Yesterday, Lady Gaga launched her anti-bullying foundation, Born This Way, at Harvard University. This got me thinking of my own days as a bullied pre-teen—and the sweet revenge I was able to exact on my young male tormenter.
Halfway through sixth grade, I switched schools. I’d been living on Cape Cod with my sister, mother, and stepfather. Then my sister and I moved to Connecticut to live with my grandmother. It was a hellishly confusing time. My mother had left for what was supposed to be a week-long trip to visit friends in California. But she decided to escape her bad marriage by simply not returning.
In the suburban oasis where my grandmother lived, I was enrolled in the local junior high. Then, just in case my 11-year-old self hadn’t suffered enough that year, a young thug by the name of David made it his life’s mission to compound my misery.
With his thick glasses and stringy brown hair, David had the look of a harmless nerd. But he had the soul of a sociopath. I hadn’t spoken one word to him when the bullying began. He made fun of my clothes. He called me “dog face” and “scumbag.” He yanked my hair. He knocked my books out of my arms. I dreaded gym because David and his friends would sit on the benches and berate my body, which was thin and underdeveloped.
Unlike some of the other girls who were already blossoming into beauties, I was still deep in my “awkward” phase. I had no boobs. My nose was too big for my face. I had a tendency to hide behind my hair. My grandmother was just barely making ends meet as a secretary, so there was no money for trendy clothes. David and his crew were, for some odd reason, quite fashion conscious, so they would poke fun of my lack of labels and “poor person” habillement.
Back then, one didn’t report bullies—not unless they were threatening your life, and probably not even in that case. It never quite occurred to me to mention my torture to an authority figure. And perhaps the fear that whatever light punishment might be meted out to David if I did report him would result in even more bullying sealed my complacency.
I handled it in the way most bullying victims do. I tried to avoid him. I tried not to cry in the hallways. And sometimes, if he was on a particularly brutal tear against me, I’d fake being sick so I could leave school for the day.
This continued until I turned 13. That summer, I grew into my face and body. I became more confident. I decided I wasn’t going to take anymore shit from David. But when I returned to school in the fall, as a freshman in high school, it quickly became clear that David had lost interest in bullying me. I don’t know if it was because of the change in my looks and demeanor, or if he just grew bored with it, or even if he had matured. Whatever the reason, for the first time in almost three years, I could now get through school without a pit of dread in my stomach.
High school was practically fun.
Then, something unexpected happened. As the senior prom approached, I got word through some friends that David wanted to ask me to it. I couldn’t believe it. Did he simply not remember that I—the blonde chick who had friends and twirled a rifle during halftime in football games—was the same unfashionable “dog face” new girl he’d so ruthlessly bullied in junior high?
The last thing I wanted to do was spend the senior prom with my bully, but my best friend was going with one of David’s friends, and she encouraged me to accept his offer. Plus, David was—mysteriously—one of the popular kids. It couldn’t hurt my social status to be his date. Additionally, no one else was asking.
The pictures from that time don’t tell the story: Me in my dark blue strapless gown and pink wrist corsage, David in his light gray tux, both of us smiling for the cameras as if nothing vile and hideous had ever occurred between us. And my slightly more adult self suddenly had a flash of realization as to why David had chosen me for his torture. It was because he’d liked me.
At the prom, I ran into a guy I’d had a crush on all year. He was one year older than me and had already graduated, but he was there with a female friend. The next thing I knew, I was dancing with him. David tried to get my attention, but I blew him off. I joyously danced close with my crush as David sulked in a corner.
My crush then asked me if I wanted to head out to a lake, where all of his friends were going after prom. I quickly agreed.
The next day, it was all over school that David’s prom date had abandoned him for another guy. Kids laughed and snickered at him. I caught his eye in the hallway. He had a look of crestfallen rejection about him.
I almost—but not quite—felt sorry for him.