Names in this story have been changed.
When I was little, I was too afraid to speak up for myself. If I accidentally broke something, either my mom or my older brother would yell at me to “tell the truth.” When I tried to explain what happened, they’d tell me to “shut up” or “watch your mouth.” They’d also hit me with their hands, belts, and other objects. I did as I was told, but inside I was angry.
It wasn’t fair how I always got beat up for things that weren’t my fault. So many times I wanted to tell them that I hated them and that I wished they were dead, but I didn’t out of fear of being hit. Physical abuse always prevented me from speaking my mind to my mom and older brother.
To make matters worse, I was also getting beaten up by bullies at school, partly because I have cerebral palsy and walk with a limp. Middle school was the worst. A lot of anger built up inside of me. In my freshman year of high school, I decided I wouldn’t be quiet anymore.
A Fearless Persona
It was freshman year of high school, and a group of us who knew each other from middle school were sitting at a table in the cafeteria, joking around. This kid Harry made a crack about my limp, and all the other kids started laughing. So I pointed out that he was missing a lot of teeth and added, “hole-y sh-t!”.
Everyone at the table laughed, and Harry wrapped his hands around my throat and choked me. I looked in his eyes and I knew he wasn’t going to kill me, and I smiled an evil smile. I endured the pain and fear because I knew at some point, he was gonna let go.
After he let go, I laughed, and everybody in the cafeteria looked at me like I was crazy. Laughing while being choked gave me a “never say die” persona. I began to present myself as fearless and outspoken, someone who wouldn’t take anyone’s nonsense.
Throwing Insults Like Punches
I would throw insults like punches and I got into a lot of verbal sparring. I never showed that people’s disses hurt my feelings, but the “cripple” jokes and taunting did hurt. Ignorant high school freshmen would ask “What’s wrong with you?” like they were asking if I was retarded. How was I to explain why I walked with a limp?
If someone tried to bully or belittle me, I’d go in for the kill. My weapons ranged from the classic “Yo Momma” jokes to personal attacks about their performance in school or their appearance (like their weight or race). I wanted to make them feel the same way they were making me feel.
My favorite thing to pick on were the bullies’ bad grammar. Once a kid said to me, “Yo, yous a ugly n-gga, son. My dog look better den you,” then laughed. I laughed with him for a few seconds and then said, “Maybe, but I bet your dog is smarter than YOU. I guess proper English isn’t your thing.” It seemed like it struck a nerve because he threatened to beat me up.
Sometimes I was sticking up for other kids, and that made me feel righteous. I told myself I was just being honest when I said mean things. But what was really going on, usually, was that I wanted to make my insults hit close to the chest and hurt. I was behaving like a bully, too.
Fights Without Bodies
In 9th grade, I discovered the Internet. My social life changed from that point on. There were social networking sites where people interacted from miles away. People were judged more on their words and intelligence than on their appearance, physical strength, or personality. Since I have a good vocabulary and am a good writer, I suddenly had an advantage.
I tried my new persona out on sites like MySpace, Facebook, GSPoetry, and YouTube. Insults flew freely in these places and I joined the fray. After years of getting picked on, I felt like everyone was out to get me, so I attacked first with rants and insults. Physically, I was safer in an Internet fight. I could lash out against someone I didn’t know—it’s not like they could reach through their computer screen and grab me by the throat.
I became an online bully. No one was safe from my verbal assault, not even the friends I had online if they struck a nerve. My arrogance level went through the roof because there were no consequences when I unloaded on people online. I didn’t consider anyone’s feelings when I gave my two cents. Until one day, I lashed out on my mom online—and the consequences arrived in the real world.
Angry Status Update Brings Cops
It was almost a year ago. I was furious at my mom for talking badly about me in front of her friends. I got so mad that I went on Facebook and posted a status update where I called my mother a b-tch and threatened to “burn the house down and smile about it.” (Now I can see the irony of my doing what she did to me—humiliating and threatening her in public—but at the time all I could see was my rage.)
My aunt somehow saw the post and called the cops. I wasn’t there when they came to our house, but my mom was. I thought she was going to chew me up and spit me out when I got home, but surprisingly she seemed calm about the whole thing. She started by asking me “Why would you say something like that? I love you and I’m good to you. I did not deserve that.” She told me that what I said in that post hurt her.
I felt her pain. She was embarrassed in public without actually being in public. I told her why I wrote the post—that I was upset about what she was telling people about me. Then I apologized. We didn’t talk much that night because we were both cooling down.
I had been bullied by my mom, my older brother, and by kids at school. Now I realized that I had become a bully, too. I felt terrible. My anger brought my mother to tears. I realized that I used to write all those angry thoughts in my journal and that I’d let them out where they could hurt people.
Just because you can’t see the people you’re threatening or insulting doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt them. If it goes out on the Internet, that’s bullying too.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Find out how you can help prevent bullying at Pacer.org.
above photo: Writer Sharline Chiang (photo courtesy of Sharline Chiang)My mother called like she did…
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