An open letter to the girl who bullied me in school
You will probably never read this. And even in the unlikely event that you do, you more than likely won’t know I’m writing this to you. You probably don’t even remember me. I’m just an inconsequential part of your past; a face with no name.
I wanted to write this because I wanted to finally admit to myself that I was indeed bullied. For a long time, I told myself that your constant harassment and name-calling was no worse than what every teenager faces when they go to secondary school. I convinced myself that referring to my situation as ‘bullying’ was melodramatic and unnecessary. Then I asked myself: why has it stayed with me all these years? Why did I continue to shake nervously whenever I saw you years after I had left school? I realised that I was afraid to admit I had been bullied. It made me feel weak, victimised and pathetic. But as the years passed I realised that this was just not true. I suppose I had a moment of catharsis when I came face to face with you last year, ten years after you had first tripped me up in the school corridor.
I had just gotten a teaching position in a local school so I decided to celebrate in a typically nerdy fashion by stocking up on teaching supplies. Drained from my methodical stationary shopping, I decided to go for lunch. When I went to order a sandwich, you were behind the counter. You looked similar to how you always did, but older. You looked tired. Your facial expression was the same as always: a mixture of cold indifference and contempt. The feeling that came over me surprised me. I didn’t fear you. I felt sorry for you. You stood in front of me, looking exhausted. Exhausted perhaps from years of failing to relinquish all that anger and hatred. Your boss came out and barked at you to fix your hair net. This might have made me smile, but it didn’t. You didn’t remember me, the person whose life you had such an impact on. The person who cried themselves to sleep at night wondering what they had done to draw your ire. I was polite to you that day. You took my order silently and went about making my sandwich. I wondered how many you’d made. I wondered if you were married or had children. Imaginging you heavily pregnant with six kids swinging off your arms and legs while your third husband watched Robo Wars didn’t make me happy. You handed me my plate without even looking at me. As I moved down the queue to pay, I watched you. You stretched and put a hand to your back. You grimaced. You watched the clock. Your boss whispered something to you and when he turned his back, you made a face.
It became clear to me that you were unhappy. I realised that perhaps you were someone who was born without any capacity for happiness. As I sat down with my sandwich, I realised that I hadn’t been the problem. There was nothing wrong with me. I had never deserved your contempt but you had tormented me. In case you don’t remember, you followed me around making constant comments about my breasts. You pushed and tripped me up. You giggled and laughed whenever I walked past. You stole items of clothing belonging to me. You spread rumours about me.
I never rose to any of it and that drove you crazy, didn’t it? I never retaliated or even made eye contact with you. Trust me, I had practiced some pretty great come backs. I had always wanted to ask you what your obsession with my breasts was? Did you not think it slightly odd that as an apparently heterosexual female you were singularly preoccupied with my chest? Developing early was not something I had particularly welcomed. It drew awkward attention from boys and negative attention from girls. I never said anything to you about how I wished I could have just faded into the background. Maybe I should have explained that the guy you liked who asked me out wasn’t my type and that I had politely turned him down. Isn’t it funny that I met him recently and he barely remembered me and hasn’t spoken to you in nine years? At the time though, it obviously hurt you. And because of that, you made my life hell.
I know now that you were obviously incredibly insecure. You were awkwardly tall with a boyish frame. You could have been quite pretty, were it not for the contemptuous and sullen expression you constantly sported. But that’s not important. What’s important is the the lesson you inadvertently taught me. I learned that there will be people that we will come across in life; people who don’t like us for seemingly trivial things. When you’re the recipient of this contempt however, it feels far from trivial. You start to question what you’re doing wrong and why this person has an issue with you. The thing is, like a terrible breakup cliché, it’s not you, it’s them. If you are a kind and thoughtful person who treats others with respect, then nobody has the right or should have the inclination to be nasty to you. If you can stand back, reflect on your own actions and see no reason for negative behaviour aimed at you, then it’s best to just chalk it down to that person being resentful and insecure.
It took me a very long time to realise that none of it had been my fault. I was a quiet, unassuming and studious teenager. I didn’t date boys until I was sixteen, and I’m still with that same guy. Even if I had been some wild and promiscuous teen, I wouldn’t have deserved the treatment I received from you. I want you to know, however, that I’m not angry with you. After that day in the cafe, I realised that you were not the monster I had remembered you as. You were an insecure, tired and socially inept woman trying to make a living. You had gained nothing from your treatment of me, but I have gained plenty. I know now that I am a stronger person because of those two years of harassment.
I hope that you can overcome the anger that you evidently possess. I hope that life will be kinder to you so that you can be kinder to others. I hope that you will learn that giving and receiving a smile can be the best thing that can happen to you during a tedious day. I will never expect an apology from you, because I don’t want it. I already forgive you. I’m strong, I’m successful and I now help teenagers to overcome the same problems I faced. I’m better for having had you in my life. If I could go back in time, I would let myself know that life is so much bigger than secondary school. There’s a whole world out there beyond insignificant teenage problems. I would also let you know, Kate, that it would be a lot more fun to stick chewing gum under the science lab desks, like a normal teenager, than pick on me. I would tell you that you’d be beautiful, if only you’d smile. I wouldn’t try to give you the hug you so obviously craved cause your hands were the size of shovels and frankly, you scared me. Actually, if I could go back in time, I’d steal the idea for Jurassic Park and make millions, but that’s probably not going to happen. Sigh.
So, Kate, I’ll leave you with a piece of advice my mother taught me. Stop making that face or the wind will change it to be like that forever. And also, it’s not so great having large breasts. Jogging is a nightmare.
*Name changed. I want to protect her anonymity. Her real name rhymes with Mennifer. Try crack that code.