Remembering the Bullies

The death of Tyler Clementi is sad proof that bullying is alive and well, even after decades of anti-bullying and tolerance education. What hurts is that this happened at Rutgers University, my college, a place that is supposed to foster higher learning, diversity and tolerance. In the 20 years since I graduated from Rutgers and the 30 years that have passed since my childhood days of being a repeated target to bullies, this death makes me realize that society has gone nowhere when it comes to bullies: conform to what they want you to be or be ridiculed and tormented without mercy.  

This suicide, along with the other suicides reported in the news because of bullying, brought up painful memories of my own tormenters.  While this wave of anti-gay bullying seems to be the cruelest form of tormenting a human soul, it doesn’t matter if you are gay, straight, black, white, rich or poor. Bullies find their target, draw you out and go in for the kill without mercy.  

My first encounter with a bully was in the fifth grade with the boy next door. He would beat me up at the bus stop in the afternoon after I reported him to the early afternoon release bus driver that he was bothering me.

I don’t think the bus driver stopped as my attacker repeatedly unfurled punches into my stomach. He came back for another round in the playground the next day as I played jump rope with some friends in the playground. This time I was ready and delivered him a very satisfying punch in the eye. I made him cry and it felt good. I wised up and took the early shift bus home that afternoon. He never bothered me again.

Then in the seventh grade came even worse bullying, the bullying of the queen bee female kind. The whispers, the looks, and finally, getting tripped down the stairwell between classes.

I was a bully’s dream. I was timid and skinny. I was one of the only Jewish kids in school and yes, I had pennies thrown at me. I had a small face and a big nose. I was called every name in the book: The nose knows nothing. The nose who inhaled Tokyo. Nosenstein. Clinger.

But then again, you also got bullied if you were timid and fat. Anything that made you different made you a target. I can only imagine the torment a young adolescent or young college student faces if a bully finds out you are gay.

My bullying happened before the days of anti-bullying education, a topic that comes up so much in today’s middle school classroom that my eighth-grade daughter says she is sick of hearing about it.  Back then, if you were bullied could muster up enough courage to tell a teacher or school administrator about it, you were basically told to ignore the bully. Don’t be a snitch. Stand up for yourself, and eventually, they will go away. 

But a bully never acts without a fellow bullier, and it’s hard to ignore a pack of bullies, especially when they are holding you down in the schoolyard and smearing your face with carbon copy paper. One advantage, of being bullied today: scarcity of carbon copy paper.  

I don’t know where any schoolyard aides were when this was happening. I also don’t understand why my gym teacher didn’t intervene when they held me down again, took off my sneakers and threw them over to the other side of the gym to the boy’s side.   Nor do I understand why my band teacher didn’t see how I was teased as I cried one day into my clarinet. 

One day in the cafeteria, the queen bee bully pulls me by my necklace, a Jewish star, and tells me to throw her lunch away.  I tell her no.

She then tells me, in front of the worker bees: “You better hide your ass inside your house, because we are coming today to kick the shit out of you.”

I try to shrug it off and walk away. Because that’s what your teacher told you to do, ignore them, right?  After all, they didn’t know where I lived. These girls lived across town. And this was the time before GPS, before texting and cyberbullying. At least at home I would be safe.

Regardless, I walked home pretty quickly after I got off the bus. My mom had gone back to work and I had a key to the house. But that day, I realized I forgot my key. Locked out of the house, with the threats of getting the shit beaten out of me very fresh on my mind, I went into my backyard, kicked in the basement window, and shimmied into the laundry room. Lucky I was a skinny kid.

And they did come. With a baseball bat. They found a younger smaller boy in my neighborhood and grabbed him by the collar and threatened him with the bat until he told them where I lived.  They rang my doorbell and said they just wanted to talk to me.  I –stupidly!– opened the door. They tried to shove their way in but I somehow got the door closed and locked and I bolted up the stairs to call my mother’s office.

I can’t remember what happened next in the exact order. I think my mom called the police, and then she told me to call the mother of one of the few friends I had in school. As proof of how seriously bullying was taken back then, the police showed up about 45 minutes later, long after my friends’ mom came, long after she scared them away.

I still think about that day. I still think about what they would have done to me, with that baseball bat, if I was not strong enough to get that door shut.

If any bullying educator out there is reading this, I know this sounds bizarre, but please consider the plight of the bully as well as their victims. It turns out that the boy next door: he was being raised by his grandparents after his own abusive mother pushed him out the window and broke his legs as a child.

And the queen bee? Well, finally, after the baseball bat incident, she, her worker bee bully accomplice and I were called into the principal’s office. It turns out that my bully’s mother was dying of cancer.

As hellish as my middle school years were, I feel very lucky that I was bullied before the digital age and I hope my kids survive their adolescence unscathed.  It seems like a lot more damage can be done with a video camera and a social networking site than a baseball bat.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

11 responses to “Remembering the Bullies”

  1. Janalee says :

    I love you so much, Scoop. Thanks for having the courage to write this. xoxo


  2. Rebecca says :

    Amazing story Scoop, you should always post a link on FB – I hadn’t read it in a while (love the request for Trader Joe’s!) you really are such an amazing writer!!!


    • transplantednorth says :

      thanks for the comment beck! It’s so nice to get support from my fellow writer friends who we all knew each other from back when! It means so much. And if you can post this to your wall, that would be great too. I think my story, unfortunately, is pretty common.


  3. louise says :

    Excellent post, thanks for writing it….very educational.

    Yes, always post a link on facebook I would love to keep up with your blog….


  4. eileen says :

    Your story made me cry. How frightened and worried I was each time you left for school. School was supposed to be a safe haven. I hope and pray that my grandchildren never experience the pain of bullying. I am proud of who you are, and admire what you have become.


  5. Rhonda says :

    Actually it doesn’t exactly matter what horrific circumstances the bullies were going through at the time. It’s a shame, and it may explain something, but I’d bet that the girls who went along with the Queen Bee were not all going through such dire straits.

    Lots of kids deal with horrible circumstances without ever taking it out on another human being. It does not make it excusable.

    Good book to read on the subject: Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman.


  6. Margaret Reyes Dempsey says :

    I found your blog via

    This was a tough read for me through tear-filled eyes. I’m glad you survived.

    Bullying is quite the issue these days. I have such mixed feelings on how the issue should be handled.

    As I commented on the blog Michael posted today, bullying is handled much differently than when I was a kid. (I’m 45.) Back then, it was “kids will be kids” and you learned to fend for yourself. I had a mouth on me, was quick with the comebacks and always able to talk myself out of situations that today would be considered bullying. I think that served me well in life.

    But then I read your story. Your experience was far more serious than any bullying I ever endured and should have been classified as “requiring immediate intervention.”

    I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not sure the Anti-Bullying programs that are brought into the schools are effective. I suspect it’s the kids that are good anyway that listen to the anti-bullying message, with the bullies not hearing a blessed word of it and not seeing themselves as they are.

    Thanks for sharing your personal hell. It’s made me think.


    • transplantednorth says :

      thank you margaret. I guess as writers, we learn from our pain and how to use it for good writing and sharing, so please share this with others if only to let the bullied know that they are not alone.


  7. Jen says :

    WOW!! I am so sorry you had to go through that!! how horrifying and traumatic. Something that will stay with you forever. My kids have been bullied and still continue to be at times. It is definitely NOT OKAY FOR ANYONE to ever bully someone else. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. You are an amazing person and teacher!!
    Maybe other people will stop and think before they act….about all of the long lasting consequences of bullying after reading your story!!!!
    Thank you, thank you!!


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