There was an article written recently (which I can’t find at the moment) and a piece on the news about a young guy from Riverview who has had to change schools because of bullying. It reminded me of my junior high school days. It’s not something I think of often, and when I come to think of it, I don’t think anyone I know today knows the kinds of things I went through back at Queen E. Here’s my own story.
I moved to Moncton in the summer of 1985 just before started grade 7. I was also very small for my age. At 3’11″, I was a very small kid. When my mom went to register me for school that year, the secretary actually thought I was being registered for first grade. When I walked into my home room, the teacher told me that I had the wrong class and that the first grade classes were downstairs. It was very clear that I was a bit small for my age.
The next couple of years proved to be some of the hardest “growing pains” I ever went through. For starters, my first year at Queen Elizabeth school proved to be a bit of a challenge. A lot of name calling, being made fun of, stuffed in garbage cans, hung inside lockers, pushed around, and generally treated like shit. I shied away from anything having to do with the people from school. In fact, the only friends I did have at that time were several years younger than me.
There were a few exceptions to that. Tony Bishop, a guy I became good friends with (whom my mom would always refer to as the potato guy since he ate 13 of them when he came with me to the cottage one weekend) since he was on the opposite side of the spectrum (he was something like 6 feet tall in my class), Chris Bhagan, Mike Mollins, and a few others were folks I hung out with. But junior high was pretty brutal. Grade 8 was probably the single worst year of my life. That was the year that “bullying” took on a whole new meaning.
It seemed that despite having been at the school for a year, the bullying got worse in grade 8. It actually all came down to one person: Steven Rooney
A friend of mine had come over to the house to show off his b-b gun. Steven was a local bully/punk and spotted my friend at the house. He came over and insisted that he be allowed to try the gun. He shot it at the Irving across the street at hit a guy’s bike. I don’t recall exactly what happened next but Steve got into trouble for it and blamed me. That then started the terror. I can’t count how many times I got beat up by him. I was so scared to leave the house or go to school because I didn’t want to get beaten up. I wouldn’t even go to the pool down the street because I was so scared of being beaten up.
At one point, I had decided to start carrying a steel whip I had found because I was scared of being beaten up and wanted something to defend myself. One day, biking home, I spotted a group of kids playing on my street. As I got closer, I realized who it was and tried to turn around. I remember quite clearly a kid named Brian Herman who grabbed my bike and wouldn’t let me go because he was trying to keep me around for Steven to talk to.
It ultimately came to Steven bullying me some more while the other kids laughed. He hit me a couple of times and as much as I had been taught to not hit or fight, I got mad, pulled out the steel whip, and hit him with it. This of course did nothing more than piss him off, and led to my having been beaten severely. He grabbed me, threw me to the ground and bashed my head against the side of the curb repeatedly. I screamed, put my hands to my head, and ran home as fast as I could. Blood poured down my face and rocks were embedded into my skin from having been beaten so hard. I got home and my mom took one look at me and got pretty pissed. I didn’t see what happened when she left the house, but all I know is she came back to the house still pissed, and she was going to try and find out where Steven lived.
The end result was Steven’s parents being shown first hand (within the hour) what their son had done to me and the very next day, Steven was as friendly as could be, and the bullying stopped. I never had an issue with him again. That did not however stop the permanent damage that happened to me that day, and through all of the other bullying I experienced during those years.
There were a few very important things that helped me get through grade 8. For starters, I did have friends who knew me and didn’t treat me like crap. I had a mom who loved me so much that she actually took on that bully herself, and won. She always told me that things will get better and to just try and find a way to work through it. I also found my first love in grade 8 so regardless of how many times I got beat up, I always had that to look forward to at school.
The following year wasn’t so bad. I got beaten up once by a guy named Paul Howe who got mad at me because I kept playing a video game at the arcade. When my classmates found out what he had done, many of the boys (thanks Jason, Vinnie, and Kerry) asked me if I wanted them to beat the crap out of him. I thanked them for the offer but declined because that wasn’t the type of person I was. As I recall, that was the last time I ever got bullied.
I’m 37 years old now and am happily married and have done pretty good for myself, but the sting of bullying lives with me to this day. As an adult, when someone cracks a joke at my expense at one of my eccentricities (we all have them), I can take it in good stride and know that it’s not meant to be harmful. But, every time it happens, I have to remind myself that it isn’t to be taken seriously. That it is just a joke. If I’m called a name “just in fun”, I know that it’s just camaraderie and not malicious, but there is still this tiny part of me that is stung each time it happens because it reminds me of what I endured as a kid. As an adult, I can deal with it and realize that it’s not the same, but it doesn’t change how bullying has affected me.
When I read about kids who take their own lives, or bring guns to school because of bullying, I have a very unique understanding of how they feel. They just want the bullying to stop. For some, that despair turns to anger and hence the reason why kids get shot. Look at me? I carried a steel chain. That could have easily been a gun given the right situation.
Today, I have no idea what happened to Steven Rooney or any of the other guys who had a hand in bullying me as a kid but I will never forget them and how they made me feel. It is a scar that lives with you forever and no matter how much time passes, it’s easy enough to remember what it made you feel like.
I can’t tell others what they should or should not do. I can tell you that for me, I simply turned to spending time at home, hanging out with the friends I did have, and talked to my mom (family) about the things that bothered me. I did a lot of writing in those days and I think in some ways that helped me get out some of the frustrations and feelings. But in the end, the truth is, you just have to find your own way to deal with it because eventually, it really does get better.
For me, it did. When I hit high school, I met new people and my life took a different direction. For others who experience it in high school, try something new. Find an outlet, a safe one, that let’s you channel the feelings you have, and don’t be afraid to tell people what’s happening. Bullying was a lot more “acceptable” when I was younger. Today there is a lot more awareness about it (even though it is still a serious problem) and all it takes is sharing it with the right people, and all of a sudden you’ve got a ton of people to support you and magically, the bullies disappear. So whether it’s talking to your friends or family, writing a story or a blog, playing sports, or having your mom kick a bully’s ass (ok, that last one is probably not such a good idea these days), find a way to let your anger and frustration out and just be patient. At some point or another, it really does get better.
I would however add one more thing… People can say “it gets better” all they want, but it doesn’t change how you feel right now. If right now you are being bullied, it’s kind of hard to think about how things will magically be better in a few years. You want to feel better now. So right now, in that moment of sadness, go talk to someone. Whether it’s IRL or online, get it OUT of your system NOW! Do not hold it in. If you can’t find someone, then write it out, or record a video of you talking to yourself and post it on Youtube or Facebook. Do something to get that sadness out and you will find that in no time flat, you won’t feel that sadness anymore. I wrote, talked to friends and family, and just acted plain silly when I could, and somehow, all of that together helped me make it through to the next day, and then next. You can too.