How My Bullies Reacted to My ‘Freak Accident’ In Middle School
As a child, I wasn’t a stranger to being bullied. Frankly, I cannot recall a time in my life from preschool through college when there wasn’t somebody picking on me for something. I was a shy, socially awkward child who was extremely serious… an adult in a child’s body, likely a product of being sexually abused and a parentified child. Kids thought I was weird. And as kids often do, they’ll find anything and everything to pick on when they determine that you are an easy target. My clothes weren’t fashionable enough; I was a little pudgy; I had glasses; I had a high forehead; I wasn’t naturally athletic; I was a teacher’s pet; I didn’t have any friends. The list went on and on.
At one point in the fifth grade, it had gotten so bad that I finally rebelled and got into a fight with a girl who had been relentlessly teasing me the entire school year. I tackled her to the ground and pulled her hair. Teachers broke up the fight and when they asked me why I did what I did, I told them about the bullying. I was given detention; the girl was not. I was sent to a “self-esteem camp” to deal with my “behavioral issues,” which was essentially a place where I was told that I should never fight back against bullies, I should simply ignore them and this would eventually stop their bullying. We all know how absurd that advice is. Needless to say, I learned my lesson well — “No matter what anyone says or does to terrorize you, don’t speak up because it’ll be your fault anyway.” This worldview was reinforced by what I was experiencing at home. “If you are sad, mad, or have any negative feeling, don’t say anything because it’ll just upset your mother and she can’t handle it.” So I learned silence, complacency, and obedience. They were my only options for survival both at home and at school.
In the seventh grade, a freak accident occurred that ended up changing my life forever. My grandmother and I had gone to the grocery store. As we always did, we were buying some Ocean Spray cranberry juice, which at the time only came in glass bottles. That day, all of the glass bottles of cranberry juice were stacked precariously in a pyramid along the end cap of one of the grocery aisles. When I went to grab one of the bottles off the top of the stack, the entire pyramid of glass bottles came tumbling down. Bottle after bottle of juice shattered into a million shards of glass, spilling juice all over the floor. As I tried to move out of the way to avoid the crashing bottles, I slipped in the juice and fell onto the broken glass. The glass punctured my right wrist right across my radial and ulnar arteries, the main arteries in your arm that supply blood to the forearm and hand. The wound began to bleed profusely, alarming the store management and prompting them to call an ambulance. As it turned out, the wound went deep, but did not puncture the artery, which could have been potentially fatal. They stitched up my wrist and wrapped it extensively with gauze to keep it clean.
The next day, I went to school and while I was still reeling from the trauma of the incident itself, I was met with a trauma that I neither expected nor could have prepared myself for: several of my classmates ganged up on me and started to accuse me of attempting to kill myself. They kept pointing at the bandage, laughing at me, insisting that I was suicidal like that was something amusing. I kept protesting that it wasn’t so, attempting to explain the story of what happened, but nobody believed me.
As I write this, I can feel the frustration, humiliation, and utter helplessness that I felt trying to stand up for myself. Then I remembered “self-esteem camp.” I knew that it was futile to argue. So, I resigned myself to just accepting the narrative that my classmates had decided was true… that I had tried to kill myself. Why not? It wasn’t far from the truth. I was miserable and felt lonely all the time. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn’t feel “normal” and there were very few people who would actually believe me anyway. For the approximately four weeks that it took to heal from that wound, I had to wear that gauze. For the rest of the school year that people could see the scar that had formed on my wrist, I would endure sideways glances — judging my character, my mental state, my sanity, and sizing me up as a “freak.”
That scar may have eventually faded to being almost imperceptible now, but the memory of how those kids reacted and of how it made me feel has lasted throughout my teens and into adulthood. The idea that I wasn’t good enough, that I was weird, that I didn’t belong, and that I didn’t deserve friends haunted me. I just assumed that nobody would like me because I was too different, and so I just avoided making friends. And the few friends that I did make, I somehow lost because I sabotaged the relationships for various reasons stemming from my deeply seated insecurities.
It has taken until my 40s to even begin to venture into the world of friendships. I just never thought I’d be worthy of them and frankly, I was terrified of rejection. The idea of trying and then having my vulnerability used against me made me feel like solitude was basically the only option I had. It has taken a lot of effort, courage, and encouragement from my therapist and husband to put myself out there and at least try. Thankfully, I’ve found over the last five years that the right people will not only like you, but they will also celebrate all of who you are. Your quirks, your idiosyncrasies, and your peccadillos. And no matter how hurt you may be, they will never make fun of your scars, external or internal, because that’s what real friends do.
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash