Monday, September 3, 2012

A Chance to Grow

I am always grateful when I see articles about bullying in the media today; not because someone is being bullied, but because people are starting to realize that bullying is NOT something that a child should have to deal with, or simply a rite of passage. I am grateful that is starting to be recognized as child abuse and there are resources for children to turn to, adults to help stop the act, and organizations for empowerment. This topic hits close to home for me because I was bullied in high school, much to the amazement of people who know me today. I went through puberty very early, and starting in middle school my large breast size became on object of ridicule for my classmates. Whether it was out of jealousy or just plain cruelness, I was tormented on a daily basis. I was called vile names and false rumors were spread about me, making it even worse. There was nobody I felt I could turn to, no one I felt that I could talk to, not even my parents. I was so unsure of myself, felt so ashamed, and seemed to be so alone. As a result of this, I did things I never thought that I would do in order to be accepted by others, and ended up being a teenage mother at the age of 16, the only thing I will publicly admit to ;-) Thankfully, I was taken away from that environment and went to an Alternative School in the city. Here I began to flourish and gain the self confidence and acceptance that all children need and desire. Thankfully, I was able to grow and put behind me everything that happened to me early in my high school years, and I thought that I was completely over it. Fast forward 15 years: These days I am the president of the parent group at my daughter’s school. The Friday before school started, the principal called me. She had a new family to the school who lived a long ways from the school, but not far enough to be considered bussing district. The dad called her and explained that they were a one car family and he was wondering if there was anyone close to him that would be willing to car pool, and she thought of me since we live just a couple of blocks away from them. I told her absolutely, another mom and I who lived close would work something out. The principal gives me his phone number and says “His name is Mr. __________” My heart felt like it skipped a couple of beats, my pen froze. I know this man. I ask her what his first name is and she says that she didn’t get it and asks me if I know him. I tell her I am pretty sure that I do because the last name is very unique; I knew he was one of my biggest tormenters all those years ago. She asks me where I know him from, and this amazing, fantastic, self-confident woman that I am is too ashamed to tell her. I immediately felt the same way I did as a sophomore in school, sitting in my school desk red faced, ashamed to tears, hunched over trying to block everything out while this person and his friend made “jokes” about me. I told the principal I would set something up for them, and quickly got off the phone. I didn’t make the phone call that day. I didn’t make the call the whole weekend. Instead I debated on what to do. Reflected on what this person did to me and tried to decide if I was going to help him, even if it was passing along the duty to another mom who lived a couple of blocks down the street. Trust me, the adolescent in me did not want to help him at all. I wanted to get back at him, to get even in some small way, even if it was only making him walk 1.3 miles twice a day to pick his child up from school. But there was his child to think about, making a child suffer because of the sins of his father isn’t the type of person I feel like I am. Walking that far isn’t too bad now, but when it is raining or 10 degrees Fahrenheit out, it would be much worse. The weekend passed and Monday rolled around, I had to make a decision that day, one way or another. I took a deep breath and made the call, hoping he wouldn’t answer. Of course he did, and when I asked him his first name, it was who I thought it was. Once again, while in his “presence” I ashamed of myself, but this time it was because I was tripping and fumbling over my words. Damn it! At this point in the conversation he has NO idea who I am, and I am far from the person I was back then, why can’t I get my composure together? After a few minutes of conversation I finally feel like my old self. He explains his predicament, and I surprisingly hear myself volunteering to pick his son up for school on Wednesday. The relief he feels when he knows someone is going to help him is apparent in his voice. As we are wrapping up the conversation, he asks me for my name again, and I tell him. Feeling a surge of self-confidence, I tell him my maiden name. There is a pause on the line, and I let the silence spread out. What is he thinking? Does he remember me? Does he have ANY idea of what pain he caused me? Finally he answers me with a simple “I remember you! We went to school together!” Really? That’s it? I don’t know what I expected, but that surely was not it. We end the conversation and get off the phone, and I sit and try to reign in my galloping heart. The very next night after the initial phone call (Tuesday) I ran into him at the school’s open house. I found myself in conversation with him and his son, a real, casual conversation. I helped him find his way around the school, introduced him to his teacher and the principal, and helped make them both feel more comfortable for the first day of school the next day. At some point during the first week of school, I found out that my son’s cross country coach was not going to be able to coach the team this year, and asked Mr. ________ if he was interested in coaching (I had learned that he was trying to get a coaching position in the school system over the summer but didn’t get hired for the position), and he is now my son’s coach. This past weekend I found out that his wife’s brother’s family were victims of a house fire, and without thinking was working on getting donations set up for them. AS the school’s parent group leader I was working last week on setting up a donation drive for armed service members when my son mentioned that Coach P said he served in the Army, so I called him up and asked him if he would like to co-chair the drive with another retired service member at the school. It has only been two weeks since school has started and I am continually surprised by my actions. Neither of us has mentioned what happened all those years ago; I don’t know if he is ashamed by the way he acted or if he truly doesn’t remember, and you can bet that I am NOT going to be the one who brings it up. I often wonder WHY I am so nice to him now when for years I fantasized about some harm falling upon him. Then, in a moment of contemplation, I realize that he is the reason I am so nice to him. He and all the others who ruined my first two years of school have helped mold me into the person I am today. I like to think that I am a caring, compassionate, and empathetic person and I know that it is because I know what it feels like to be nothing; to have nothing. Never in a million years did I think that an opportunity like this would come up; a chance to help one of the people who I hated. Never did I think I would be presented with this chance to grow as a person and as a human being. And now that is has, I am happy with the choice I have made; regardless of what happened in high school, I have helped this families life today. As Ralph Waldo Emmerson said; “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived-that is to have succeeded.”