Tag Archive | Queen Bees

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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