I linked up with my friend Shell at Things I can’t Say today to tell my story for the anniversary edition of her weekly meme, “Pour Your Heart Out”. Shell offers this weekly linky to encourage other bloggers to share their most difficult stories and to provide a safe place to vent.
Somewhere at the very bottom of the deep end in my long term memory exists a story that I don’t often share. In fact, it’s buried so deep in the recesses of my brain that I only shared it with my husband a few weeks ago. A man I have been with for 11 ½ years.
I’m not embarrassed by it. I’m not concerned that sharing my story will have some repercussions. I’m not afraid. I believe that once I’ve worked through something difficult, it’s best for me to learn from the experience and try to move forward. And, believe it or not, what you are about to read is not the worst thing that I’ve lived through in my 36 years. In fact, it’s not even close.
I was bullied.
My freshman year of college I fell into a group of friends who lived on my hall. Most of that year remains a blur of study, play hockey, party, sleep, and do it again. These friendships, as often is the case in college, were based on proximity. We lived a few doors apart and became fast friends. A few of us were athletes, which provided another common bond.
Early during my sophomore year, the tides turned. It happened in an instant during a football game party (or “pre-game” as it was widely known on campus). One of my roommates sent me to talk to a guy she was interested in. She wanted to find out if he had any interest in her. He didn’t. Before I knew what was happening I stood accused of trying to “steal” her man. A man I never had any interest in. By the end of the game, 4 of my 7 roommates had turned on me. The other 3 kept a low profile and didn’t take a stand.
It started out small. Nasty comments, dirty looks, rummaging through my drawers when I wasn’t around. Bitch, slut, whore…I wish it stopped there. That, I could have handled.
Their cruelty knew no bounds. They spread rumor after rumor. They poisoned anyone who would listen. I was ignored and snickered at to a point of such discomfort that I didn’t even feel comfortable watching TV in the common room. My TV. The one that my father bought for me.
They stole from me. They stole dresses, clothes, and money. When my mom started to worry about my rapid weight loss she took to sending me back with bagels from my favorite bagel store. They ate the bagels. When I finally mustered the courage to confront them they responded with, “if your name isn’t on it, it’s not yours”.
They failed to deliver phone messages. One night, in frustration, my sister left a message mentioning that it was not the first message she had left for me. The note that was left for me read, “Dear Katie, Your f###ing sister left another f###ing message. Stop f###ing telling people that we don’t give you your f###ing messages”.
I finally had my own phone line installed to the unused line that ran through the suite. They plugged in their own phones and ran up my long distance bill.
Despite all of that, I still tried to get back in their good graces. I tried to just take it and keep a low profile. It wasn’t that I was desperate to be liked; it was more a function of not wanting to be so brutally hated.
My weight loss became dangerous. I was incapable of sleep. Tears spilled from my eyes every time darkness set in. I feared for my safety. As the cruelty became more and more pronounced, I was no longer certain of what they might be capable of.
As the year came to a close, I was defeated. My self-esteem was in shreds. My soul was in pieces. I moved through a sea of uncertainty like a ghost. I tried to hide in plain sight.
I finally moved out in a spilt second decision one Sunday afternoon. I just packed it all in and headed home. For the remaining three weeks of school, as I prepared for final exams, I commuted from West Hartford, CT to Chestnut Hill, MA. I stayed at a friend’s place a couple of nights a week. But for the most part, I drove.
My other three roommates remained passive observers. I knew that they felt for me. I knew that they knew it wasn’t right. They didn’t want to get involved. I couldn’t blame them.
They took so much from me that year. The clothes could be replaced. The money would come back around. But the stolen pieces of my soul would prove more difficult to repair.
By the time I finished my last exam, I was lost, tired, and humiliated. I was 20 years old, and I was bullied. I could hardly bring myself to talk about with my own family. I came very close to dropping out of school. Many times, I considered taking my life.
I thought it would end there. With new roommates, I was sure I could leave it behind the next year. In a school of 9,000 undergrads, surely I could start fresh. It followed me. For the next two years they showed up and refused to leave parties in my apartment. They made snide comments in elevators and humiliated me every chance they could.
I finally sought help after my junior year. I did the work. I allowed myself to break down so that I could start over. I repaired my soul. With the support of seven amazing roommates during my senior year, I was able to really enjoy my college experience.
The bullying continued, but I was better able to cope with it. I knew that I was better than them. I didn’t need to tear people down in order to build myself up. In my own way, I won the war. On graduation day, one of those girls walked for her diploma with a restraining order hanging over her head. I wasn’t taking it anymore. I called in the campus police to help.
I recently received a Facebook friend request from one of them. I can’t decide if she sent it out of guilt or morbid curiosity, but either way I didn’t accept. I don’t harbor any angry feelings anymore. Two years on the couch took care of that. But I don’t feel like I need to let everyone in. I have no need to be the most popular person on Facebook. As strange as it sounds, in the end I felt bad for them. They must have really struggled with their identities to have to repeatedly tear another person down in order to feel good and powerful. It’s sad, if you ask me.
I shared this story today because I am saddened by the bullying that exists in our world. Despite suicide, homicide, eating disorders, and cutting, kids continue to be bullied on many levels at most schools in this country. Clearly, we haven’t found a solution. I can only hope that sharing my story is a very small step toward awareness for others.
Please check back later this week when I share some strategies to help us band together to end bullying in this country. Our children deserve better.