The following is from my author’s note in LOSS. To help promote bullying awareness, I’m going to give away a copy of LOSS and RAGE, both of which have bullied protagonists. I’m also going to give away other books. But first, my note:
In eighth grade, I got mean.
I was lucky growing up. I wasn’t bullied, not more so than anyone else. Sure, there were lunchbox wars in second grade, and the girls tended to play mercy a lot, but I didn’t mind those things; I usually got my metal lunchbox up in time to block a swing, and I actually rocked at mercy. I was active in school: I was the fourth grade class president and the sixth grade co-president, and I participated in the annual storytelling contest. I had friends. I invited kids to my birthday parties, and they always came. It didn’t matter to me that I was always one of the last kids picked for any sport; I wasn’t good at sports. That was all right. Elementary school, overall, was all right.
But then came junior high.
I was an art geek. My school had talents, or majors, and mine was studio art. So I hung out with some of the art kids and some of the kids in my homeroom. Seventh grade was okay. Mostly, I watched things happen from a distance.
But by eighth grade, the insults started coming my way. One guy—Vinny? Victor? Something like that—started calling me “Jerky Horse.” Someone else called me “Thunder Thighs.” And from there came the rank outs, everything from “Your momma” to cursing. So I learned how to curse. I remember walking down the school hall with my friend Carol, and some guy named Dennis shouted something at me. I don’t remember the words, but I remember that it was an insult. I shouted back, “Shut up, Dennis, you prick!” I didn’t even know what a prick was—but he shut up. And Carol cracked up.
That’s when I learned how to be mean.
I wasn’t a total jerk; I didn’t walk around insulting people just because I could. But there were two distinct times when I did something horrible. The first was to this girl who was on my bus. I changed the lyrics to a commercial jingle and made it about the girl’s weight. I sang it to some of the other kids on the bus. It was funny, you see. Hee-lar-i-ous. Boy, was I a riot. I have no idea if she knew about it. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure she did.
That was shitty of me. I’m sorry, Kelly.
The other time was to a girl I’d known for years, because her grandparents and mine were friends. Eighth grade can be an awkward period; for me, my face had exploded with acne (a condition that wouldn’t get under control until I was in my twenties), and I was short and chubby with no fashion sense (conditions that have yet to get under control). For this girl, Lisa (no—not from Hunger; that’s just one of those strange coincidences), it was her teeth. She had buckteeth. And one day, this guy called her “Beaver” to her face. And I laughed. Because, you know, it was hee-ster-i-cal.
Sorry, Lisa. That was shitty of me too.
By the time I was in high school, a lot of that shitty attitude was gone. I wasn’t mean anymore. Maybe that’s because I was mostly invisible. I had my core group of friends—we were the rocker crowd—and I didn’t venture out of my social circle. I didn’t dare. Sharks swam in those waters. I didn’t have the right clothes, or the right accessories. I didn’t listen to the right music. I didn’t get the right grades. I didn’t get involved in high school politics or popularity contests. High school, for me, was a series of I Didn’ts. It was my version of Keeping My Head Down. I did do some things, like play varsity soccer (man, was I bad) and be art director for Sing (think High School Musical, but with a much smaller budget). But for the most part, people had no idea who I was in high school. I wasn’t bullied. And I didn’t bully. I was inconsequential.
Soon I had an eating disorder, but that’s another story.
# # #
Soapbox time. You’ve been warned.
Here’s the thing: bullies tell you all about themselves when they bully you.
That nasty song I wrote about poor Kelly? That was a weight issue. And God knows, I had—and have—major weight issues. Laughing at someone’s appearance? That’s a self-esteem issue. I’m still working on that one.
When Victor (or Vinny) called me “Jerky Horse,” well, I guess he was worried that he was a jerk. Either that, or he just had a penchant for rhyming. And I know for a certainty that the guy who called me “Thunder Thighs” was—and is—extremely image-focused. If you looked up the word “superficial,” you’d probably see his face there in the dictionary.
So if someone calls you a name, keep in mind that it’s less about you, and more about the person who’s calling you the name. That doesn’t make it right, but it might make it easier to get through.
And you will get through it. You will. You know why? Eighth grade isn’t forever. And while high school may feel like an eternity, it’s not.
If you’re getting bullied, talk to someone. A parent. A teacher. The school counselor. A friend. If the first person you talk to can’t help, try someone else. And someone else. Keep on talking. You’ll find someone who listens. I promise you, you’re not alone.
Maybe you’re not the one being bullied. Maybe you’re the one who laughs when someone says something mean. Maybe you even get inspired to say, or do, something mean yourself. If you are…just think about what you’re doing, okay? Think about how your words matter. Think about how they can hurt.
Think about how easy it would be instead to make your words help.
Be stronger than the bullies.
I am giving away four books:
RAGE (by me) – I’ll sign it and personalize it for the winner.
LOSS (by me) – Ditto the signing and personalizing.
PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King – A signed copy of a book by one of my favorite authors.
EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King – Ditto!
And hey, A.S. King has a new book hitting the shelves next week – ASK THE PASSENGERS. **throws confetti**
For a chance to win, all you have to do is comment below. Comments are open until midnight, October 30, 2012. In the comments, you can talk about bullying, or not. You don’t have to say anything at all, but it would be nice if you did. You have to include a valid email address, or the comment won’t count. (I promise not to spam you.) On Halloween, I’ll pick the four winners at random. I’ll announce the winners here on my blog, and I’ll email them for mailing info. (Thus the need for a valid email address.) Good luck!
Finally, please be sure to take part in the Authors Against Bullying Blog Hop! Here’s the full list of participants. Extra kudos to Yasmine and Mandy for everything they’ve done to make this blog hop a success!
Mandy M. Roth
Michelle M. Pillow
Jackie Morse Kessler
Jesse L. Cairns
Ruth Frances Long