Bullying and child abuse are closely related. Most importantly, they are both harmful acts of violence that can be learned and repeated. The damages are long-lasting and detrimental. Throughout the next few weeks, the CASA of CGS blog will feature the story of a woman who has experienced bullying and abuse over the course of her life. You have to ask yourself: “What if this was my child?” There is a good chance it could be. As parents and caregivers, we must be proactive in the fight against bullying. It’s a vicious cycle that can and will be repeated. The number of bullying cases in school’s is alarming. This story begins in the 1970s, leaving 40 years of the cycle to build. We can’t afford to allow our youth to be faced with conditions that are uncomfortable and dangerous to them. Take a stand. Talk to the teachers, principals and other authoritative figures within your district and find out how you can make a difference.
PART ONE: ALABAMA
When I was seven, my mom and dad moved us from the beautiful beaches of Margate, to the sweltering land of Dothan, Alabama. There were fields and fields of who knows what, I never knew nor did I find out, but I remember those dry fields. We lived in a ranch style house on a large hill in a nice neighborhood. There were plenty of kids on the street, some older, some younger, but most were the same ages as me and my older brother.
School was a lot different there as well. They allowed corporal punishment in the classroom as well as with the principal. I noted on my first day of class how the children were segregated within the classroom. I figured that it was because they were smarter so they sat in the back. Well, I was obviously wrong. It was 1975 and I had just witnessed racism for the first time in my life. I was made fun of almost daily for my “northern” accent, asked why I talked funny, what did the ocean look like and where did I get my clothes. Well, mom always made my clothes duh didn’t yours? I’m not sure if my brother was dealing with the same things as me, but I felt very isolated and very alone.
Second grade finally ended and I had survived, mostly by staying to myself and not being friendly. Summer was here and it was hotter than anything I could remember. We had a kiddie pool on our back patio and a fan to blow air on us while we were swimming, yes an electric fan next to a pool, hmmmm. I was excited because my mommom was coming to visit us and I hadn’t seen her in months. I loved her so much, she had the softest skin and always laughed. I couldn’t get enough of her while she was there, and neither could my brother. He got to come back to Jersey with her for two weeks, I had to stay behind.
Third grade was about to start and I was going to a new school. I was excited. I didn’t like the fact that school started so early in the south, I had to go back on my birthday. My older brother was starting fourth grade and hadn’t made any friends. I had finally made one at least. We also got to ride a bus to school which made me happy because in Jersey we took the bus and I liked it. The bus stop was up the street about a block. Most of the kids went to the same bus stop so there were plenty of us there. Of course, there were four boys – brothers – that were there, too, and they were not nice kids. They cussed and said mean things to me and to my brother and the other kids just laughed along with them. They would push my brother or knock his books on the ground or kick dirt all over his new shoes. I would watch and see how my brother’s face would fight not to cry, but he never did, not once. And when he would get into trouble at home for a torn shirt or dirty messed up shoes and clothes, he would just take it and not let me speak. We were also informed by our parents that we would be going to an after school babysitter. So illegal by today’s standards, but with our grandparents hundreds of miles away, we had to.
Our first day at the babysitter was actually fun. The backyard of the house was all dirt, yes dirt, no grass. There was an old metal swingset that was rusty and would tip if you went to high. A dilapidated garage was also in the yard and had hay in it. It seems to me that there were always tons of kids there. My brother always found someone to play baseball with and I just kept to myself. I remember the day when four or five older girls came over and asked if I wanted to play with them, I didn’t want to, but I said ok. They were nice and asked what kind of things I liked to do. They didn’t make fun of my accent, which was almost gone and a little southern girl was sprouting. It was nice to have some friends to play with.
It didn’t take long to realize the motive behind the friendship. One day, I was wearing my favorite brown dress, it had pink buttons and a wide collar. The girls said they wanted to show me something behind the garage, I asked what and they said it was a surprise, so I went. I was surprised, two of them grabbed my arms, one put their hand over my mouth while the last unbuttoned my dress all the way down … and remarked about my body. An older man on the other side of the fence saw what was happening and scared them away. I fixed my dress and crying went back around to the play area. I couldn’t find my brother but those girls found me. I was told that if I told they would take care of me and I wouldn’t ever tell on anyone again. My brother saw I was crying and came over to see what had happened, he looked at the girls and asked them why I was crying they said they didn’t know. I didn’t tell him that day, but I did tell him. The issue with the girls turned to shoving and name calling, I cried at first, but got used to it and eventually it just rolled off. About the time I stopped crying about it, my grades dropped, by the time I just took it, the school called my parents. Within days, we no longer had to go to the babysitter. They took away the problem, but the scars were left behind.
It was Halloween at this point. I was excited about it, my brother? Not so much. He didn’t really do much but ride his bike around the neighborhood. It wasn’t baseball season so he really didn’t have too much to do. My mom always made the best Halloween costumes. They were so cool! My mommom was coming to visit again and I couldn’t wait to see her again, and tell her about those horrible girls! Trick or treat was great and even my brother had fun. Mom made him the coolest Frankenstein mask out of a brown paper bag and oil crayons, he looked great! I was a daisy, great big flower, cut out of cardboard and painted white strapped to my head, green tie died sheet for my stem body and green cardboard leaves to cover my hands! I was proud of mom and me! The kids in the neighborhood thought my costume was great, except the boys up the street, the four brothers, they found my brothers costume very interesting.
After Halloween the four brother’s nastiness became more of an everyday thing. The name calling – I had never heard the word “fa**ot” before; the shoves the trips the books being thrown on the ground. He just took it. If I moved to help him I was shoved or pushed and called names, the other children just watched and laughed. My brother knew my secret so when he said, “Don’t tell mom and dad,” I didn’t. Then, well, as they say, out of the mouths of babes, I asked one night at dinner what a “fa**ot” was. Oh good Lord, forks fell, food was spit out of mouths, and all eyes were upon me. Daddy, who was totally stunned and asked where I had heard such a word! I said from those boys that beat on my brother everyday, that’s what they called him for wearing that mask at Halloween. Well, my mother had this look of absolute horror on her face, Daddy couldn’t get the boys names and where they lived out of my brother fast enough. My poor brother, I let him down, he looked so defeated. I didn’t mean it, but so it was.
Of course my parents called the brothers parents, the brothers denied it, the parents said my brother was a wimp and he should just toughen up, blah blah blah! My mother did not want my brother to fight, my dad told my brother to stand up for himself. He did neither. His bike was stolen, his skateboard was stolen they took his shoes, made fun of his hair – it was red. It got to the point that my parents and their parents were getting ready to duke it out! Daddy would sit at the bus stop to watch, and of course nothing would happen. The day he wouldn’t be there, they would beat my brother again, four on one and he never fought back. My parents contacted the school, the school said “He’s a boy, needs to toughen up, but if it happens in school then action would be taken.” My parents told the bus driver and he just laughed. All the telling did was get my brother’s butt whipped more and worse. I asked him why he didn’t fight back, why he let this happen, he asked me why I didn’t fight back and why I let this happen. If you notice, we both felt as though we deserved it.
It was after thanksgiving, getting close to winter break, we were going to Jersey for Christmas! I was going home! My biggest concern was that Santa would know where to leave the presents for us and the plane ride! I was going on a plane!
It doesn’t snow much in Dothan, Alabama. In fact, it doesn’t snow at all. But it did that year! The first time it had snowed there in just about 100 years we were told. My brother and I knew all about snow. We knew how to make snowballs, as a matter of fact, we knew how to make ice balls! Plenty of winters in Margate with slushy snow. The kids didn’t know what to do! While my brother and I sat making snow balls and throwing them at each other, the other kids looked at it like it was some plague from God! My brother got the genius idea to throw one at one of the brothers, yep, he did! Hit him, too! The other kids laughed and I stood there stunned! My brother had played baseball since he could pretty much walk and he could hit his mark! My brother was embarrassed, I knew this was not going to end well, but what a small victory!
The next day at the bus stop hell was waiting for us! We got to the bus stop and although we were both scared to death, we tried to stand tall and act like nothing had happened. At least that was the plan we had laid out the night before when we talked about it, but even the best laid plans don’t ever go exactly as expected.
The brothers made a circle around my brother, knocked his books to the ground and demanded he pick them up, he leaned over to get them, at this point I was to go home and call our mom, didn’t happen. When he leaned over to get them, they rushed him, knocked him to the ground and started to kick him in his head, his face, his back, his stomach all over his body. I don’t know from where it came from, I think I may have even blacked out for a minute, but I recall screaming for them to stop and when one looked at me I said “get your stinking hands off my brother or I am going to hurt you” and I rushed them. My brother tells me that one by one, I punched, kicked, bit whatever to get them off of him. I basically kicked their butts, the whole time telling them that if they ever touched me or my brother again, I would kill them. Now that story was told to me by my brother, I don’t remember the actual fight I was in with those boys on that December day. Neither one of us got into any trouble for it either. My parents were contacted by the brother’s parents and they wanted to know what they were going to do about their daughter beating up their sons, my father laughed and said “Well, better toughen those boys up, shame they let a girl beat them all up!”
In the months that followed the fight, my brother was picked on a lot, not for his red hair, but for the fact that his little sister had to save him. I don’t look at it like that, he was my brother and I couldn’t stand to see him hurt anymore. He was bullied daily, only now he fought back. The fight changed our relationship, even at 8 and 10, it changed us both. He was sent back to live in New Jersey with our grandparents because the fighting became out of control. He became the biggest bully on the block, I was his favorite target. The beatings and the bullying from my brother continued until I was 17 and he left for the Army.
To be continued …
Bullying needs to be stopped. Our guest writer now has children of her own and has seen bullying occur with each one of them. Her story doesn’t stop here. Unfortunately, it gets worse. But, she’s a survivor and has thankfully taken the time to share her story with us. We can’t turn a blind eye to bullying. Just like child abuse, there is a cycle.
Do you want to share a story with us?