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What This Childhood Bully Didn’t Know About My Hidden Trauma

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

It was a Friday. I was in Latin class, in the center of the room and close to the front. Do they even teach Latin in schools anymore? I remember derivatives and Julius Caesar. I remember this kid who used to say “seizure” instead of “Caesar” but I can’t remember his name. I remember the girl who sat behind me with very blond hair and very straight bangs and very black eyes. Her name, I do remember. It was Jenny.

Back then, classroom laughter was rare, often forbidden. Now, I suppose every now and then a teacher would crack a corny joke, but even then, they were laughed at, not laughed with. It was a Friday. From behind me, I heard that laughter. The kind that needs to stay hidden, so it’s disguised with a fake cough or turned into a more concerning sound as it tries to escape through a plugged nose. Its consistency became distracting. I wanted to know what was funny. I usually kept my curiosity contained because the laughter came from behind. A head turn was an intrusion on somewhere I didn’t belong. But, its consistency became distracting and on that Friday I got bold and turned. When my eyes met Jenny’s, she sat still and smiled from ear to ear. That felt so freaking good.

I felt a bit silly for being afraid of the unknown for so long. But, I ate lunch that day with my shoulders back, not hunched. Butterflies danced as I anticipated telling my grampa about a really good day. I opened the door to the girls’ room and pushed straight through the scary smokers because I just had to see what confidence looked like on my face. The mirrored stare noticed something in my hair. Something was really in my hair, stuck like a piece of gum. It was a piece of gum.

Now, you see, insecure people always blame themselves for unfortunate events. It’s a terrible habit but we can’t help it. So, I wondered how I managed to let this happen. Chances were it wasn’t even mine and that grossed me out a bit. Was it on a chair? Was it in the hood of my jacket? Wait. I didn’t wear a jacket. My inner voice stopped the head spins by shouting, “Who cares? It’s a good day and just a tiny little wad.” I reached to tuck it away… and found 18 more. Yes, I counted.

I remember the feeling that came over me as I realized what the Latin laughter was about. I remember grampa telling me how beautiful I was on the ride home from the salon… with hair that touched my earlobes. That mirror in the girls’ room was a liar. My mind was a liar. Jenny was a liar.

It was a Friday. What Jenny didn’t know was that I tried to play sick that morning to avoid gym class. But I couldn’t lie to grampa, he thought I was perfect. What Jenny didn’t know was that I wasn’t a loser. I wasn’t a nerd. Only and lonely children sometimes have trouble socializing. Paying attention in class just simply passed the time. That and daydreaming about socializing.

It was a Friday. What Jenny didn’t know was that when others kissed the weekend, I was being kissed… against my will. You see, my mom had this boyfriend who lived in an apartment complex in West Seneca. No, it wasn’t him. It was his best friend’s son. He was older than the kids I was forced to socialize with during precious adult time. I remember thinking that hide and seek was supposed to be fun. I remember wishing over and over and over and over that we could play a different game.

I was always quiet on the rides back home. Mom never asked why. I wonder if I would have told her if she did. I wonder how many silent car rides were missed opportunities to avoid that future abusive relationship… the hidden self-harm. Triggers are nothing but unhealed wounds and I’ve become an expert at creating pain to escape it.

What Jenny didn’t know was that I was born into abandonment. While she thought I wasn’t worthy of long hair, the man who took part in my creation didn’t think I was worthy of a relationship. What Jenny didn’t know was that I already felt ugly. If she needed satisfaction from breaking someone, she had some more challenging options.

As time went on, I matured physically but deteriorated mentally. I could not shake off the Latin class moment because it stuck to my layers of trauma.

When I was able to control my environment, I vowed to be a better person. I vowed to protect my innocent children from anything that could ever hurt them. I vowed to be sure they always felt loved. But unwelcomed hands in my hair and on my body manifested into a bigger bully than Jenny ever was. Her name is depression. Depression is also a thief because my children never saw those vows. Instead, they saw a pill-popping poor decision-maker. On my daughter’s 14th birthday, I greeted her mid-day after being discharged from a 72-hour stay at Erie County Medical Center.

Don’t feel bad for me, my new friends. That day was the last layer. I crawled away from rock bottom on a path that I created… a path that I owned… not those who didn’t think I deserved a happy life. Along that path I found health. I found pride. I found forgiveness. I found my creativity.

Today, I am still the face of depression. I am the face that needs help. I am the face that gets help. And therefore, today I am the face of a good wife. I am the face of a good mother. My goodness, I am the face of an author! My friends, what are you the face of? Do you like it? Why? Why not?

I wrote my children’s book, “Treasures,” for my two who are now young, beautiful adults. It was my way of saying, “I’m sorry.” Through it, I share the power of appreciation. And though its simplicity is meant for younger audiences, its message is for everyone.

“Some treasures are dressed in ribbons and lace. Some treasures you could never replace.”

Pay attention here. There is nothing silly or embarrassing about what makes you happy. There is a reason we hang onto photographs, letters, stuffed animals.

“Some treasures sparkle. Some treasures shine. Some treasures are dirty some of the time.”

Pay attention here. No one is perfect… no one. A poor decision does not define you. Learn from it. Own it. Keep working on the beautiful future you deserve.

“Some treasures are gold. Some are brand new. Some make mistakes and cry when they’re blue.”

Pay attention here… You are allowed to have feelings and there are people in your circle who sincerely want to hear them.

You know what a treasure is? A treasure is New York State for being the first in our nation to mandate the teaching of mental health in schools. Though today I have accepted my past, I do wonder if things would have been different if I knew that during school hours there were adults and even peers who were willing to listen, to help, and most importantly care. I wonder if it would have helped to know back then that Jenny may have had issues of her own and that’s why she did things that hurt people for attention.

A treasure is every opportunity to tell the Sarahs of the world to stick up for themselves and the Jennys to think twice.

A treasure is today. A treasure is our air… our lives… our choices… our opportunities. If you take home one thing from my words, please let it be this:

Mental health is so much more than being sad. If you are angry, talk to someone. If you are confused, talk to someone. And if you ever feel unworthy, take that thought and step on it with a heavy, spiked boot.

A treasure is and will always be you.

Originally published: January 25, 2021
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