A column detailing my struggles with interpersonal relationships wouldn’t be complete without a recounting of my numerous bully incidents. Believe it or not, I’ve been the target of overcompensating assholes my entire life. From name calling in the recess yard to manipulation in my adult life– I’ve often fallen susceptible to these toxic people’s psychological abuse. Unfortunately, it still affects how I trust people today.
I didn’t hate school…at first. In fact, I liked to learn. Interacting with the other kids was where I had real difficulty. I was a weird kid that talked a little too much, and I annoyed the teachers as equally as the students. Girls, in particular, scared the shit out of me. They traveled in groups, and a singular alpha tended to dictate their general beliefs as they cast judgment upon the schoolyard. When the alpha of a group liked me– school was a breeze. When the alpha didn’t like me… I would dodge snarky comments and outstretched ankles from a dozen of her friends throughout the week.
You’d think I’d stand up for myself, but my Catholic upbringing (and mother) urged me to “turn the other cheek.” Which, sure, made me meek–but it also sent the message that I was weak. So the larger (more psychotic) loners started taunting me for kicks and pushing me into walls. Unlike my nerdy brothers and sisters, I wasn’t asked to do anyone’s homework (Do you want to fail Math?) or give up my lunch. (Thanks for the pepperoni and white bread sandwiches, Mom!) I was simply tortured by these bored sociopaths for fun.
One bully, in particular, made my life a living hell on a regular basis. Her name was Ashley V, and she was the kind of girl that would threaten to stab me if I told any teachers she was smoking in the bathroom. She didn’t have many friends, so I never understood why–instead of befriending me–she decided it would be more fun to fling insulting one-liners at me in class on a regular basis. As an adult, I now realize Ashley V was probably dealing with a whole bunch of other shit on her own. I just wish I knew why she felt the need to take it out on me.
The bullying at school and around my neighborhood got so bad I asked my mother if we could move. I didn’t want to go to my Catholic School anymore, and I wanted to leave Philadelphia entirely. I saw my place in the social food chain and no matter what I did I couldn’t shake it. I thought maybe a new location would give me the start I needed to make more friends. But that post is for another time.
My mother emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me that Ashley V had passed away. It felt very strange. Does anyone really know how to handle the death of a bully? I obviously hadn’t spoken to Ashley V in decades, but her abuse never really left my subconscious. How was I supposed to react? So I didn’t reply to my mother’s weird, Hey remember that girl that tortured you in grade school? Yeah, well….now she’s dead, email. Some people might feel like they’ve won some long unspoken grudge, but I don’t feel like I should get a trophy or anything. I’m sad that Ashley V died at such a young age, and I hope her family has found peace. Maybe now I can let the trauma she inflicted on me go with her.
**You’ll notice that this obligatory bully revelation is only the first part of my tumble down memory lane–for the tale does not end in Northeast Philadelphia! My mother did end up putting our Philadelphia house up for sale. My grandmother had just moved to Delaware County, so my mom figured she’d follow her and I set my sights on suburbia– hoping for a richer social life. Little did I know that simply moving to a new location wasn’t enough to endow me with the social skills needed to make friends. If anything, being the new kid in school wasn’t a walk in the park either.**
Jo Anna Van Thuyne is an actor, comedian, and producer residing in New York. Her column, Why Can’t We Be Friends?, posts every Thursday. Check her Snapchat/Twitter/Insta @JoPincushion.
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