As far as my emotional childhood memories go, the school bus experience topped the list of nightmarish encounters with bullies. I can’t think of anything I hated more as a thirteen year old gay teenager, except maybe gym class and mayonnaise.
This was bus number 14 and the girl with the ribbon in her hair was Regina Jones. She was my friend somehow, but that’s all I remember. That’s not a bad deal for her though because many of the students riding that bus were my regular tormentors, so remembering only Regina’s name gives her a gentle spot in my memory instead of the seething thunderstorm of hatred and revenge the other teenagers left behind.
Aside from the daily name-calling and mocking laughter directed at me from the bullies on the bus, the most life changing event happened at the bus stop one morning before school. A random redheaded freckle-faced bully decided name-calling wasn’t enough to showoff his adolescent maleness, so he physically attacked me instead. Because of my shyness I usually stood a short distance away from the others, which made it easy for the bully to sneak around behind me, jump on my back, and knock me face-first onto the ground. His violent fist pounding into my back, neck, and head seemed to last forever. He was bigger and stronger than I was. My first thought was to cover my face to prevent him from permanently disfiguring me. My second thought was paralyzing fear, then pain, and finally humiliation before another teen managed to stop him.
The events immediately following the attack are a blur, but I do remember hearing laughter and derogatory chatter coming from a few other students as bus 14 pulled up to the curb and they all boarded. I skipped school that day and walked home in pain and with tears trying to understand why another person would do this to me. I had never spoken to him. We had no classes together. We shared nothing except a bus ride to school. What was wrong with me?
I rarely rode that bus again. I found other ways to get to school, but that was only a temporary solution because the effect of that violent assault has lasted a lifetime as anxiety and fear. To this day, at fifty-four years old, I will go out of my way to avoid walking past small groups of strangers. I worry they will lash out at me in some mocking or threatening way. Realistically, I understand my fear is irrational, but emotionally my fear is as fresh and new as the day that redheaded freckle-faced bully attacked me for no reason at all.
Childhood bullying is a horrible crime. Not only does it violate the legal rights of those being bullied, but it extends the trauma of victimization into decades of emotional suffering and confusion. It shapes the way in which victims navigate their lives moving forward. It can prevent or diminish trust levels in every type of relationship. It can annihilate self-esteem. It can lead to substance abuse and even suicide. And all for what?
My life has not been defined by the six years of bullying I endured during my school days, but my reaction to what happens in life certainly has been and therein lies the problem for me and for a society that continues to sweep the seriousness of bullying under the carpet. I often wonder how different my outlook on life would have been had the bullying never happened or how much more confident and empowered I could have felt had there been legal ramifications for the bullies who trampled across my civil rights and self esteem.