When I heard almost a year ago that Heather Brewer was organizing an antibullying conference, I knew instantly that I had to be involved. Bullying was a large part of my life growing up. I wish it hadn't been, but it made me who I am today. At the signing Heather announced the conference, I approached her and said, I think this is an awesome idea, how do I get involved. She told me there would be signups for volunteers so I waited. I waited and waited and waited watching Heather's tweets over the last year about how the conference was coming together. And then she posted saying she was looking for volunteers. I jumped on the link and signed up right away. I was in and I was excited.
Last week I attended a volunteer meeting to find out what I would be helping out with. I volunteered to shepherd Sarah Bromley's panel on Cyberbullying which meant I got to spend the whole day with her and the other authors on the panel: Carrie Jones, Mari Mancusi, Shannon Messenger, and Lisa McMann. Despite knowing what job I had, I really had no idea what to expect from the day. Would it be empowering? Would it be emotional? Would it be crazy? Would it be fun? I had no clue what I was walking into but I was excited to be a part of something so important.
|From Left to Right: Carrie Jones, Sarah Bromley, Mari Mancusi, Lisa McMann, and Shannon Messenger|
The night before the event I was a mix of emotion but mostly still filled with excitement. Which meant I woke up every couple hours, wondering if I missed my alarm. But 5:30am came soon enough. I fumbled around in the dark and was out the door at 6:30am. A little after 7:00am I walked into the Spencer Road Branch Library. Volunteers were milling around in various stakes of zombie. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself yet, so I chatted with some people and waited.
And then the authors arrived! That was my cue. I headed to the super secret author bunker and met the awesome authors I'd be hanging out with all day. Everyone was in good spirits and chatting. But when you get a room full of authors together, hilarity and crazy soon ensues. It started like this...
|Me tweeting with the authors in the author bunker|
Heather invited one of her very special minions, Jordan Brooks to talk about her experiences. Let me just say that Jordan is an extremely strong person and she hasn't had an easy go, but her message was powerful. She talked about her first memory of bullying and how she skipped her prom to go to a book festival. "What kind of person skips their prom to do that?" she said. To which one of the amazing authors in the front row yelled, "An awesome one!" But this was just the very beginning.
|Heather Brewer giving her keynote speech|
Heather took the stage and talked about her experiences growing up. She had a rough family life and a rough time in school. She didn't have any friends for a long time. She talked about how important it was to be yourself and that one day you would find your people. The people who appreciate you for who you are. And a large chunk of my people were in that room on Saturday.
But it wasn't until Heather started to speak about an instance where a girl started getting into her head about a crush she had, that things really started to hit home. Because a very similar thing happen to me. Only it was three someones and it is an event that I think about nearly every single day of my life. And it was in that moment that I started to remember things that I hadn't thought about in a long, long time.
I honestly don't remember the first time I was ever bullied. I was young though. I was always one of the three shortest kids in my grade. I was a good student, I was quiet, I loved my teachers, I was helpful, and I was over sensitive. You might say I was a bully's picnic. I reacted to EVERYTHING with lots of emotion. Is that a reason to pick on someone? No, but bullies look for reaction and oh did I ever give it to them.
In fourth grade, I sat next to this boy that liked to run his mouth a lot. But one day he decided he was going to sing at his desk while we were having quiet work time. I don't remember exactly what we were studying but it was history and it had something to do with Tuskegee Institute because he sat next to me repeatedly chanting Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee Institute over and over and over again.
I have ADD and while I didn't know I had it at the time, all noise was extremely distracting. And while I realize he had every right to chant, I also had every right to silence. So after repeatedly asking the kid to stop, I took it to the next level.
I approached the teacher and told him that I couldn't focus cause the boy sitting next to me wouldn't shut up. The teacher asked what he was saying and I told him what he was chanting. The next thing I knew this teacher was leading the class in a rousing rendition of the chant Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee Institute. THE WHOLE CLASS! While I loved this teacher and he was a big joker, this time he'd taken the joke too far. It was as if the entire class had been laughing at me simultaneously with my teacher as the lead. I lost it. I think it was the first time I'd really cried and thrown a tantrum in front a large group of people.
I can't say for certain, but I think that event opened the flood gates for the bullies. In fifth grade, the kids teased me saying my mom bought my clothes at Walmart. It wasn't true. I didn't own a single item of clothing from the store and had never set foot in a Walmart but since one kid said it, that made it real. I didn't have name brand clothes from the Limited or the Gap and therefore wasn't cool. That stung a lot because I was being judged on what I was wearing. Really kids should have been glad I didn't come to school naked but that's neither here nor there.
There was more teasing throughout the year. In my anger from all the bullying, I even said something awful about a close friend of mine when she was within earshot. I thought it would make me cooler and make me feel better. It didn't do either. And while one mean comment doesn't make you a bully, I instantly felt like one. I'm still friends with this person today, but I've never mentioned that day. I hope one day to apologize properly because she never deserved that.
In sixth grade, the prank calls and trick three way calls started. There was an instance where a girl called me and told me a boy liked me. After many questions, I fell for it. I developed a crush on the guy. Turns out, I was in a three way call with her and another girl, and it was all a big joke. The boy called me and told me he didn't like me that way. And these girls had cooked up the scheme because we were newly assigned lab partners. They thought we'd make a cute couple. Too bad me and my embarrassment had to sit next to him for the next few months in science class.
Over the course of junior high, I shifted through numerous groups of friends. Trying to "find my people". I didn't find them. I only found hateful words and comments. Things got way worse before they got better. I was sexually harassed on the bus in seventh grade. Because I was in so many bad situations, my mom probably had the vice principal on speed dial by that point. She called on most instances I went through. This was the time the vice principal chose not to believe her. I told her exactly what happened and how uncomfortable it made me feel and she repeated it to the vice principal. He was ready to ignore it because it didn't happen on school property. Thankfully my mom likes to raise a stink!
And in a brief shining glimmer of hope, he said he would contact the bus company and see if they had film of it. That year they had started installing cameras in the buses. Turns out they happened to have a camera on my bus that day and while they couldn't see me in the film because the bus seats are tall and I was so short, they could see the boy in the aisle and what he was doing. The story lined up and he was kicked off the bus for a while.
But the next day his older sister got on the bus, got in my face and yelled at me for getting her brother in trouble. Saying her mom didn't have time to drive him to and from school because she had to work. I didn't have a response for her at the time except for impending waterworks. If I could go back to that moment, my response now would be "Well, maybe he should of thought about that before he did what he did." In this case, the bully tried to turn it on me like it was my fault and I had brought this on myself. I hadn't. And there is never an excuse for bullying or retaliation.
But that wasn't even by far the worst day of my life. That came in eighth grade when I was in Mr. McMonigle's science class. Mr. McMonigle had just redone the seating chart in class. I'd always been in the front because I was short and couldn't see. In this long narrow classroom, he moved me to the sixth row. There was one student behind me and that was it. I couldn't see the board and I was miserable back there. But I never thought it could get more miserable than not seeing the board. Sadly I was so very wrong.
One day Mr. McMonigle was teaching, I don't even remember what, but I was trying to pay attention. Until I heard a voice to my left. "Cracked over." It was a clear jab at my last name but what did that even mean? I turned and glared at the boy then returned to taking notes. But he didn't stop. Crack head came next. Then the boy behind me and the boy to my right joined in. Crack addict, crack baby, test tube baby, now the insults were flying from three sides. I tried so hard to ignore it. I tried so hard not to cry. But the voices were echoing from three sides. I told myself over and over again that I wouldn't let it get to me but it did. It ate away at me. With each word a piece of my soul fell to the floor. Until I couldn't take it anymore. I left everything on my desk and bolted from the room. This was not something I EVER did. I always asked permission for everything, I always followed the rules, I was a model student. I made it past all the lab tables and ten feet into the hall before Mr. McMonigle stopped me.
He asked me what was going on. With tears streaming down my face and between hysterical gasps, I told him what they were doing, what they were saying to me. He told me to wait in the hall and went back into the room. I don't remember what he said but I remember him yelling at the entire class, in the harshest voice I'd ever heard. All because of what had happened. All because he cared enough to drop everything including his lesson and his classroom full of students to come talk to me, one student. I honestly don't know what I would have done if I got more than 10 feet down that hallway but I think Mr. McMonigle might have saved my life that day.
I was lucky enough to have parents that cared and teachers that listened. Some kids aren't so lucky. High School wasn't a picnic either but I started to find the things I loved to do. I made some real friends that wouldn't turn on me at a moments notice. But it would be a very long time before I wasn't afraid to tell people about myself. To not be afraid to hide parts of myself for fear of what people might think. To stand up for myself. I was 28 years old before I was comfortable in my own skin. Before I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me. Before I started really living my life.
It was no coincidence that it was around this time that I started writing. It was a time in which I'd found books and I'd found my people. People that loved to read and write and that didn't judge me. A community full of people just like me. The writing community is so incredibly supportive and for that I am so unbelievably grateful. I can honestly say I'm more happy now than I've ever been in my entire life. I'm not carrying around the bag of stress and worry about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. I'm just me and that's enough.
And Less Than Three made me realize just how far I've come. How strong I've become. How I've found myself. How I can be myself. How I've found my people! Less Than Three are my people!
Thank you to everyone who attended Less Than Three and made yesterday so amazing and special. And to Heather, thank you so much for making this happen. Less Than Three meant more to me than you may ever know. I'm already looking forward to next year!
|The Less Than Three Authors|
|The Awesome Less Than Three Volunteers|