I went to five (five!) different elementary schools ’cause we moved a lot, so I was always the new girl, the nerd girl, the cross-eyed girl, the steals-my-solo girl, the outsider, the weirdo, the freak. Because I’d skipped a grade and was born in October, I was also the youngest.
But I thought if I could somehow be better, the other kids wouldn’t be so mean. I was so f*cking naive. Big brain, not a clue.
Recess was torture. The schools were small, and the herd mentality was well established. In dodgeball, I wasn’t a target. I was a piñata. Not only would I be chosen last for a team, but the team that wound up with me would simply sit down and go on strike. The other team would be furious and taunt me until I just tiptoed away, crying.
I was nine.
I tried to protect myself via isolation. I would lock myself in the music room at lunch and play piano (not allowed – go back outside). Eventually, the school locked the piano itself, and I begged them to give me the key. But being antisocial wasn’t healthy.
Yeah, well, neither was being around other kids.
I started bringing library books outside and read them standing wedged in a corner, back against both walls. A trio of boys ripped a book out of my hands and ran away with it. It showed up later, stuffed in a toilet.
They called me every name you can think of. But I was reading adult literature when they were stuck on Dr. Seuss, and my little brain was already whipping up sarcastic, caustic replies. The day I finally used one is the day they broke my spirit.
I’d been ordered out of the music room once again. I was wandering around outside, when a group of grade 7/8 kids followed me to the edge of the property line and trailed behind me, outlining to each other all the ways I should kill myself. Never to me, mind you, always to someone in the group, but loudly enough for me to know they wanted me to hear every word.
Tears streamed silently down my face, and I lost it. I turned around and told them all to go f*ck themselves, that their puny little minds could never comprehend what it meant to be a decent human being, that I’d be a famous singer one day and they’d be the ones removing the sh*t from my shoes.
And they laughed.
I ran back inside to find someone had decorated my desk while I was gone. There, in thick black permanent marker, in two different styles of handwriting, was this:
I HATE JANALYNNE!
And it didn’t matter how hard the teacher and I tried to remove it, it wouldn’t come off. It became my mantra, my social reinforcement, undeniable proof of my worthlessness. The ghostly remains stayed until I walked out at the end of June.
I was shamelessly needy and desperate for approval, and it shone like a neon sign. Popular kids would pretend to be my friends for a spell… and then publicly humiliate me. They used every insult and slur you can think of (and this was before the internet!), some so piercing and disgusting I had nightmares for weeks.
But something amazing happened when I got to high school. I was put in the enrichment program. The other kids in the program respected me for being smart… because they’d been bullied, too.
I joined the music program full throttle. Choir, concert band, jazz band, jazz choir, school musicals… and we *were* the weird ones. Most of us. We had our share of assholes, but for the most part we had more in common than not.
The more enriched classes I took, the more they were dominated by fellow nerds. Who else takes writer’s craft and looks forward to dangling their participles? Who sticks through five years of French and takes on grade 13 French literature? Who drops out of visual art and takes physics instead just to pass the time?
We were all outcasts. We were invisible. We were social rejects – and we were indivisible.
And outside of school, I had an online family (yes, a BBS counts as online. So does ICQ. Shut up). I only met a few of them in person, but one wound up being my roommate in college and another took my best friend to prom. Anonymity provides a lot of opportunities to be a total jackass, but often affords kids a chance to be honest, knowing that when they’ve had enough they can walk away.
Note: Anonymously, not via social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, texting, etc. have vulnerabilities that can exacerbate and facilitate bullying behaviour.
I know we all want our kids to be well-rounded. To build strength and character by overcoming adversity. To learn how to deal with interpersonal dynamics in the Real World.
But there is something to be said for encouraging immersion in whatever makes a kid happy. It is so much easier to find acceptance (and respect) when everyone has the same objectives:
Do this thing that makes me happy, escape the social pressure for a while, and get through this being a kid bullshit in one piece.