Growing up, I was usually the one that made friends with “the new girl” and wanted to give everyone a chance. I believed firmly (and still do) in the Golden Rule—treat others as you would want to be treated. In fact, I had few complaints about life—up until sixth grade, that is, when I switched from public school to a private, Catholic one and became "The Mouse."
Now, sixth grade isn’t really a great time for anyone, but it was especially rough for me. I had the glasses, I had the frizzy hair, and I had the new sensation sweeping middle schools across the nation: acne. Plus, now I was the new kid at a school where pretty much everyone had known each other since kindergarten. My shyness kicked into full throttle with the above combination.
Already a quiet person, I now rarely spoke up, and when I did, I could barely be heard. I hid my spotty face behind my frizzy, curly hair and tried my best not to be noticed–that’s how I got labeled The Mouse. By the “hot” guys, no less—three rich, attractive, supposedly charming best friends that all the rest of the girls had crushes on.
Our classroom was arranged in groups of four desks, and somehow I’d ended up with two of the three amigos in my cluster. The third would come over and join in when he could.
“Aww, what’s that Mouse? How cute, the Mouse has something to say!”
“Speak up Mouse, we can’t hear you squeak!”
“You want some cheese, Mouse? Squeak louder and we’ll let you have some cheese!”
It sounds pretty harmless in the grand scheme of bullying, but I was hurt and embarrassed. I tried my best to ignore them, occasionally mustering up a clever comeback in an attempt to impress them with my wit. But they kept going, and one day they said something that pushed me over the edge. I don’t even remember what it was, since it wasn’t worth remembering, but I do remember wanting to cry. They’d gone too far, and one too many times.
I went to my teacher, a loud and boisterous woman who had always been kind to me. I knew she would know what to do, as my clever comebacks clearly weren’t cutting it. Holding back tears, I told her that I was sick of them being mean, and now they’d been cruel for no reason. Could she talk to them about living the values their religious education was supposedly teaching them?
“Come out the hall,” she said with a wink, and beckoned the three boys to follow us.
“Elissa tells me you’ve been mean to her.” The three looked at me in contempt. Great, now I’m a tattle, a cardinal sin of childhood.
She then forced us all to stare at each other for a moment. The last thing I wanted to do was look them in the face. “Just look at her,” she said with a laugh. “One day she’ll be beautiful and you’ll all three be fighting over who will get to take her to the senior prom. So be nice to her, okay?”
The boys just snorted and snickered. Before she ushered us back into the classroom, my teacher winked at me and said “Well, you know they’re just mean to you because they like you!” Wait, what?
My mother’s voice rang out in my head with a lesson she’d been repeating for years: “If he likes you, then he is kind to you.” I knew then that “he’s mean because he likes you” was a pathetic excuse for bullying, and is a detrimental message that can haunt relationships for a lifetime. If he truly likes you, he will always build you up, and never cut you down.
Now I wasn’t just hurt, I was angry. I felt betrayed by my teacher, who had essentially thrown me to the wolves and let them laugh at me even more. I was also offended that she would think my future self would even consider going to prom with one of those jerks. I wasn’t just some dolled-up prom date, only worth my outward appearance. And it wasn’t senior year anyway, it was still sixth grade. I was a smart, friendly 11 year old who deserved respect.
That’s when I realized another important lesson: I couldn’t rely on other people to stand up for me. I had to stand up for myself. At the end of the day one of them started to mock me again. I looked him in the eye and told him clearly, loudly and proudly that while I might be quiet, I wasn’t a mouse. It hurt my feelings, and I would appreciate if he would stop making fun of the way I was made. He started to laugh, but I continued. “And either way, some people happen to love mice, and think they’re adorable.” He actually did laugh at that, but this time with me, not at me. I could see a change in his eyes, and I felt powerful. That was the last of The Mouse.
One of the most important messages of The Bully Project is that adults in positions of power (like teachers, for example) aren't doing enough to protect the victims of bullying. YOU can change that though, just by taking this Facebook survery about bullying at your school!