When I was twelve we moved to a tiny town in Indiana. Maybe it was my red hair. Maybe it was my strange southern accent. Maybe it was because I was dirt poor. I have no real idea. None of these things made me unlovable. None of these things made me dirty or bad. All of these things made me odd and therefore acceptable for others at my new school to hurt me. And they did everyday. It started with stares and names. It slowly progressed to kick me signs and kicks. I was pushed into walls and laughed at. Tripped on the stairs. Threatened. Hair pulled. Called curse names and ostracized. I sat alone at the lunch table. If I tried to sit at a table with students they would all get up and leave me there. My mother was horrified and tried to get the principal to do something. He never did. The school therapist would yell at me. Many teachers ignored it. I had one teacher proclaim in class that if everyone hated you it must be something about you that made them. Maybe they hated that I wore sweat clothes to school with patches sewed on them. Maybe they hated me because I lived in a trailer. Maybe they hated me because I wasn't from there. I had things stolen from me. And I tried so very hard to be liked.
I had one friend. She could only be my friend outside of school. To talk to me or even look at me in school would have made the abuse turn onto her and I was unwilling to let anyone else suffer like I did. I had two teachers that saved me. Small things they did that made me feel less unworthy. A female teacher started to sit with me during lunch. When kids would make fun of my mother's ten year old fur coat that I had to wear because we had no money to buy me a decent coat, she would say she had one just like it. The gym teacher on the last day of school was getting hugs from all of the girls. He said that he was surprised to be hugged by so many beautiful girls. I told him I wasn't very beautiful but I would give him a hug anyway. He got very upset and told me never to say I was not beautiful. I had no idea what he meant. Obviously I was not beautiful or talented. I was what everyone had said I was. Why else would they punish me so? At night I would leave my bedroom window slightly ajar. I hoped that Peter Pan was real and he would whisk me away to some place where I was accepted and loved. Peter Pan, by the way does not exist.
I lived in that hell for two years. I stood up for myself just once. The boy bullying me got mad at me and punched me as hard as he could in the stomach. Day in and day out knowing that I was going to suffer. That I was going to cry. That pain would be my constant companion. It was hard. It was wrong. I made a promise to myself to never treat anyone like that. I moved and found a better school and better friends. My mother got a decent job and I never had to wear patched up sweat clothes again. We didn't have much but it was much more than I had before.
What did I learn from this lesson? I learned that people can be so very cruel. That people can hurt you very deeply. I learned that the saying, sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me , is a lie. Words can be devastating. I learned that it was not me it was their closed minded mentality that I was not one of them. I learned to talk to the person sitting alone at the lunch table. I made many friends doing that. I learned that being poor is not a reason to be bullied. I learned that I am talented and that my gym teacher was right. I am beautiful. I also learned that I never have seen any of those horrid people since I have moved. That whatever they grew up to be they are not important to me. That I was more beautiful than they were and I still am. Beauty is in the way you treat others and I will never treat anyone like that. I teach my children to never make fun. I teach them to not only stand up for themselves but to also stand up for others. I teach them to sit with the lonely kid at the lunch table.