October 5, 2010

Memoirs of a Bullied Kid

Just to warn you, some of the things I am going to share with you today may make you uncomfortable, but the truth is often just that. Uncomfortable.

Perhaps the only image that needs to be shared in this discussion is this one, scanned in from my seventh grade yearbook.

It was in 1993, and I’ll never forget the haste with which I permanently disfigured my own photo so that those in my future would never be able to see that hideous, fat loser from my past.

The image above is just one small symptom of a much larger problem, “bullying”.

The recent news events about the drastic and tragic bullying going on have caused me to pause and lend incommodious thought to my younger years. You see, I haven’t always been the extremely confident and sexy man who you know as Single Dad Laughing. There was a large span of my young life when I hated myself, I hated my life, I hated the world, and my daily wish was that it would all end. Somehow. Some way.

Forgive the length of this post, but a real discussion about bullying is not something that can take place over a few paragraphs. Please read to the end; I have put everything I have into this message because I can no longer sit back and do nothing about this ongoing problem which is leading our children to kill themselves and others. I just can’t anymore. Not knowing what I know about it.

I’m sure your heart has raced, again and again, as you watch and read of these horrible events going on around us. Children retaliating. Children hurting. Children dying. This bullying is an enduring endemic right now, for which there are solutions.

I only hope that my words today will be potent enough to spread to hundreds of thousands, or if God is on my side, millions. I pray for the right words to help me do my part in the quest to drastically reduce these heart-wrenching events. I have faith that those who read this will have the courage to share it, look at it, and change it.

No part of me wants to write this. The truth of it is something I’ve never openly discussed, with anybody. It is something I’ve never had the courage to confront. It’s somewhere to which I have never allowed my mind to wander. And yet, it’s something that has probably had more impact on me than just about anything else in my past.

I was bullied.

Repeatedly, and without end.

Up until fifth grade, I had friends. I fit in. I was “normal.” We moved around a lot, but it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t remember any serious heartache or sadness during my first ten years of life.

But in fifth grade, all of that changed. In fifth grade, somehow a permanent target got placed on my back…

It was my first day at a new school. The desks were grouped into sets of four. At the beginning of class, the teacher introduced me to my pupils and assigned me to an empty seat. As soon as I sat down, the blond hair boy sitting across from me (we will call him John) snickered the words “hey fatty”, aimed at me, and just loud enough for the class to hear. The students around me erupted with impaling giggles. The teacher only said, “John, that’s enough”.

I felt my heart throbbing in my throat. I wanted to run crying from the room. Was I fat? I never thought so. Instead of crying, I forced myself to act unaffected and shrug it off.

Every bullied kid quickly learns that to do anything but shrug it off, will always make it worse.

By the end of that first day, John had marked me as his territory. He had a friend, Mike, and the two of them spent day one making sure I knew that I was unwelcome and unwanted. They called me every “fat name” they could think of, including fat-ass, fat-lard, and fat-boy. By the end of the day, they had rallied at least half of my classmates to refer to me simply as “Lardo”. I went home that first day and told my parents that “school was fine”. Then I went to my room and cried.

On day two, the “fat” comments got worse. Most of the class was now participating. Not one person defended me. Not one person stepped in. The teacher heard some of the worst of it, and never offered me assistance. At recess, I asked another boy where the bathroom was. He pointed to the entrance of the girl’s bathroom. Not realizing what it was, I went inside. Girls started screaming, and I ran back out to a playground full of pointing fingers and raucous laughter.

Day three. Worse. Day four. Worse. Day five. Worse.

Day six. I went home from school and began bawling uncontrollably to my mother. I remember it as if it was this morning. She kept asking me what was wrong. I finally mustered the words, “this one kid keeps calling me fat”. I didn’t tell her the whole truth. The real truth. She gave me a hug and told me it would be okay. Things would get better.

They didn’t. Day seven. Worse. Day 10 Worse. Day 30. Way worse.

Because, John and Mike never stopped. They never gave me a day off. And while their bullying hit maximum levels within a few days of school starting, the self loathing grew until I actually hated myself. You see, I actually began to believe that I was all those things. I believed I was fat. I believed I was ugly. And for me, every day it did get worse, because every day their words and their punishments took me to a level deeper and sadder than the day before.

It was by the end of fifth grade that I officially hated myself. My first day at that school was just seven weeks before we let out for the summer. It took only seven weeks to siphon out every droplet of love that I had for myself.

The next year brought no better days.

It got so bad, and my despair grew so deep, that by the middle of sixth grade the only thing I could do was wish that John and Mike would die. I would pray nightly for something, anything, anybody to come and kill them. I would fantasize about gruesome car accidents, fire-filled buildings, and random violence coming to my aid. I would not have cried one tear had those two boys ended up covered in dirt, resting eternally in pine boxes. In fact, I would have been happy. Very, very happy.

But, they never died. And my life got worse.

And then junior high hit. John and Mike kept dishing out their normal routine. I kept praying for them to die. God never did answer that prayer. At least not the way I wanted him to.

And I, the fat-ass, ugly, and worthless seventh grader, became a target for bigger, more vicious bullies. Little did I know that my life was about to get a lot worse…

Besides the bigger bullies’ ongoing determination to make sure the “fat names” grew harsher and wider-spread, they started in on new bullying tactics like sneaking up and cramming food from the floor into my mouth, knocking my lunch tray to the ground, throwing dangerous objects at me, tripping me with the intent to seriously hurt me, shoving me with the intent to seriously hurt me, and pushing me with the intent to seriously hurt me.

In eighth grade, I stopped crying at night.

I just went to sleep and prayed that God, the devil, anybody would kill those boys. I wanted them gone. I would have given anything for them to be gone.

In ninth grade, the girls started getting involved. The popular, “hot” girls started doing things like asking me out, then laughing in my face before I could answer. They would invite me to come to parties or hang-outs and then laugh some more when they saw that I had hopes that their invitations were sincere. It only took a few of these moments before I believed that any desire, by any girl, to hang out with me would always be a joke. At the end of ninth grade, a “hot” girl approached me in the hallway, and asked me if I wanted to see her breasts. Most teenage boys would be delighted. I just turned and walked away, having been hurt by this girl more times than I could count. She laughed and started yelling down the hall that Dan Pearce was a faggot.

Death. Sweet death.

I would have given anything for it to come. To me. To them. It didn’t matter.

On the last day of school that year, some of the bullies on my school bus started pushing me toward the exit and out the doors. I fell backward and landed on my “fat ass”. I remember the laughter that erupted from the school bus windows when I hit the pavement. I remember my peers’ boisterous faces glued to each pane of glass. I remember looking up at the school bus driver as he said, “you guys knock it off and go sit down”. He then looked at me and said, “are you getting on or not?” I shook my head, quickly gathered my things, and ran somewhere. I don’t remember where. Anywhere but there.

I do remember hearing the squeak of the bus doors closing. I do remember the sound of the engine, revving as the bus pulled away. I do remember crying that day.

The school bus driver didn’t help me. In fact, never once did a single person ever help me. Never once did a single kind soul put their arm around me and show me love. Never once did a teacher comfort me when they witnessed it. Never once did a classmate speak up when they heard it. Never once did anybody do anything.

Because that day, the only thing that happened after that was a phone call to my mom to tell her I missed the bus. I’m sure she asked me how my day was. I’m sure I told her “fine”.

And the people who actually did love me, never knew that any of this was going on. Besides that one day in fifth grade when I came home bawling to my mother, I never told my parents. My siblings never knew. My best friend (and only real friend) didn’t even know because when he was around, the bullies left me alone. I wish he could have been around all the time.

Nobody knew that I wanted to die. Nobody knew that I had horrible and constant fantasies of death aimed at others. Nobody knew that I hated every teacher that never did anything. Nobody knew that I hated every classmate who refused to say a kind word to me for fear of becoming targets themselves. Nobody knew any of it.

What people did know was that I was “shy”. What people did know was that I was easily angered. What people did know was that I was constantly mean to my siblings. What people did know was that I was “fine”, and that that was going to be my answer any time they asked. People knew (because I constantly told them) that “I just wanted to be left alone”. And so they left me alone, the way anybody would leave a huffing porcupine alone.

Thank God that life improved for me, and in high school something inside of me changed. Thank God that something in my life triggered a slow path to self-belief. Thank God that something changed. I don’t know what changed. I honestly don’t. What I do know is that I probably wouldn’t have made it through high school if the serious bullying had kept happening.

Sure, John and Mike shoved me against an occasional locker all the way to the end of our Senior year, but because of the change within me, because I suddenly found the courage to make new friends, and because I started to love myself again, the bullying ended, almost completely.

But this post is not about me. I only am using my story to put a face on the problem. I pray that I was sincere enough, and “real” enough, to help you understand what bullied kids go through, and what thoughts bullied kids think. Because it’s those thoughts that lead some kids to drastic ends…

It is terrifying to think of others thinking of me in those memories. I’ve spent my life trying to hide that I was ever that kid. Even the incredible, wonderful, handsome, intelligent person that I am now is not enough to guard me from my own dangerous thoughts when those memories come to the surface. Even as I’m writing this, I so desperately want to delete it and write something funny. But that’s what I’ve done my entire life. And change doesn’t happen when people with voices don’t use them.

I won’t delete it. Not this time. Instead, let’s talk about what we can do to end the bullying.

There are two people we need to discuss. The bullies and the bullied. Let’s start with the bullies.

I am going on thirty-one years old. I have spent the second half of my life studying self-esteem, self-love, and self-mastery. In the last several years, I have been blessed with the perspective to look back at those “horrible” years, and realize that the bullying I was receiving was simply the symptom of the bullying that the bullies were receiving in their own lives, whether it was their family, other bullies, or the “Perfection” going on around them.

You see, I’ve learned one universal truth. People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer. Every bully that bullied me (and by the end of junior high there were at least a dozen of them) was a desperate and hurting individual. The victim of something going on around them. A soul that was probably crying in solitude as often as I was, even if the crying was silent.

And so, I will ask you now to not hate the bullies. Experience tells me that hating them, or being angry with them, will always make it worse. Instead, put your arm around them. Love them. Tell them that they are valuable. Tell them that you expect great things from them. They will stop the bullying. They will stop, because they will start to love themselves. And people who love themselves don’t bully others.

And with the bullies, it’s really that simple. If they actually believe that somebody loves them and believes in them, they will love themselves, they will become better people, and many will even become saviors to the bullied.

If you are a parent to a child who is less than kind to other kids, I’d very much suggest you read my post from last week, You just broke your child. Congratulations. In fact, every parent should read it. As much as we may not want to mentally go there, a lot of the problem may lie in us. If the problem doesn’t, the solution does. We all must understand that we have the obligation, as parents, to help our kids love themselves.

Now, let’s talk about the bullied. If you haven’t noticed, it’s not generally the bullies that are killing themselves, slaughtering their schoolmates, or building bombs in their bedrooms. It’s the bullied that are doing that. And my heart literally is pounding through my chest right now because I know just how easy it would have been to prevent most of these incidents. I also know all too well, the consuming thoughts that constantly go through the minds of the bullied.


So many kids would still be alive right now, if somebody, anybody, would have done something. So many beautiful, incredible, wonderful souls would still be walking among us if somebody, anybody, would have done something.

And what is that something that you and I must do?

Part of the answer is a mother putting her arm around her daughter over and over again, until she is not able to keep from telling the truth about why she is sad, quiet, or angry.

Part of the answer is a father starting a fun project or taking his son fishing for some one on one time. Enough hours under the hood of a car or on the bank of a river will always bring out desperate truths.

Part of the answer is a grandfather taking his grandchild out for ice cream and simply asking how the other kids treat her at school. For some reason, good grandparents can usually cut straight to the point.

Part of the answer is a teacher doing more than simply telling the bullies to stop. The answer is a warm hand on her pupil’s shoulder, a listening ear, warm words of importance, and then finding a reason for the child to come back the next day, and the next, until that child knows that his presence is cherished.

Part of the answer is a youth director dedicating an entire night to the topic of bullying, and what each child can do when they are the ones being bullied, what to do if they see people being bullied, or what they can change if they realize that they themselves are guilty of bullying others.

And while each of those small parts of the answer are crucial, there is one big part to the answer.

Peers. Classmates. Fellow pupils. Did you know that you each have more power over healing the bullied and the bullies than anyone on earth. More than their parents. More than their religious leaders. More than their teachers. The majority of the answer lies in you, and it’s simple.

The answer is as simple as you having the courage to find the kid who just got bullied and telling her, “don’t listen to those guys. My friends and I are always talking about how awesome you are.”

The answer is as simple as you having the courage to then invite her to sit with you at lunch. And it will take courage.

The answer is as simple as you having the courage to find the bully, and in private telling him that you don’t understand why he’s doing that, because you always thought he was a bigger person than that.

The answer is as simple as you having the courage to find the bully, and in private ask her if she’s had a rough day. Care about her. Tell her you were wondering because of the way she was treating your classmate, and you feel she may be misunderstood. You will be amazed what you will learn.

The answer is as simple as you having the courage to find the boy who just got shoved or tripped and asking him if there is anything you can do to help him. You see, just knowing that you care will plant seeds for his own courage to blossom.

The answer is as simple as you.

The answer is as simple as you having the courage.

Do you have courage like that? I hope so. I don’t want to see any more kids die.

What it really all boils down to is that the answer is as simple as love. Repeated, and constant love…

In the arena of bullying, I can guarantee that any child who takes his own life, does so under the assumption that nobody actually values having her around. I can guarantee that any child who takes his own life or the life of another, did so because he had been brutally pushed to the edge of a cliff, and ultimately felt he had to choose between his life or the lives of his relentless pursuers, because somebody is going over the edge.

You see, the bullied aren’t blessed with the perspective of temporariness. The bullied aren’t blessed with the ability to think in terms of the future. The bullied have only one thing on their mind. Survival. And some bullied kids, unfortunately, are pushed so far, and want to remain living so badly, that they do desperate and illogical things to survive.

You know what else I can guarantee? That one person… just one person really loving and spending serious time with any of these kids who have taken these extremes could have made all the difference. I am not talking about five minutes or an afternoon. I’m talking about a long-term commitment to love.

The stories we see on the news… they are the extremes. The real truth is, way more of our children are being bullied and bullying others than we ever would like to admit to ourselves. Some bullied children receive it in small doses, some in life-ending amounts. Sometimes it’s as “minor” as making fun of clothes or name-calling. Sometimes it’s extreme physical or sexual abuse. No matter what kind of bullying is going on, it hurts, and it has lasting effects on our children.

So, please, I beg you. If you’re an adult, put your arm around your own kids. Put your arm around your neighbor’s kids. Put your arm around every kid you can. If you’re a student, put your arm around the bully and the bullied. You simply don’t know what person needs to feel like somebody loves her. You simply don’t know what person’s life you will save by showing him that, today, you care. And tomorrow you’ll still care.

Bullying needs to be openly discussed with every single child and teenager. If we don’t discuss it, it may be your child or your friend on the news being shot dead at school, or maybe, God forbid, the one standing behind the barrel of a gun. Every bullied kid that committed atrocities was someone’s kid. Every child that has been shot or killed was someone’s kid. Every child that has taken his or her own life was someone’s kid. Don’t let any of those be your kid. Don’t let any of those be your peers.

I am not being dramatic. This is a big and overwhelming problem. I hear over, and over, the parents of the victims say, “I never knew there was a problem.”

If we don’t, as a population, make this issue a priority, we will continue to see this horribleness get worse. We will continue finding our children hanging by their necks, lifeless in their closets. We will continue to see the drug problem get worse. We will continue to see the gang problem get worse. We will continue to hear of mass shootings. We will continue to have children who have no self-esteem. We will continue to have children who hate themselves. And they likely will carry that hate through their entire lives.

You see, I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones who was able to figure out that life can get better. I am one of the ones who grew to love myself, believe I am attractive, and believe I am worth something. And, sadly, I am the exception. Most kids who are severely bullied, never grow up to be anything. Because nobody ever did anything to help them. Some of them don’t even live long enough to grow up at all.

Please. Today, do something to save our youth from this terrible disease. Today, find a child or a classmate who is timid, shy, closed-off, or sad and do something, anything to help him or her feel love. Today, change the future for somebody incredible.

Share this post. Share it with everybody you know, no matter if you’ve experienced the many sides of bullying or not. Immediately post it on Facebook and twitter, along with a personal plea for others to read it and share it themselves, and then do it again tomorrow. Make sure that this is read by every young person you know. If you are one of the young people, do your part to make this spread. If you are a teacher, read this with your classes. If you are anybody who has any influence over our youth, use it.

We all need to love our youth enough to help make a difference today. Our youth need to love each other enough to believe this message and then find courage to do something about it.

You never know who you will save, and all because you took five seconds to copy and paste a link. All because you had the courage to share the perspective of somebody who has been there, and cares. Sharing this has nothing to do with me or my blog. It has everything to do with the fact that change like this can’t happen without numbers. Let’s see if we can get half a million people sharing this on Facebook. That would be power to make change.

I believe we can, because I believe that you are as ready to put an end to these news stories as I am.

If I could give one message to the bullies, it would be this: You are incredible. You are bound for great things. You have the potential to be anybody you want to be. There are people who believe in you. There are people who love you. Be what we know you can be, even if you don’t believe in yourself right now.

If I could give one message to the bullied, it would be this: You are not alone. You are strong. You have a voice. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. There are many kids who want to speak up for you, but they don’t because they are afraid of becoming bullied themselves. There are many of us in the world who love you. I love you. You have the power to end this now. That power is in your voice. Find it. Once you use your voice, bullies want no part of you. If you feel that you lack the courage, fake it until you do. Finally, I know it’s hard to see a life that exists beyond high school. It is there, and it is beautiful.

If you are in school right now and are experiencing heavy bullying, and you ever need an understanding ear, I’m here for you. Send me an email. My address is at the top of this page. I can’t promise an immediate response, but I will respond.

And finally, everybody please leave a comment (even if anonymously). If you have ever been bullied, please share your experiences with it here. So much of the world doesn’t understand what it’s like to be in your shoes, and this is a great place to start finding your voice. If you have ever witnessed someone being bullied, please share your feelings about it here. If you have ever been the bully, please share your perspective. I won’t judge you. I love you. The true power of this post will come with what you share below.

I thank God that we are not our past. Any of us. We are our future and nothing else.

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

PS, would love for you to follow Single Dad Laughing. It’s usually not this heavy. It’s usually not this long. We have a lot of fun around here. Sometimes, though, there are things like this which simply need to be said. We hope you’ll come along for the ride.