The very first time I remember being bullied was when I was just 6 years old and in first grade. We lived in Miami Beach and I spent a lot of time outdoors playing in my bathing suit or little sundresses. I thought I had a lot of self-confidence for a 6 year old. After all, I was a big sister and I had lots of playmates all through nursery school, and a mommy and daddy that adored me. I was a very happy child and I skipped off to first grade without a care in the world.
I liked my class and I liked Mrs. Rose, my first grade teacher. I did not like P.E. Everyone wore shorts, so I did too. I have a port-wine stain birthmark on my right leg that extends from my ankle, all the up my back. It is vivid and obvious and red, and until then, not something I ever gave much thought too.
The first day I had P.E., changed my little life forever. The game was called dodge ball. If you’ve ever played dodge ball then you know the way it works. A bunch of kids stand against the back wall and a bunch of other kids throw big, hard, red gym balls at you. Your job is to avoid getting pounded by “dodging” the ball. I assume the rules went something like this: Avoid the head, aim for the legs.
On that day, I met the boy who would spend the next 6 straight years not just bullying me daily, but convincing other children to join in. His name was Jeffrey. On that day, Jeffrey must have taken one look at me and knew he found his target. For the next 30 minutes he screamed at me. He called me “jelly leg” and “crispy girl”. He teased me by calling me names I never heard of as he pounded me over and over again with those dodge balls. No rules here. My head and stomach were the targets. It hurt and it stung and I couldn’t seem to get away. I ran from one side to the other but soon a few of the other kids on his side of the game joined in, and there were suddenly 6-7 balls coming at me all at once. I was now the only kid getting hit. Everyone else on my side just stood by and watched. Mrs. Sussman, our P.E. teacher stood by and did absolutely nothing. And I mean NOTHING.
When the class ended, I remember going into the girl’s bathroom and crying. I was devastated. Why was he being so mean to me? What did I do? How come my friends just stood there? Why didn’t Mrs. Sussman make them stop? I stuffed a wad of toilet paper in my mouth because I was sobbing so hard. My face and nose turned red and my eyes were all puffy. I wanted my mommy and I wanted to go home NOW, but I had to go back to class.
I swear that boy was grinning from ear to ear. I kept my head low and I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I remember this distinctly. I just wanted to disappear. Until the class was called to order, the girls were whispering and pointing at me, and the boys were chanting “Jelly leg, jelly leg, who set you on fire?” They called me ugly and gross and told me to hide my disgusting leg. They made pretend they were throwing up and telling me I had cooties. This is a lot for a six year old to handle.
When the day ended, I shyly looked for my friends. The same friends that I had skipped to school with just that morning and had played hop-scotch with yesterday afternoon. They were just ahead of me, walking home. When I called out to them, they turned, looked at me, laughed, and ran away giggling. I just hung my head and walked home alone for the very first time.
I remember walking into the house to the smell of warm brownies and my baby sister. Two of my favorite childhood memories, but feeling so sick that I just went up to my room. I remember crawling into bed with my dolly, pulling the covers over my head, and just crying and falling apart. I didn’t understand. I think this is the first time in my life that I felt sadness. I didn’t like it. It scared me. My tummy hurt. I must have fallen asleep because when I woke-up; mommy was rubbing my back and asking me if everything was alright? I remember crawling into her arms, and smelling the familiar, comforting scent of her Jean Nate perfume, and finally feeling safe, as she stroked my hair and told me everything would be alright. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t alright for a long, long, long time.
Until next time…