Nudging the Boundaries


Fresno, California, US
April 11
Writer, Registered Addiction Specialist, civil rights/civil liberties activist


Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 14, 2011 4:53PM

My bully's interview with me

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A former bully reached out to me on Facebook, even going so far as to arrange a face-to-face meeting. She was one of several girls in elementary school who had harassed me about my weight, my sexuality, and my choice of friends. Jennifer was not the ringleader but simply one of a crew headed by a perky blonde girl by the name of Coralie. Coralie also reached out to me on Facebook, sending me a long list of her joys and sorrows, and I could not bring myself to respond. Not a word of apology or even recognition of her actions was present in her message.

Jennifer and I met at a coffee shop called Irene's, just down the street from my current home to discuss where we had been in the intervening 40 years. We were both married, we had both completed our degrees, we both had children. Jennifer said she had been trying to find me for years. She had felt pretty awful about the way she and others had behaved toward me and wanted to know if I were okay. Did her behavior make my life harder? Where there lingering issues or problems?

The truth is that I'd been abused by my parents in this way. Abused by friends in this way. Abused by lovers in this way. It had become a pattern, and this pattern did have consequences. Long term depression for one. Drug and alchol abuse and addiction for another. Job problems. Self-esteem problems.

The abuse I had hoped to leave behind when I left elementary school was picked up by a whole new set of classmates, but by ninth grade I had had enough. I started dressing and talking tougher. Rather than trying to escape from them when the teasing began, I just waited until they got bored and left. I wouldn't give them the satisfaction of disturbing me any longer. I eventually overcame my victimhood.

It has been harder to push away people whom I love very much but who also get something out of making me feel small and worthless. I see that characteristic in people earlier and earlier in friends now, but I'm still painfully attracted to those who would enjoy mocking and belittling me. At least I have the good sense now to cut it off right away when it appears.

When I thought more deeply about what had taken place, I realized that I could not even remember isolated incidents of harassment. All I can recall is pain, running home to the comfort of my family, and finding no comfort. "It will pass," they said, "when you are older." That is small comfort to someone who is hurting, but I'm not sure anything further could have been done.

 Deeper still, I imagined the kind of pain Jennifer must have experienced that drove her to seek me out and offer a heartfelt apology. It was then that I began empathizing with the bullies. When pain is brought, it is brought on both sides. I imagined the people who bully LGBT children to death, and what kind of mark that leaves on them. I began to forgive. And I began to think that when we take on the issue of bullying in earnest in this country, we should think not only of the victims, but also of the perpetrators. I would not want to carry the shame of destroying a life with me to the end. Whether Coralie admitted it or not, she was probably hurting too.

Now I'm in my late forties, and I have found a life partner who always lifts me and never tries to bring herself up by pushing me down. It is possible to escape the life of the victim. I told Jennifer about all of this, and I could see the relief on her face. I hope she can forgive herself.


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Am I late to the Open Call?
I got to say I admire the effort you made Leslie.
Since I was just bullied for being poor, not ever wearing the right kind of clothes, for being the shy geeky girl I was.
I don't evn know what to say here leslie...
Are you kidding me. Screw Coralie! You feel sorry for someone who made your life hell. I was bullied too, one time by a huge gym teacher who got his jollies off by hitting me with a broom and making my life a living hell. I almost quit school and did fail gym class on account of this moron. Do I feel sorry for him? I hope he rots in hell and has had a terrible life. He really screwed up my high school years and I would never forgive him in a thousand years.
Forgiveness and empathy are for my benefit.
Good post, Chickie. ;)

It's fine to forgive, but you never forget. In your case you're remembering by listening and paying forward. Good on you, woman.
That's the toughest part sometimes, is forgiving one's self!!!

It takes real generosity to forgive and then to find empathy for the bully's feelings as well. ~r
Thanks for the courage to really look at yourself AND the courage to say it out loud. Beautifully written and insightful piece.
This was worth an EP. Thanks for writing this.
I saw a quote once that said holding grudges is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Your post reminds me of that... holding the hate and pain is easy, letting go of it is sometimes so very hard. Excellent writing.
Y'all are making me feel very good about starting to post again. Love to all.
There was a girl in my 12 year old daughter's class who would be her friend one day and then ignore her or be mean and put her down the next day. It hurt my daughter terribly until one day she came home from a school trip where the other girl's Dad had been one of the chaperone's. She said, "Mom, her Dad put her down all day. I think he was trying to be funny but he said the meanest things to her in front of everyone. It made me feel awful. I think that must be why she's mean to me sometimes." Everyone has a story. Too many people have pain that they don't know what to do with except pass along. I admire your courage in forgiving and in sharing your experience. Thank you for this.
Bullies do not deserve forgiveness. Yet, the most important factor is how YOU feel. Excellent post. R
Thank you for a beautiful post. Your voice is an important one amidst the anti-bully calls for blood. As someone who was bullied in school, and later in the workforce, I know well the constancy of pain that such torment brings. But by humanizing the tormenters, exploring your own recurring victimhood, and accepting (in one of your comments) that forgiveness is for your own healing, you have moved the discourse about "bullies" one step closer to a discourse about human frailty and fault lines. Well done.
Bravely honest and thoughtful piece, Leslie. Most inspiring is your breakthrough to a higher plane of understanding. Forgiving your long-ago tormentors must have been a liberating deliverance for you. You're no longer a captive of their ignorant scorn.
Very admirable to see your bully after all these years. I can relate to having people in my life who have belittl ed and debased me. Trying to break free of that pattern, but it takes some doing.
Wow! This truly brought those goosebumps on. Not only was this written well, I found your forgiveness touching. I also was surprised to hear that there are some bullies who seek forgiveness.
Beautiful timely considering the approaching holiday (gee, you mean it's not about shopping?). Forgiveness, perhaps the hardest thing on any level.
my bully was in a gang and they chased me after high school to sell me as a hooker and kill me. I think they are still lurking around my place today.
Jersey Girl - I recently began wondering if Coralie herself was victimized in this way by someone in her home. Jennifer tells me that although Coralie spun her story in a positive direction, her home life has been far from idyllic.

Thoth - I have missed you. Very nice to see your bright face here. If bullies are created in bullying homes--where parents tell kids to man up (or woman up)--don't they derive some release from pain through forgiveness and a second chance?
You are kind. And you are blessed to be in a good relationship now. It's all about the now.
I had to stand up and walk around a few minutes after reading this.
What a great post. I was emotionally abused as a very young child, primarily by mother, the affect led to me becoming a target for bullies for years in my school years. I read your writing and I got to wonder if I would ever meet any of my bullies. Call me selfish, but I am not sure I would.
It was horrid, growing up as I did, it is not something I have spoken about, or will here. ( Except to say that there was in no way shape, manner , or form any kind of physical, or sexual abuse, not even a hint) but now, I contemplate the gift that as given me when my mother et al took the emotional support that a child should have, and left me on my own.
You are a better person than I, i am not sure I would have met them.
I have to live with what happened ( though I like the person I am today...mostly) so they should too,
Congrats on your strength and character in doing this. It sounds like you have a great family. These day's the country seems upset at the bullying of gay children.. I become kind of a cynic ass because I was not bullied because I as gay, neither were you, it was still horrible.
Bullying is Bullying and for whatever reason, it is wrong.
I pray that your children learn that from you.
Thank you for your post..
CCK - If the parents of bullies can recognize the damage done to their own children through this behavior, perhaps everyone might come closer to agreeing that something must be done. There are no winners in the bullying game.

Chicken Maaan - I'm working hard at not allowing past experiences hinder my growth today. At one time, I was angry and frustrated and passive-aggressive, and I spent too much time being concerned about how others perceive me. I've still got much work to do, but I've eradicated the passive aggressive behavior--learned from my mother--and have learned to temper my anger and frustration, but I've got a ways to go on the last item on the list. Thanks for your comment.

Rob - I think forgiveness is like a weak muscle that needs practice to become natural. I still harbor a lot of ill will toward my parents, and we are not on speaking terms right now. I am working on it, though.

Donnuts - I don't know if you're joking or not. I hope not. Yikes!

I Love Life - I was surprised, too. For the first meeting we set up I no-showed. She didn't tell me before our meeting that she had been searching for me or that she wanted to apologize. We parted very amicably--with a hug--and we're still in contact via email. She now lives in Virginia, on the other side of the country. She has become a genuine and caring person. I think she was probably all of that before but felt some peer pressure to conform to Coralie's demands for fear of becoming a target herself.
Lea - Lovely to have you drop by. I am blessed indeed with a fine relationship for the last 23 years of my life. I'm not sure I'd have been able to let go of these old hurts without her help and support. We did, however, go through some patchy times in which I behaved much like a bully myself. Glad to be rid of THAT nonsense.
Allen - I was indeed bullied for being gay, but that was never the primary reason.

I wanted to mention one incident that I remember clearly. I had become friends with some particularly nerdy people, and I was traveling with them on a field trip in their car. Coralie and the band of thugs were in a Winnebago together. Coralie invited me to join their group, and I leaped at the opportunity, abandoning real friends in order to join the band. Then Coralie promptly handed me something to hold in my hands, the only reason she had invited me. It was a humiliation, and I hurt for a long time for having abandoned people who really cared about me.
I don't think my persecutors would think twice about trying to kill me to this day and don't see that they want anything besides that.
I'm sorry to hear that, Donnuts. I hope you feel at least somewhat safer now.
I am not joking. I implore you to read some of my blog. I understand that there is a great inappropriateness to it; however I don't think gangs of people out of high school jumping kids on the way home from grade school is appropriate either. I also don't understand why I can't get the police in Lawrence to take my problem seriously. There is some speculation to what has happened but it is based on factual occurrences. My bullies were nearly out of high school before I was out of grade school. Thank you for responding to my comment.
forgiveness is the best medicine.
Donnuts, I have been absent from OS for some time and am just beginning to read and post again. I have little knowledge of what's been posted, I'm sorry to say. I will read your blog.

Helvetica, it sure feels that way.
You are to be admired and I'm so sorry you had to deal with the fallout from this harshness for so long. Every time I read something like this, I'm astounded and grateful that I was never on either end of this. My role was to make friends with the kid that everyone despised. Then in a year or two, that kid would become cool and stop being my friend. But no one ever picked on me. I have no idea why, since I was terribly shy and socially awkward, fat and had a horrendous crop of zits in junior high. It's so random, who becomes a victim. Sometimes I think the really insignificant kids like me escape notice, and the ones with some sparkle and some flaws get harassed. You're not late to the open call. They never close.
You were indeed bullied for being gay. That is so strange to me. I was bullied and everybody was told I was gay as a tactic to get more people to hate me. I wasn't gay, but understand what it is to be bullied for it. There were also other rumors circulated about me in grade school and high school. When I got older I found they didn't let up and it wasn't just a going to school type thing.... these people were fully obsessed.
Nice to see you here! I may have been chosen because I fit the victim bill already. I wonder if kids who have been emotionally abused in their homes can be easily sniffed out.

I've been holding on to this piece for some time. It has been a long time since I posted regularly here, and it's very difficult to get started again. I was shocked to find that the first two entries since my return made the cover, but it's oh so satisfying. I think a little bit of encouragement will go a long way. I had taken down a lot of good posts because they could be seen as controversial, and I'm on a mad hunt for work. I expected it would take time to establish any kind of readership, but that did not turn out to be the case at all. Boy do I love OS.

The "It gets better" thing doesn't always work out, does it?
There's a lot of waffling in me about whom and how to forgive in my bullied years - and I love the case you make for forgiving.

There was one essay on main Salon written by a former bully who sought out her victim, and a lot of people in the comments section called her out on being narcissistic and getting a rush from revisiting her crime. I don't think that was the case here at all.
ChillerPop -
I don't think for a moment that Jennifer derived any thrill from our meeting. Truthfully, I stood her up the first time we were scheduled to meet, and she was very understanding, as if she knew I might harbor some residual anger. We parted with hugs, and she still communicates with me via Facebook and email. There is really nothing to be gained from me but friendship now, and she persists nonetheless.
The blog I was hoping to write you is called
"Charlie Rayton on my morning jog" See there is an element to this that involves their parents. A little more than just "as you are at school bullying". Thank you for responding.
"When pain is brought, it is brought on both sides."

Oh, I wish, How I wish that were true enough to count on. One of your bullies felt remorse, One of them seems not to have felt any pain at all.
I don't know if Coralie feels something or not. I did not pursue a relationship, but she attempted to. Who knows what might have happened had I been able to follow up with her. One thing she did NOT do is bully me as an adult.