in a strange sort of way, being younger than everyone else in my grade shielded me from taunts and bullying. i'm not sure if it was pity, protectionism, or the fact that i didn't pick up on a lot of it, but my K-12 education was blissfully devoid of angst. i was happy. thrilled beyond belief. when i got to college, i was barely seventeen and totally unprepared for the idea that anyone would ever really think i was worthy of ridicule.
and then i found myself at a school where… well, to call the student body conservative is an insult to the term conservative. these kids and i did NOT see eye to eye on anything, except our deep, abiding love of alcohol, that is. but i was undeterred. every school needs a liberal op-ed columnist, right? well, i'll handle that. no biggie. i called my column blows against the empire, just like the true believer would. there's no fervor like that of a pure-hearted teenager, and i wrote beautiful tirades against the conventional wisdom of the school.
by the time spring semester rolled around, my reputation was known far and wide across the tiny mountain school. so when not one, but two, smarmy little right-wing jerks, thinking themselves the second coming of p.j. o'rourke or something, decided to unleash in the papers, i took my righteous fury and wrote letters. it was march, and i was heated. one of them made a "joke" about the openly gay student body president; i took him to task for it. the other said something jerky about women and subservience. he also felt my pen's wrath.
so when the april fool's day issue of the paper came out, there was a fake letter, with a bastardization of my name, chocked with all those trite "silly libs" jokes that fox news has since made household standards. if i saw that now, i'd probably roll my eyes and laugh. but at seventeen? i lost it. i was already on emotional tenterhooks in that place as it was. i was not academically successful relative to my peers, and i was about 70% of the way through my first real nervous breakdown (events alluded to here). so this was the final straw. i fled to the stairwell of the boyfriend's dorm and cried my eyes out.
from there, it was all downhill. some prick started prank-calling me in my dorm room, for god's sake. one night in early april, when the prankster called again, i screamed something incoherent into the phone and took off walking. i stalked, barefoot, up a hill, across the entire campus, to the decades-old ruins of the original building. we'd had orientation up there, and that's where i met the boy who would become the ex. somewhere along the way, the boyfriend caught up to me, shepherding me on my march. we laid down on the grass, covered in dew, and i turned to him and said:
i am not coming back here next year.
i finished the semester, transferred back home and moved on with my life. that ridicule wasn't what pushed me into my semester of darkness. honestly, i was already there. i was in way over my head. but it was, in a weird way, the final slap of self-preservation that sent me towards bigger and better things. somewhere deep down inside me, i knew i wasn't cut out for that place. no amount of sass and charm could change the fact that i had chosen just flat-out wrong.
so even though it hurt to be bullied like that, it ended up being a great gift. not in that cheesy christina aguilera "my enemies made me a fighter!" way, mind you. they weren't really enemies; i did not become a fighter. i already was a fighter. no, what i saw, for the first of many times in the intervening years, is that some battles are won only by living to fight another day. i learned to survive through retreat, and a stupid april fool's joke taught me that.
Letter 70: Be Louder
4 weeks ago