High school. So much to be said and yet it’s all the same isn’t it? We all had our traumas from it and our best moments from it, and we all look forward to the day when we’re no longer mortified by that one super embarrassing event we went through. Funny thing is: No one else remembers our high school experience as acutely as we do. They had their own story, their own soundtrack, and their own cast and crew. Needless to say, high school was a Motherfucker. Yes. I said it. It was an asshole. I left at 16 with the thought that I’d never ever want to go back. I’m still content with the course I chose. I tested out early, went to college early.
As I get older, though, I do look back sometimes and am in awe of how many life lessons I learned throughout my time there. We all hear about these bullying horror stories and a lot of us raise our hands and take the “I would NOT let that happen in front of me” stance. Sadly, that’s where it usually ends.
I had a lot of anger during my teen years. Oh god, the internal angst of a teen who did whatever she wanted! ARGH! I was actually really lucky in some ways (even if not in others, as previous posts can show). My parents knew that at the core I was a good kid so if I wanted to hang out until late, I got to. If I went to a friends house, they weren’t always nagging me. They knew I’d make logical choices based on the things I’d observed as consequences to friends and relatives who made BAD choices. That didn’t make me immune to the typical “I’m so misunderstood” phase of the teens. Sometimes, I wish I’d stepped out of my self-righteous rebellion and looked at the bigger picture.
See, I was not at all popular in High School. I had friends call me a social butterfly, but ask any of my previous schoolmates who I am, and they’d try to find me in the yearbook only to find “Picture Not Available.” because I skipped that day. Sue me, I hated yearbooks. Anyway, even without being popular, I wasn’t bothered much in my first high school. Until I started standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I don’t regret it, but I wonder if I should have handled it differently.
Whenever I hear a bullying story, I’m reminded of three different specific occasions in which the bullying at my first high school went to an extreme. The first time was the most heartwrenching for me. The next few weren’t as angering but they were still quite bad.
The very first time I witnessed bullying, I had just left my Art class and was headed towards my English class. Our school was separated by buildings and there were these sidewalk pathways leading to the doors of each one, with a sort of metal awning at the top. I had just gotten into the building where my English class was and walked in, when I saw these jocks, and I mean these BIG hulking guys, taunting a guy in a wheelchair. The guy in the wheelchair looked familiar, but since I usually hung out with the grunge and goth crowds, I didn’t know him by name. It did catch my attention that they were taking away his schoolbooks and backpack. It caught my attention that they were taunting a guy with no legs. A nice guy, by all appearances and few interactions with him. What happened next still makes me cry. They flipped his chair forward and threw it aside. In a panic to get away from them, this guy dragged himself by his hands out towards that rough sidewalk right outside, while someone laughing held the door open for him. The sidewalk scraped what was left of his legs and the entirety of his hands and arms, I later found out. The thing that to this day frustrates me, is that I let my rage take over. I was only like 5’2″ at the time and wasn’t fit, but when my anger took over, it raged out of control, and all I remember is repeatedly punching and clawing at some of these guys. I broke one of their noses. I only saw blood and kept wanting to hit him more. I wanted him to feel like everyone who had ever been hurt felt. Victimized. To this day, I wish I’d chosen to grab the wheelchair, find the hurt guy, and help HIM. I wish I had bothered to find out his name and be his friend instead of pummeling his enemies. Why? Because those jackasses, those assholes, wouldn’t remember any “lesson” I thought I was teaching them, but this guy might have remembered the kindness, and may have had just a little easier time in high school if I’d been wise enough to be a friend instead of a vigilante with a chip on her shoulder. The thing I regret most, is never finding out his name, never talking to him (because I didn’t see him again), and never extending a hand.
The second time, this sweet girl who I was sort of friends with was sobbing and came to me to tell me that the guy she had been dating told everyone he had slept with her and that she had an STD (which he hadn’t and she didn’t) to get back at her for not putting out. A ton of guys and even some girls were really laying into her, verbally abusing her, humiliating her. What made it worse was that she was this super quiet girl who never messed with anyone, and the people who were supposedly her friends weren’t even comforting her or sticking up for her. So I found the guy. He happened to be by a locker near mine. I asked him his side of the story and when he laughed and said she deserved it, I threw him against the locker and held him against it and made him confess the truth. Probably not so bad, until he told me that he’d do it again, in which case… well, I had a pair of jeans that I called my nosebleed jeans for a reason. I used to introduce my knee to peoples faces if they weren’t exactly kind. It’d be almost funny to joke that I was on a first name basis with some of my teachers and the principal of the school, except that it’s true, and it wasn’t as fun as it sounds. If it hadn’t of been for most of my grades, I probably would have been gone from the school long before that. Either way, the only thing that I really regret about that situation is that instead of helping her figure out how to stand up for herself in a way that worked for her and helped her take control of her own life, I took matters into my own hands and instead solved a temporary problem instead of helping her gain permanent strength.
As for the third time… well, I had a guy friend who was extremely effeminate and was always getting teased by the hicks in our school for being gay. He was this fluffy lovable guy who was way taller than me and was kinda chubby, but healthy for the most part and really kind at heart. On this day, I had the awesome idea to wear a really elaborate black dress, and went full on goth mode. It was great. I felt right in my own skin. These guys decided to shove my friend around a bit in front of me, calling him every unimaginative gay slur you can imagine. It was actually kind of pathetic considering our really great English program at that school. So I intervened, because my buddy was a more gentle and patient person than I was. Problem is, fighting anyone while wearing a dress is really messy, in spite of what they show you on tv. They slammed me against a vending machine and upon seeing a temporary tattoo I had above my breast area and near my shoulder, they decided to rip my top. Yep, right in the middle of the lunch area, they ripped my top and of course, most of my guy friends from English as a Second Language (which I had been in for 8th grade and 9th due to some messed up bigotry on behalf of our wonderful educators) got really mad and started over, which led to the hicks backing down, but not before making it clear they wouldn’t forget my “bravery”. That was when I learned that at times, throwing a fist is not as beneficial as using your wit. Had I not thrown a punch, and instead used some sarcasm, confused them a little bit, maybe made them feel a little dumb, they wouldn’t have ripped my top, hit me back, or later on caused problems for my Hispanic schoolmates (although that last one may have happened anyway. We will never know.). Point is, there’s always a bigger picture and a different alternative. There’s also a lot of different consequences.
While I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things I regret about how I handled those situations, I can certainly say one thing that I am never going to regret. I don’t regret that I stepped in. I don’t regret that I had good intentions. I don’t regret that I didn’t stay silent while someone else got hurt. I know a lot of people who regret standing by, though. I know many who still beat themselves up for not stepping up and helping someone who was on the verge of breaking. Those people who regret those things, sometimes can’t go back to say they’re sorry. Not even if they tried. Sometimes, when we don’t step in, the people getting hurt will do anything to stop that hurt, and that anything might just be the worst permanent thing you could never hope for.
In the end, consider your options, but most importantly, always ask yourself “What outcome can I live with for the rest of my life?” and base your choice on that. Can you really live, knowing you may have turned a blind eye to someone at the end of their rope?