For our first Christmas together, my dad gave me a pair of bubblegum pink pajamas and matching fuzzy slippers that read as follows:
Who knew however, that in a twisted turn of fate, three years later, boys would still be stupid but I wouldn’t be the one throwing rocks at them. They would be the ones throwing them at me.
In the eighth grade my dad finally forced me to take the bus to middle school. Gone were the days of him driving me in each day and picking me up. My chauffer was quitting.
The biggest reason that I never wanted to take the bus until then was because of the wait at the bus stop. I was too afraid to stand there with a bunch of kids I didn’t know—especially since I was new to the school district. They had known each other their whole lives and I had no idea who they were. I didn’t know if they were friendly or nasty or if they’d ask me the standard list of questions: “Are you new here?” “Where’d ya go to school before this?” “Why’d ya move?” And no matter how many times I imagined it, they’d always be smacking their gum when asking these questions.
Simply put, I was intimidated. I saw them every day standing at the corner when my dad would drive past them to take me to school. They were a motley crew composed of an athletic brother and sister—who, I was convinced would be able to smell my unathleticism from a mile away— one tall and lanky European boy and his physically opposite short, round, Hispanic friend, and the “cool” kids, one who dressed in baggy pants with a backwards hat on with a cigarette permanently hanging out of his mouth and the other who kind of looked like Kurt Cobain if you squinted really hard. The athletes intimidated me, the two international kids confused me, but the “cool” kids scared the living daylights out of my thirteen-year old self. I was still watching the Disney Channel. They were probably watching porn.
Standing at the bus stop was like asking a tiny goldfish with a broken fin (ME) to enter the shark tank (THEM). But my dad loved me so much that he forced me to do it anyway.
So on the first day of school I was petrified to stand outside by myself amongst these kids. Fear pulsed through my veins as I said goodbye to my dad, gave another half-hearted attempt at putting up a fight to be driven to school—only to fail, of course—and pulled open my front door to see them all standing there. It was like they were waiting for me.
I put my headphones in and blasted really loud, angry music. I wanted to appear as tough as possible, even if I was wearing a messenger bag and a corduroy jacket.
As I slowly shuffled toward the corner, I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I said silent prayers to the school bus Gods that the bus would arrive early and save me from my misery. But as I stood there, time ticked away and the bus was still not arriving. With each minute that passed, I felt as though I could feel all of the crew’s eyes poring deeper and deeper into my soul. My chest felt tighter and tighter and I thought I might die from lack of oxygen.
After a merciless ten minute wait–which in retrospect is only about three and a half songs long–the bus finally arrived; relief washed over me and I hurried on the bus, lucky enough to find a seat all to myself. Finally, I could breathe easier knowing I had made it over the first hurdle—even if it was by a shoelace.
As the year went on, I got a little more used to standing at the bus stop. I had it down to a science. If I left at exactly 7:24 I could be the first one at the bus stop and be assured that 1) I would never miss the bus and 2) I would never have to walk toward the group of people that scared me so much. I would never have to see who I was keeping company with and could pretend like they didn’t exist as long as I didn’t turn my head. I kept my headphones in at all times and never said a word to anyone. I had my own spot where I stood each day and no one dared to encroach on my territory. We each designated our own places to stand–kind of like how dogs pee on hydrants to claim their territory–except we didn’t pee, we just became creatures of habit.
One day in the middle of winter, I walked out to the bus stop. I was the first one there as usual. The wind was howling around my head and with each gust I felt my organs huddle closer together within my core in an attempt to preserve life. I had whipped my head around to escape the wind’s bite and unfortunately caught sight of my company. No athletes or international friends today. Just me and the two “cool” kids (read: terrifyingly-dangerous-scary-and-much-bigger-than-me boys that could probably snap me in half if they wanted).
An overwhelming wave of panic washed over me. I was all alone with the two guys I was most afraid of in the world. Well, maybe the idea of Osama Bin Laden scared me a little bit more, but he was a distant fear. This was immediate.
Just like the first day of school the bus was late. Of course it was just my luck that the morning I feared for my life my rescue vehicle was running late. (I really shouldn’t have been surprised.) Each minute felt as if it was stretching on for days and even though I had my headphones in and my music was blasting I could still hear the boys’ voices. I didn’t know what they were saying, but then again, I didn’t want to.
All of a sudden, I heard one of them spit. And then I heard their shuffled feet. Frozen—from the cold and pure terror—I didn’t even turn my head to see what they were doing. But I didn’t have to. Because all of a sudden, I felt something hit my backpack. And then something hit my leg. And then a few more things hit the pavement around me.
Tiny, little stones.
I was extremely confused. Were they actually…stoning me? What was this, 400 B.C.E? I was certain I had imagined it. But I was too afraid to turn around to even confront them. And so I just stood there, turning my music louder and louder until suddenly, the bus turned down our street. Slowly, slowly, slowly it rolled its way toward my corner. It stopped in front of me and I rushed on, sat down, and bit my lip to keep from crying.
When I got home that day I wasn’t sure how to tell my dad that his one and only intelligent, talented—and at times, wacky (read: beloved)–daughter had essentially been stoned at the bus stop–NO THANKS TO HIM–so I tried to ease it into casual conversation. I didn’t want him to totally drown in his own guilt. Because if he hadn’t made me take the bus, this never would have happened.
I don’t remember his exact reaction to the news, though. Probably because it was very angry and heated. But I do know that the next day when I found myself alone with the two boys again and little stones landed at my feet, instead of being petrified, I imagined taking my dad’s old hockey stick out with me the next day and beating the boys over their heads asking if they “really wanted to mess with me?!?!” It was a crazy—and somewhat violent—fantasy but it got me through the ten minute wait for the bus.
When I got to school I immediately went to the main office and reported what had happened. I didn’t care if I was a tattletale or a loser/geek/orchestra nerd/wimp. I just didn’t want any more rocks thrown at me.
The next day, when I stood at the bus stop the athletic siblings and international friends had returned. I felt less intimidated by them than usual simply by knowing that there was safety in numbers and the two boys that had harassed me would be less likely to do it or confront me about it in front of other people.
I don’t know if the boys who harassed me ever got in trouble for what they did to me. No one at school called me in to talk about what happened. But maybe they did get talked to because I do know that it never happened again.
After that year, I never had to stand with those boys again. I heard rumors that the one that resembled Kurt Cobain ended up in Juvee and I don’t remember what ever happened to backwards-hat kid.
But I was lucky. Although this was definitely a really weird, atypical, and twisted way of bullying someone and made me feel mortified, in a lot of ways it was nothing compared to the verbal harassment a lot of kids face each day in the halls at school or even in their homes. They get teased mercilessly and called names and with cyber bullying they can be attacked even over the Internet. If there’s one thing I learned from my experience, it’s that no matter how small the incident may seem, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and especially fearful, you have to speak up. Even if you’re afraid, it’s worse to stay silent. Bullies may seem strong and tough because they aren’t afraid to say and do some ugly things, but don’t forget, you have a voice too. And you can’t be afraid to use it.