From The Garden of My Mind

Cool kids don’t get bullied.
That’s the conclusion I have come up with after taking anti-bullying training, watching videos, reading studies on bullying, and even my own personal research online.  According to pretty much everything I have seen, read, and heard, cool, popular kids do not get bullied.  

So if you yourself or for parents if your son, daughter, or loved one are popular, whether it’s playing on a sports team, being invited to all the cool events,  hanging out with other “cool kids”, have hundreds of friend requests, are being retweeted more than Justin Beiber then you need not to worry about being plagued by this bullying epidemic that has gripped out country and our children.  However please indulge me for a minute and read on.

From what I have learned kids who have a problem with bullying have the following characteristics: Passive, submissive, weak, quiet, sensitive, cry easily, and have few or no friends…

The reason most kids get bullied:

Clothing, lifestyle, sexual preference, the way they talk, where they are from, religion, race, looks, economic class, lack of physical abilities…

Now, obviously those are not all the reasons but that’s a pretty good list I think and we could agree that most of the images we have of kids who are being bullied fit the above mentioned characteristics.

So again, if you are ‘cool’ you probably do not fit any of that criteria so ::whew:: you’re safe!  But let’s continue with a little game.

I will give a brief description of a student I knew and I want you to decide whether you think he was a “cool kid” or one who got bullied and why.  (If it doesn’t make sense don’t worry we’ll get there.)  

To make it easier I will be pretty specific and we’ll call him Johnny:

Johnny :

  • From an upper middle class family
  • Lives in a nice house
  • Drives a brand new car
  • Intelligent
  • Dates a COLLEGE girl
  • Many friends
  • Nice, trendy clothes
  • Captain of the varsity basketball team
  • Senior poll winner, “Class Flirt”

Ok so what is it?  Cool kid or bullied?  Pretty clear cut easy choice right?

But what if I told you this Johnny was bullied relentlessly?  What if I told you this wasn’t just any kid but this was me?  Kind of throws a wrench at the definition of who we typically think gets bullied doesn’t it?

Too be honest, I never really thought of what I experienced as being bullied either, but I KNEW it wasn’t kids just ‘having fun and joking around’ though, I could just feel the difference, I could feel the hate and rage directed at me.  I also thought it wasn’t bullying because everything I had ever learned as a kid about bullying contradicted my situation.  But looking back on it, I was the victim of bullying throughout high school, and we aren’t talking decades and decades ago, I graduated from high school in 2002 from Northern Valley Old Tappan.  

My story of bullying isn’t the worst by any means and I am not looking for sympathy.  In fact that bullying has helped make me who I am today.  Hopefully my story can give you a broader perspective of who gets bullied, which is everyone, why they get bullied, and how as parents, educators, and adults we must be vigilant against bullying. I have probably never actually came out and said all of what I am about to say and not many people really know to what extent I was affected by this and how those affects still remain but I feel I need to at least get this off my chest and if it helps 1 person well then good.

                              image

Growing up I had a good amount of friends and came from a great family. I loved being with my older brothers and sister (next sibling is 8 years older then me…I’m what you call a…unplanned miracle from god :-)  ), and can whole heartily say I had a great, great childhood.  A typical day for me during school was walking to school, playing football or basketball on the playground before class, playing with my friends at lunch, go home, ride my bike to my friends, play games outside, and repeat for 180 days.

                             image

Summers were reserved for bike rides to the town pool, wiffle-ball, summer basketball, and  sleep overs.  Family vacations, trips with friends, riding in my brothers car were also frequent adventures of mine growing up.  It was great!

I was very social growing up, I had no problem going up to someone I had never met before and talking to them in a very non-aggressive way.  A unique characteristic of mine was that I really did not feel uncomfortable speaking with adults at all and was very well liked by friend’s parents, teachers, and other adults.  I also found it very easy to talk to *gulp* older kids and they were usually very accepting of me whether it was playing sports with them or just hanging out.  I was even comfortable around, the icky, gross, cootie filled enemy they call GIRLS!  I remember in 5th grade I made headline news by asking a girl I liked to our school’s first 5th grade dance.  **GASP** I was never a kid who wouldn’t talk to or befriend someone if they were a “girl” or labeled as different, this led me to having many different kids of friends from many different social circles and cultures.

Because of sports, I was meeting kids from the neighboring towns and became friends with a lot of them.  I would ride my bike to different towns after school and had friends from each of the 4 towns that I would eventually go to high school with. I played all kinds of sports growing up; soccer, football, baseball, basketball, I wrestled, swam, rode my bike everywhere, played video games, had sleep overs, all the typical “kid growing up in the 90’s stuff”.

Besides having great friends I also had a family that I can say I think most people would love to have.  I was showered with love from both my parents and all siblings.  My brothers and sister would include their baby brother James even when it wasn’t required by Mom and Dad.  Basically,  I was spoiled rotten.  But everything I learned and everything I am today is because of them.

I wasn’t scared about going to high school, nervous maybe because of the fact that it was a different school, but never was I scared.  I remember the biggest thing I was nervous about was I thought in high school you had to shower after gym class and the thought of standing naked in front of everyone petrified me. We actually never had to do that, to my relief. I also had plenty of friends and plenty of older kids that I knew would look out for me.

I can honestly say I was never deliberately mean to anyone; I was the kid you see in those corny PSA’s who leads by example whether it’s helping the lunch lady clean up or befriended the kid who is being picked on, and I really think I was able to influence people around me through my actions.  This was probably the reason I was given the “Leadership Award”, something I am still extremely proud of and will always include on a resume even if it was when I was a teenager.

Bottom line I was a happy kid.  My Dad would always tell people I was born with a smile on my face.

My freshmen year of high school was typical to start with.  But  I do remember there being a significant change in the way certain people, friends I had growing up, started acting around me and couldn’t understand why.  I remember the first time I noticed it too.  It was “Town Day” and people were finding a good spot on the football field to watch the fireworks.  I saw a “friend” of mine that I hadn’t seen all summer and shouted hi to him and even yelled out a joke about something that had happened in grade school that we had laughed about many times.  He responded in a normal way but I remember hearing him and his friends looking and laughing at me as I walked away.   Then I noticed people started being, well to put it simply, mean to me.  I would later find out that a rumor had spread that I was gay, which I wasn’t and that was the reason, or should I say excuse, that people had to treat me the way they would for basically that whole year.  Berating me, talking behind my back, making jokes, etc.  But never to my face and always as a “joke”

I remember almost every single Saturday night for over a year I would get at least half a dozen prank phone calls from the same people.  A group of girls would call, ask for me, say terrible things and hang up.  The thing is my father and I have the same name so I would sleep with the cordless (remember those) phone next to me, turn off the ringer in my parents room, so I could intercept the call.  One time I forgot to turn off his ringer and when the group of girls called, they asked for me in their normal voice, half asleep (it was 2am) my father said this is James, and they said the most awful things and I was mortified and embarrassed that my father had to hear that from them.  He never said anything to me about it but I remember that night very, very clearly.

I also remember one day in class getting an e-mail from a kid a year older than me, you could call him a bully, it was a very powerful e-mail that I will never forget and it was only one word: Hey (typed in 12pt pink font).  It was 1998 and I was already being cyber bullied.  On the weekends I mostly hung out with a friend of mine that went to a private school and this helped me get by.

Senior year (not an age you usually associate with bullying) was by far one of the worst stretches of time in my life, hands down.  Typically senior year is one of the best years of your life and I couldn’t wait for it just to be over.  Like I have said before I never really remember doing anything that particularly hurt anybody which was why it was so hard for me come to grips with why I was being “picked on”.  I was just being myself and that was their problem with me.  I keep saying they and them because it was not just one person that I could point to and say they bullied me but a group of people guys and girls.  When kids started getting their licenses they would drive by myself pretty frequently especially on the weekend and lay on the horn.  I later learned it was the “Puliatte Pump”.

It might sound dumb that something like that would bother me, but imagine it happening all the time, all hours of the day, that car horn would be as powerful as a punch to the face.  I started driving my car to school and there would regularly be gay slurs, profanity, and other demeaning marks written in the dust of my car.  I remember even putting a camera in my car to try and figure out who it was.  I never stood up for myself because I just thought it would make it worse, which it probably would have.

One thing I did that added fuel to their fire was a sticker I put on my car, that’s right a sticker.  If I knew it would have had the impact it did I never, ever would have done it.  What could this sticker be of that would have such damning lasting on my life?  $.  That’s not a typo, that was the sticker.  A dollar sign. J$ to be exact.  I am not proud that I had a stupid dollar sign on my car but I was 17 and it represented the nick name given to me during basketball.  Also, at that time people were putting all sorts of ridiculous things on their cars; stickers, lights, wings, etc. My friend who is a graphic designer was practicing making sticker art 1 day in the summer so he made me that and also wrote in graffiti style font JMONEY.  The whole thing was no bigger that 5in. x 5in. and I thought it looked cool so I threw it on the back window of my car.

When I walked into school the first day of senior year I remember passing through the halls during lunch to the echoes of “JMONEY” followed by incessant laughter.  There is a distinct difference in the way friends call you something and the way these people were, from that day on I would make it a habit to walk the long way around the school to get to class just to avoid the area in front of the lunchroom which acted like a hallway of never ending jeering. The dollar sign came off quickly…but that didn’t matter the name calling continued and things just got worse and worse.  Nothing was ever physical but it might of well had been

I couldn’t really complain to anyone, because I honestly did not know what to say.  I remember going to the administrators about my car but there was no ‘evidence’ and that was that.  Then when I honestly thought it couldn’t get worse something happened in class that just opened the flood gates.  I was in math, senior year and I don’t remember what happened that lead to it, I was probably talking when I shouldn’t have and my teacher, to get me quiet, said, “Hey JMONEY why don’t you shut up.”  There was half a second of dead silence followed by what seemed like an eternity of laughter.  He followed with, “What?  You do have a sticker on your car don’t you?”  He thought he was being funny, but had no idea how it made me feel and this made it OK for everyone else.

I got to a very low place.  I started experimenting with drugs, not the drugs that make you feel good but the ones that make you fall asleep.  I ingested anything labeled “may cause drowsiness” I just wanted to go to sleep, leave my hell even for a few hours.  But it never lasted and was one of the dumbest things I could do because it basically just made the next day come quicker.

I could keep going with incidents and other examples of name calling but I won’t.  How did it all end though?  One night a friend was having a watch party to watch a really big boxing match, the parents rented projection screen  for the backyard and everything.  At the end of the party people were all waiting for rides.  One of the kids there, who was one of the main reasons my senior year was a living nightmare for whatever reason was not allowed to use the phone in the house to call home for a ride.  I watched as he was forcefully thrown out by the parents literally landing at my feet. The parents yes the parents, insulted him with the comment, “You can’t come in here, you’re low class” and slammed the door shut.  This was my moment in the sun, how easy would it have been for me to either point and laugh or just look down on him and  walk away.  Instead, I handed him my cell phone.

I’ll never forget the speechless look on his face, “Here you can use mine” I said.

That one act pretty much ended it all.  Kill with kindness I guess you could say.

However, that year, that terrible terrible year still haunts and effects my life today.  I am not nearly as outgoing as I was growing up.  I am very self conscious now where when I was a kid I really didn’t care what others thought of me.  That year my grades dropped, I was treated for depression and severe OCD both which are still present and effect my day to day life.  I have since been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and it is difficult for me to leave the house to be with friends due to the mental effect it had on me in high school.  I also gained nearly 50 pounds in less than a year, going from under 200 pounds to weighing 246 lbs. which you can see the physical difference below.

              imageimage 

Please remember your actions no matter how insignificant they may seem, you can be affecting  person for a lifetime.  

And I guess the point of my story is just for people to understand that yes, even the cool kids get bullied.

**Update** I want to thank all the people who have read this and have shown me support or have asked me for guidance.  I understand this isn’t the worst story by any means but it shows just how people are affected differently.  

 I would like to add that anything I have went through has made me a better person today.  I would go through that experience 100 more times if it meant helping 1 kid get through it.  That’s the definition of sacrifice.  My experiences have made me into the husband, coach, teacher, uncle, mentor, etc. that I am today.  I have a certain job description as a teacher and a coach but the most important role I have is not written on any contract, and that is always putting “my kids” first.  My students, my athletes, I see them as my kids as corny as is sounds.  I am putting my humbleness aside for a second and will admit, yes I do a lot, probably more than most, but that’s fine with me.  The pay off comes two ways 1) When I see “my kids” succeed or just simply being happy in their lives.  But the biggest piece of satisfaction I receive, the most heart warming moments that I have are expressed in two word, “Thank you.”  When a student thanks me it makes everything worth it, and that is why I keep doing it.