words.
“What’re you reading, Stevenie?” taunted the boy who had started it all.
I hugged my book to my chest so they wouldn’t be able to see it.
“C’mon, lemme see it!” protested the boy.
I hesitated, but soon gave in. Reluctantly, I handed him my copy of Twilight.
He threw his head back and laughed when he saw what I was reading. “Of course! A love story! She’s such a loser, isn’t she, guys? What kind of dork reads about this?”
My chin quivered as I fought back tears.
The boy leaned over to hand the book back to me, but then purposefully knocked my water bottle to the ground. “Oops!” he said mockingly, watching it roll down the isle.
I was fed up. These boys had been picking on me since the beginning of fourth grade, and they needed a good talking to. “Why are you guys so mean to me?” I asked them, staring each in the eyes. “What did I ever do to you?”
The boys didn’t have an answer to this. Instead, they decided to go against what I was accusing them of being. “What are you talking about?” they asked incredulously. “We’re not mean to you! You’re our friend!”
I scoffed at this. “You’re everything but my friend!” I hissed, finally unleashing a year’s worth of pain and suffering into my voice. The boys just stared back at me, their mouths slightly open as they watched me fight back the tears that were so determined to roll over my eyelids at that moment.
“You guys are bullies!” I continued, my voice shaking. “Don’t you ever stop to think about how much you’re hurting someone? I didn’t do anything to you, but you still chose me to harass! And, right now, I’m giving you a chance to stop before I tell an adult!”
They looked at each other, guilt strapped to their faces. “Okay,” the first boy muttered after a while. “We won’t bother you anymore.”
And that was that.
Once the Hispanic girls figured out that the boys were leaving me alone, they backed off, too. Now, here I am, a scary eighth grader, free of bullies. And, to any victim of bullying out there reading this, I say this to you: Don’t try to take the easy way out by turning to suicide. Just fight through it; things will get better. I can’t tell you when, but I promise that they will. And don’t be afraid to tell an adult if you’re being harassed on a daily basis; bullying is a serious thing, and all cases should be reported. I know you’re strong enough to get through it.
Show those bullies who’s boss.
© Copyright 2017 Stephanie Smallshaw. All rights reserved.
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