To be a bully. Flicking cigarette ash in hoods. Leaving vile drawings in books. Tipping bags on the floor. Sitting next to victims on the school bus. Watching them quiver. Feeding off the power. To be a bully. They come in many shades. I have learned that essentially they are all the same.
But it makes us who we are. Bullying does that. When you have enough fingers in your face. Being told you’re worthless. Violence. Intimidation. When you just keep being beaten and can’t face standing up again.
I was bullied at school. I moved around a lot as a kid. Starting a new primary school for six months before being moved to another. Another country mostly. Settling but not settling. Making friends and losing them. Mostly because I haven’t quite learned how to keep them. Preferring my own company from an early age.
I have a strange accent. An odd mix of Aberdonian and rather posh sounding English. My skin is quite dark as I grew up in the Middle East. When we moved to Aberdeen I was six. I had already been to five different schools. As a regular newcomer to many a class I was earmarked from the beginning until I left school. My father tells me “moving your kids around at a young age is fine. They adjust really quickly.” I don’t agree with that at all.
I was bullied because I was different. The wrong accent in a small town. Trying to fit in again. For me I reached breaking point and stopped trying to fit in altogether. Moving up through the education system I made some friends. Only one of them I would truly count as one today. Ask me how many friends I would invite to my wedding it would be her. Don’t ask me who I’m inviting to my funeral.
It started gradually. Small meaningless scuffles. Nothing I couldn’t handle. My reaction to it was to laugh. Revel in my differences. I grew my hair. Got tattoos. Socialised with an older peer group. I was a “freak” and remained one, purposefully or otherwise until I left school.
To be different. To stand out. To be beaten at the school gates and have no one in your corner. No one to pick up your bag. No one to wipe the spit from your face. I was hated for the sake of having something to hate. The first real bully I came across hated me because his sister thought I was attractive. He came with cigarette burns and a regular fist in the back of my skull. He also came from a large extended family. For my regular beating after school his backup was ten to fifteen family members of various sizes. I didn’t have anybody. People were afraid to be seen with me.
I kicked back. Started drinking. Putting myself in dangerous situations. All of this was of course some sorry attempt to find some level of confidence. I felt like I was nothing. A pointless worm. The more I hated them the more I hated me. The more I altered my own self the more I isolated myself. Trying to isolate myself yet paradoxically putting myself in the spotlight even more. I became accustomed to fear.
One of the worst. Followed home by a large gang of local kids spurred on by an older girl I’d never seen before. After refusing to fight with this girl I received a fair beating from her and her family in arms. After kicking me in the testicles several times she then suggested to her brother that he might like to drive over me with his car. I don’t remember much after hearing that. I was twelve years old.
This went on for a while. Small town mentality. It escalated to a ridiculous level. One particular loon became very fond of terrifying me after school. It reached a rather odd point whereby he had become so fanatical about me he searched every single bus after school, tearing up seats and smashing windows as he went. A desperate search as I was hiding at a friends house. This same individual later made several death threats, tried to burn my house down and eventually turned up outside our house threatening to rape my mother.
I went back to Aberdeen several years ago for a short while. One morning I saw that same bully begging for change outside the post office. He didn’t have any teeth. Track lines all down his arms. I dropped some change in his hat. The same orange skull hat he wore at school. The same fists that pummeled me in the face every day for months.
My most humiliating. Having my gym kit stuffed down the toilet. A very unpleasant young man with a gang of uglier friends behind him. Kicked to the front of the bus. Covered in spit and blood by the time I got home. I think I was ten.
My daughter is beautiful. She attracts a lot of attention. Already she tells me that she doesn’t like the boys at school. I’ve watched from a distance and seen her being targeted by a couple of them. It is hard not to get involved when you see it. Your child being hurt. Because that’s what bullying is. It is nothing more than a vindictive, often long term need to cause pain to something you don’t like or understand. So you try to destroy it because that is what humans do. Sometimes it is all we do.
Many of my assailants had abusive parents, drug problems, no real prospects or safety net. Yet I’ve witnessed hideous bullying from wealthy, comfortable people in very powerful positions. The only common, and general denominator between each party is despising oneself. That burning frustration. Remembering all those private moments you never tell anyone about. Clutching your skull in agony with the weight of it all. Carrying an ache in your chest wherever you go. Perhaps in retrospect my bullies and I were more similar than we might think. Each living some hell. Disappearing without the other.
And all of this was before the days of social media and smart phones. I did try to kill myself at one point and I’m certain that I would have done with todays modern technology.
From my experiences meeting bullying head on with further violence is a grey area. Learning how to defend yourself is vital. It does however rarely solve the problem. And what is the problem? What are the solutions? I don’t think there are any. What I do know is I never asked my bullies why I was being bullied in the first place. Perhaps then, with a little more understanding, it might have been a little bit easier.