There’s been a ton in the news lately about bullying. Cyber bullying, face to face bullying, all around viciousness on the part of tweens and teens. Two children are dead and another had to be admitted to the hospital and those are just the stories that made the news. Bullying is a REAL problem but it’s not a new problem. You would think schools would have figured out how to spot it by now and would take it seriously but they don’t. Enter in the age of social media and kids are in ever more danger.
I wasn’t bullied as a kid, I was outgoing and friendly and I never had a “clique”. I was always friendly with everyone from every different group or “clique” and aside from a broken heart at 17 when my highschool sweetheart and I ended our relationship, I had a very positive school experience. Of course there was a little drama, I was a girl and teenage girls are nothing if not dramatic at times, but nothing I can actually point to and say “wow I was bullied”. Of course we didn’t have Facebook or MySpace then. We barely had internet, it was very new at the time. (Stop counting my gray hairs I’m not THAT old). The worst we had were “teen telephone lines” and paper notes passed in class.
I went to a fairly small elementary school where we were all friends. I think there were about 15 of us in our actual classroom and about 40 in our grade. We grew up together, we lived near each other, we spent time together outside of school. We played games until midnight in the street. We played kickball, red rover, baseball, you name it. We had extra curricular activities together. We played soccer through the rec center’s leagues and we played Little League baseball. We were a tight-knit group. Most of us are still in contact today in some capacity or another. I do vividly remember a couple of kids who were always on the outskirts though. They were standoffish for one reason or another. Just a little different and not interested so much in being friends. Even so, I don’t remember a single bullying incident in that school.
Fast forward a few years and we move on to middle school. We have two middle schools here. The town is split by the interstate which runs right through the center give or take. Kids on the north side went to one middle school and kids on the south went to the other. It was a different environment for sure. We all moved up together but soon some of us would drift off from the central group. I think that’s totally normal, don’t get me wrong. Middle school offered many, many different activities, clubs, more sports, etc… In some capacity we would all still be friends, but we made other friends as well and as our interests grew so did our groups of friends. I know there were disputes among class mates in that school but I don’t remember bullying the likes of what we see today.
I would get my first real taste of bullying in high school. It’s not my story it’s the story of a girl I was very friendly with in high school. Someone I still bump in to today and speak to. Someone whose life was quite literally ruined by bullying. I know she won’t mind my sharing her story so I’m going to share my view of what happened to her so you can see just how serious bullying can be.
We were sophomores in high school. This girl (we’ll call her Nancy*) and I met in middle school and became good friends. She’d been to my home several times and I to hers. I enjoyed her parents very much and she was a lot of fun. Toward the end of our sophomore year she met a boy. To be honest I didn’t think he was that big of a catch at the time and he really isn’t now, but that’s neither here nor there, she liked him very much and he her. The problem was he’d just ended a relationship with another girl. Apparently it was quite serious, or as serious a relationship as a 16-year-old can have; which of course at the time that seems like the only relationship you’ll ever have and it’s such a big deal to you. Anyway, they dated throughout the Summer and that would be the beginning of the problems. It started with nasty phone calls to my friend’s home from this other girl and her friends. Over the course of the Summer it would escalate to them going to her apartment to “ding-dong ditch” and eventually it got to the point they were using chalk or worse to write things on her apartment door. Nancy and I worked together that year at a local restaurant. I don’t want to say which one because that might blow the anonymity I am striving for. They would follow her to work. She lived close to work so she often walked. It got to the point her mom, my mom, and our boss wouldn’t let her walk anymore. She always had a ride which I now shudder at. How horrible to not be able to walk down the street in your own town?!
She wouldn’t bow to them though. She held her head up and continued to see this boy until towards the end of the Summer when the relationship had run its course. They parted as friends. I remember thinking how brave she was to continue to see this boy through all of this. I feel it’s important to mention that by this point the interactions with these girls were not physical in nature. There were threats of physical violence on their part but for the most part it was them name calling and threatening. I’m not going to illiterate the name calling here because I don’t want pervs searching my blog but I’m sure you can imagine what they were like.
Finally we would start our junior year of high school. You would think the end of the relationship would have been enough for these girls but, not so much. The boy and his original girlfriend got back together (I know, right?) and she of course blamed my friend for their whole 4 month separation. As our year in school started the harassment escalated. My friend couldn’t walk down certain hallways in the school. If she went to her locker between classes she was met with this girl and her group of friends who would threaten and intimidate her over and over. Finally it did escalate to actual physical violence. They would slam her head in to her locker, push her around, etc… So my friend went to the school administrators and the guidance counselor for help. Their solution? They brought in this group of girls, sat them all down with my friend and made them apologize. End of story for them. That of course made it worse and it was just miserable. Each time my friend asked an adult for help the same thing would happen. They’d sit them down to “talk it out”. My friend was becoming more and more depressed and despondent. Her parents were worried she would become suicidal. They called the police for help. The police allowed as how they couldn’t help until she was physically attacked, but they could speak sternly to this group of girls and their parents and try to scare them a little. As you can imagine these girls had little to no respect for authority and that just really pissed them off worse. Finally one day after school they followed my friend after school and beat her up. They broke several ribs and her nose. The police were called and citations were issued. The school officials promised to “monitor the situation more closely” as my friend was attacked before she was able to even leave the school grounds. Her parents were terrified by this point as was Nancy, but she just refused to let these girls win. Her parents wanted to pull her out of school but she refused.
Nancy’s dad was a veteran, he’d served in Vietnam and was retired army. He kept a collection of antique pistols. They weren’t locked up because most of them didn’t fire and if they did you couldn’t get ammo for them. So really they were of little danger in the home. The biggest threat they posed was probably to encourage a burglar as they were probably quite valuable. The day after Nancy was attacked she would stick one of those pistols in her backpack. Just like every other day for the past 7 months these girls met her at her locker and they were furious they’d been cited by the police. Nancy reached in to her bag, pulled out the antique pistol and pointed it at them. Two things happened at that point. First, the girls immediately left her alone and would never bother her again. Second, a teacher walked by and saw the gun. He asked a very distraught Nancy to slowly hand him the gun which she did. All the while she’s being very clear that it’s not loaded. That in fact no ammo even exists for it. Of course that made no difference. She brought a weapon to school. She was in big trouble. The police were called. She was arrested, placed in handcuffs and taken to jail. She was also expelled from school. Her high school career was over.
Her parents hired a good attorney and he argued she was under extreme duress, the weapon wasn’t loaded, couldn’t be loaded, posed no threat, and in fact if anyone was responsible it was the school administrators who failed to protect Nancy on their watch. The judge gave her several years of supervised probation and ordered her record expunged when she hit 18, provided she completed her probation.
One of the requirements of her probation was that she attend school every day. To this day I scratch my head over that because she’d been expelled. It was not possible for her to do that. Her parents though would not give up. They sued the school, they felt the school didn’t do enough to protect Nancy and she was seriously injured on school property due to a lack of supervision of these girls. A judge would agree with them after several months but he was not comfortable placing Nancy back in the main stream school population. He feared retribution from this group of girls and the school had already proven they had no interest in intervening so he ordered the school district admit her to our local alternative school. The alternative school is a school they opened just a couple of years before this incident where they would send kids who couldn’t handle main stream school for one reason or another. It actually quite quickly became a school where several pregnant teenage girls would go and to this day that’s a big part of their program, but that’s an entirely different post.
Because it took months for the lawsuit to be settled, Nancy would re-enter school several credits short of what she needed to graduate with our class. This happens with this school quite frequently actually, they don’t offer the right curriculum so kids can’t graduate on time. She would have to finish out the year and then start the next year as a junior all over again. Because it was court ordered she had no choice. She would however go on to finish her probation and then drop out and get her GED.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that once she was expelled we fell out of touch. I would still call her every few months but I was busy with school and extra curricular activities and somewhere in there my world came crashing down when my high school relationship ended and frankly I just had my own problems and my own life to live and it wasn’t parallel with hers any more.
She remained employed at the same restaurant we worked in that Summer so I would see her when I went in there. I would always inquire as to how she was and make small talk. Eventually I went off to college, came back, got married, etc… and though I knew she’d gotten married and had a baby I lost track of her almost completely.
Fast forward to about 7 years ago. This is getting long but I don’t want to break it in to two parts so I’ll try to wrap it up. About 7 years ago meth hit here with a vengeance. I know it’s a nationwide problem but Wyoming has a HUGE meth problem. I opened our local newspaper one day to see a story about a huge drug bust. The Wyoming division of criminal investigation and our local law enforcement got a tip from a manager of a local hotel that there was a large amount of traffic in and out of one of their rooms for months. Lots and lots of high school kids in and out. After watching the operation for 3 months they made their move and took down the operation which would turn out to be one of the biggest meth busts we’ve seen. The dealer in this case made $180,000 in 3 months selling meth. Sadly the bulk of the meth was sold at our local high school by high school kids used as runners. That’s also a post for another day! Imagine my surprise when I saw the name of the dealer in the paper and it was Nancy! WTH?! I was blown away. I followed the case in the news for the next couple of months and saw that she pled guilty to felony trafficking. As a part of a plea deal she agreed to go to the high schools in the state and speak to the kids about the dangers of meth. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with a possibility of parole after 5 years. In exchange for her cooperation in taking down her supplier and speaking to the school kids she would almost certainly only serve her bottom number of 5 years and she would not be charged federally. Her husband it turns out was the king pin of the operation and he was charged federally and is serving time in a federal prison. While in prison she filed for divorce.
About two years ago I was in the same restaurant Nancy had worked at so many years ago and imagine my surprise when she served me! She’d served her 5 years and was out on parole. I nervously asked how her parents were and how she was and then I went on my way. A few months later I would see her again at Joe’s company Christmas party. After being released from prison she’d met and married a man who worked with Joe. She was pregnant with her second child and had full custody of her oldest child. These days she and her husband own that restaurant here in town and I don’t know that anyone even really knows what she did or who she is.
After that Christmas party Joe and I were talking. Actually I was talking and he was trying not to fall asleep. I wondered about her life and the path it had taken. I couldn’t help but wonder if her life would have been very different had she not been bullied so mercilessly all of those years ago. She’d been a good student and a good friend once. I really couldn’t honestly say how she would have turned out had that not happened to her, but to this day I frequently wonder after her and can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe she’d have taken a very different path had she not been bullied, expelled, arrested, etc…
**Please note I have changed her name because she is a local business owner. Obviously much of her life was lived out in the papers, but just the same I don’t want to cause problems with her business or put her family in danger
***Also please note, I do not in ANY way condone any of her actions over the course of the years. She made many choices that I don’t support in ANY WAY. I’m a mother obviously I do not condone her choice to sell an extremely dangerous and addictive drug to our local school children nor do I support her choice to bring a firearm to school and I don’t mean for this post to make excuses for her choices and behavior at all. I really hope it doesn’t come across that way!!