Ray Ray the retard. RAY RAY THE RETARD. Their taunts got louder as they got closer. I didn’t really understand what they meant by “retard” but I sure knew who they were directing it at – my older brother, Ray (Ray Ray) and by proxy me, as I held onto his waist while he maneuvered the bicycle over potholes, gravel and a speed bump. This group was hungry for something. Usually, they call out a few mean words or throw a rock or two but all 6 of them are following us through West Hempstead and my brother is NOT going to let us get captured. We just finished our paper route and it was collection day so our pockets were heavy with the paper distributor’s cash and our tip money. These guys screaming after us, wanted our blood and the cash. That was the last thing I thought when a flash of pain hit the back of my head. I woke up just as the ambulance was putting both of us inside. Ray lost balance when the rock hit me in the back of the head and I fell off the bike. The boys kicked the crap out of him until he had an epileptic seizure and blacked out. Then they rifled both our pockets, stole our money, and left us in the middle of Cherry Valley Road. Two more feet separated us from the hole in the chain-link fence that would have secured our freedom. Instead, defeated we quit our paper route. The press boss still demanded his fee for letting us deliver the Daily News.. mom and dad had to scrape that together on top of our ER bills. Oh, and the boys that followed us? I kept tabs on them over the years. They ALL showed up at Ray’s funeral 3 years after they nearly killed us. They got away with it. ALL of them are dead now…most from drugs. ALL got a shot of karma that I must say gives me some small measure of relief.
Whoever said ‘that which does not kill you makes you stronger’ was never bullied in school. My middle and high school years were in the 80s, so technology didn’t play a role in bullying the way it does now. Of course, no one was trying to kill me; the bullies had no problem pummeling my self-esteem for being bespectacled, smart, tall, and skinny, killing any bud of confidence I might have had. As a grown woman, I certainly don’t feel stronger having endured those six years. Though I was never beaten up, the verbal abuse – it was called being picked on back then – caused invisible bruises that I carried into adulthood. I couldn’t walk into a room without looking down. I didn’t want to make eye contact for fear of accidentally connecting with someone who might see it as an opportunity to be cruel. My childhood escape was writing and drawing. I wrote stories where I defeated my bullies or drawings where they were no longer in power. It enabled me to control a situation that, in real life, I had no way to regulate. My safe space was the newspaper office and my drama class – especially my drama class. My drama teacher knew I was bullied and always had something nice to say. He was the first person to allow me to have something I wrote produced on stage.
I found comfort in theatre and playing characters unlike myself. I truly feel that theatre brings together people with these similar experiences. I was planning a degree in journalism and playwriting, but life interrupted and changed my course. I rediscovered my passion for theatre and playwriting in my late 40s. Because of being someone else on stage, I’ve finally learned to walk into a room of strangers without an overwhelming sense of panic, feeling like I needed to shrink into myself. Instead, I become a character who’s brave and confident, and that helps me ‘fake it, till you make it.’ As crazy as it sounds, when I was a teacher a decade ago, the hardest thing in the world was walking into a classroom with teenagers without feeling like I was still a teenager and waiting for the bullying to begin. It ended up being one of the best experiences in my life because, as the teacher, I got to stop bullying. It felt somehow like redemption. I couldn’t protect myself – that girl who desperately wanted to fit in, but I could protect my students from bullies. I could not fathom being a bullied child in 2021, where there is no escape from the brutality of words and videos on social media. The worst I got was taunts down the hallway – ‘if I were as ugly as you, I’d shave my *** and walk backward,’ not ‘kill yourself.’ Something needs to be done before another bullied child decides he’s had enough and becomes one of two horrible possibilities: a suicide statistic or another school shooter.
I knew this evening was a well orchestrated plan. I have an incredible memory. My husband often comments on how I can recall the smallest details. Crazy, non important details just stick with me. Yet, on this anniversary I can’t tell you where we went for dinner or what show we took my parents to. I have no idea. My only recall is how I felt, what I heard, and my despair. Utter despair like never before. I believe it was at dinner but I’m not exactly sure, my brother decides to discuss my appearance. In front of my parents, in front of my husband he tells me flat out – “You look like a PIG.” Oh, he led up to that with a tirade of words but that’s the gist. I was shocked, dumbfounded and HURT. The words pierced me – it was like the joy of the evening was sucked away. I don’t know how I made it through the evening, if we continued with dinner or what. I recall going to the restroom and sitting in the stall. I wanted to DIE. I wanted to END IT ALL. I firmly believe if I would of had a razor in that moment I would have taken my life. It would have been over. The ride home was incredulous. Nobody corrected my brother that evening, nobody challenged him. I think he’s been a bully so long and it went on because of many factors. My husband didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t want to ruin an evening for my parents. My dad, always a peacemaker I’m quite sure made a, “Let’s change the subject.” My mother I’m sure sided with my brother in my mind,for she said nothing. Now that we were driving my parents home (my brother and his wife had gone in their own vehicle) my husband decided to bring up the conversation, no – the bullying. He spoke about how horrible my brother spoke, about how mean he was, the cruelty of it all. My mother actually thought it was okay for him to speak like that to me! My husband actually questioned my mother and asked her if she truly believed it was okay to chastise me in this manner and she said, “Yes.” This caused my husband to just retort and let my mother know in no uncertain circumstances that he did not agree with her and he felt she was WRONG! I dont recall my dad saying anything, I’m sure he felt he made his point earlier by wanting to change the subject. My sweet husband while very empathetic truly couldn’t have known just how hurt I was. I was in that bathroom stall alone, I hadn’t had a moment to let him know my feelings. Those horrible thoughts and the worthless feeling I had stayed in me. I lost my voice, I lost my soul. I’ve not shared my truest thoughts with anyone. I consider myself to be a reasonable and caring person. Looking back, those words made me not care about myself, my child I was carrying nor my one-year-old. Nothing mattered. I only wanted to crawl in a ball and never open my eyes again. All because of WORDS. The words from my brother as well as the words of my mother cut deep. I couldn’t open my eyes or get out of bed for DAYS after. My self-worth was gone. I cried and curled up, . It’s been a long time since that night and my children are now grown adults. My husband and I have celebrated almost 45 years of marriage and I’ve learned a great deal since that time about the dynamics of my own parents and their marriage. We are all worthy. YOU are worthy and deserve respect and love. I know Bullies truly have issues under which they hide and the act of bullying has its own reasons. About twenty years after this incident, I was sitting with my brother at the hospital as my father was very ill. I had once again dieted and was quite successful. The weight I had shed was noticed. My brother asked me how much I had lost. “Seventy pounds,” I told him. He then replied, “Wow, I’m really proud of you.” I said nothing. His compliment meant nothing. At that moment all the many years of bullying surfaced and reared their ugly head. I’d like to think God held my tongue. Please do not accept what a bully says or does, know your worth and know you are deserving. Know that there are those that can only feel good by putting down others. Don’t become like them. You are worthy.