At the start of kindergarten, the concept of “bullying” was foreign to me. I was shy, because I hadn’t been around a lot of children other than my siblings. I didn’t know that kids would single out one another and pick on them, as I had been taught “do unto others as you’d want done to you” and thought everyone was brought up with these moral values. I believed everyone went to church and learned that God loved us and that we should love others. Innocent and naive, I thought the world was looking through the same rose-colored glasses as I was.

The year my sister graduated from elementary to the seventh grade, moving on to the junior high, the rose-colored glasses were shattered. No longer was my sister in the same building to protect me. She was in another town, in another building, miles away. I was on my own. Yes, my brother was there, but he was a boy and it seemed to me that boys saw the world in completely different ways. My brother Dan and I were one year apart in age. I had repeated kindergarten due to my extreme shyness and, from that point on, we were in the same grade level. Most thought we were twins; he was the outgoing one and I was the introvert. Having Dan in school with me helped to build my confidence and I began to come out of my shell.

In the spring of my second grade year, I was accidently pushed off the merry-go-round on the playground; my mouth hit the asphalt first, shattering my top three front teeth. Thus began a year of dental surgeries and many more years of anxiety. Tooth Fairy visits had been dwindling and then, this happened. I would have to deal with the embarrassment of my missing teeth for over two years. I became an obvious target.

Kila was two grades above me. She was tall and thin with pale skin and white hair. She was popular, usually walking in the middle of a group of five to six girls. She was boisterous and seemed to enjoy sarcasm at the expense of others. Her bullying began simply as we passed in the hallway, where she’d subtly lean in and give me a put-down. I must have shown my shock or hurt because she kept coming back. Her bullying progressed to cornering me in the bathroom, telling me how ugly I was and how horrible my clothes looked. She was hitting me in my insecurity. Her followers would sometimes join in on the verbal assault and other times they’d stand to the side looking troubled.

When I reached the fifth grade, Kila graduated to seventh grade, giving me two years to use the restrooms in peace as an upper elementary student. It was at this time that puberty began to hit me a little earlier than others. I stood a head taller than all the boys and I had gotten my period and a bustline; I wasn’t happy about either. I felt out of place and awkward. By the time it was my turn to enter seventh grade, I began to dread seeing Kila again in the school halls. I’d tell myself, “she’ll have grown beyond bullying” or “she’ll have forgotten me.”

She hadn’t.

Soon I began to watch my back and avoid the school restrooms for fear of getting cornered by this now ninth grader. When she caught up with me, she’d call me names like “slut” or “trash.” She’d shove me into the walls, pinch my breasts, and threaten to give me a swirly in the toilet. She and her followers would walk behind me in the hallways, following so close that I could feel her breath as she’d lean forward and say degrading things in my ears. She’d grab my butt, pull at my books and, worst of all, she’d spit in my hair. Her followers giggled, empowering her as she misbehaved. If they had only shown some disapproval, I’m sure they would have defused her power, but their giggles encouraged her actions and the beast within her grew.

And then suddenly, just before Christmas, my stepdad took a job that moved our family to Nebraska. I was relieved and finally free from Kila.

This spring, the last week of school was a tough one. My son had been harassed on the school bus and had hurtful things written in his yearbook. Thank God, he told me about it and I saw the proof. For the first time in my life, I was glad to say “I understand” on this topic. I understood his need to fit in. I understood the hurt of the words and the numbness of hearing them repeatedly. His situation brought back the memories of my own bully.

I was angry again. I’d chosen to let go of my anger and forgive her years ago. I had rationalized her behavior, telling myself that “she must of been bullied at home” or “she was a very unhappy person.” But, with my son’s situation fresh in my mind, it triggered the emotions of being the victim all over again. I never want to feel that weak.

As I shared my experience with my son, we felt a bond in a new way. He truly knew I understood.

As a parent, I want to instill self-worth and strength in my children so they stand strong for themselves as individuals while being respectful to others. This journey is not over. As I pray for wisdom to guide and encourage my son, I pray again that God will help me lay back down my anger towards Kila.

I don’t want to give her any more power over me.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV