I don’t know why I’m writing this now. It’s been four and a half years since a single one of you did anything to me – quite a feat, considering the number of you (you numbered over fifty at one point) – and yet only now am I struck with the overwhelming urge to tell you how I felt, and how I feel.
I won’t go into detail about what you did, because I remember it well enough, and I’m sure you do too. It’s hard to erase six years, after all. They linger, always at the periphery of your consciousness, perhaps as a constant furrow of guilt upon your brow, or perhaps not at all. But the memories are there.
In my case, most memories are fragments. I don’t remember every name you called me, every time you touched me just to watch me flinch, or every time you spread malicious lies about me. I can’t call to mind each occasion upon which you made me cry, because they were countless. All I can remember is the cloud of weariness that hung over my head every morning, the knowledge that I would have to face you that day. My sadness was a ball and chain around my foot that I could not be free of because of you, and it dragged me down. I hated myself. I loathed myself, as you told me I should. I was pathetic. I was lonely. I was ugly, stupid and worthless.
Except I wasn’t, not at all.
I like myself now. I refuse to agree with anyone who has ever told me that what you did was ‘character building’, because it wasn’t. It was absolutely character destroying. You hollowed me out, emptied me of any trace of myself, and it was up to me to rebuild it, to put myself back together. And I did that. I did that, and I’m proud of myself for it, because it meant erasing every time you called me ‘ugly’ and ‘worthless’ and ‘friendless’. I was none of those things. I’m not now, and I never was. You only made me believe it was true. You made me hate myself. You committed me to a lifetime of mental illness – medication, therapy, suicide attempts, lost friends and devastated family members – because you thought it was funny to watch me cry, to watch me panic in my attempts to escape you in the corridors. It made you laugh when you spat on me, or when you tripped me up, because you noticed how I could no longer go anywhere by myself and had to stay home from school. I’m not sure what the punchline was to that particular joke. Perhaps it was just me.
And you’ll never be punished for what you did, despite my courage in coming forward, because bullying just doesn’t happen anymore. Bullying? That’s a problem that other schools have to deal with. It doesn’t happen. Not here. The one hour’s detention that five of you received, despite me handing in reams of evidence against dozens of people that tallied over six years’ worth of emotional abuse, proved that.
Thankfully, you picked a strong victim, because all victims are strong. They have to be, by their very definition. People think that ‘victim’ means ‘weak’, but it doesn’t. Not at all. ‘Victim’ means that we were terribly wronged, but we’ll rise above it, because we are good people and we are not what was done to us. We are not the actions of others. We are only how we react to them, and in my case, I fought back by learning to love myself again. When I remembered that you’d called me ugly, I wore my best dress. When I recalled the time you told me I was stupid, I remembered my university scholarship. When I thought of the time you told me I was worthless, I thought of the things I’d achieved. None of this is down to you, and yet the very fact that I am allowed to indulge myself in my good qualities is due to your attempts to take them from me. Perhaps I should thank you, after all.
But, perhaps surprisingly – believe me, it came as quite a shock to me when I realised – I don’t wish you any harm. Not at all. I can’t deny that, for the first few years after I found the courage to speak out about what you did to me, there were moments when I’d look at myself in the mirror – this new me, this worse me, this not-me that you’d created and cast out into the world anew to fend for herself amongst the shadows and the tigers – and I would curse you all, hope that you would one day feel half the pain that I did, because you deserved it. But not anymore.
I saw one of you – and he was one of many – alone, perhaps two years ago. He hadn’t hurt me in over two years, but I knew who he was, and he recognised me. In a group of many, he had been the most vocal in abusing me. He had received one detention for his troubles, whereas I had been handed a far greater sentence. And yet here, by himself, he said nothing. He did nothing. He wasn’t a bully. He was just a person, and looking at me – by now, a stronger person than he’d ever known I could be – scared him. I think that was when I realised that, no matter how much you were all demonised by your actions, you were all people. You were all individuals, as I was, caught up in something greater than yourselves. You must have been so unhappy, having to project it onto me all the time, because there was so much sadness and anger in your actions that I didn’t recognise at the time.
Now, if I hope for anything for you at all, it’s that you learnt not to hate. It’s that you finally discovered – perhaps through years of trial and error, hopefully not at anyone else’s expense, because mine was enough – that the best way to find happiness was not at the detriment of others’. If anything makes you smile now – and I hope it does, because everyone deserves to be happy, even you – then I hope it’s the look on your girlfriend’s face when you tell her you love her, or the realisation that you have enough money left at the end of the month to take a road-trip to somewhere you’ve never been, or even just the extra ketchup you got given with your burger because it’s a Friday. I hope you know now that the best kind of happiness doesn’t come at a price. I hope you learnt to love better than you hated, because you hated well enough and I think it would have poisoned you completely if you’d carried on letting it consume you as you did. And I don’t know why you hated me. I don’t know if you ever really did. I think that perhaps I was just a convenient vessel for your hate, something you could fill with the nastiness that you needed to get out of your system, and I hope that these days you’ve found a vessel that won’t hurt from it. Perhaps you’ve started writing in a journal, or you’ve discovered that playing football once a week helps you feel better. I don’t know. I’ll never know, but I can still hope.
If you take one thing away from this, let it be this; I don’t hate you. Not now. There were times in the past when I hated you so much that it made my toes curl and my blood boil, when I would look at you – you were always smiling, something you’d taken from me – and I would forget how to breathe because I was so angry and scared. Then, there were times when I pitied you. These times came when I started to like myself again, because I realised that there was nothing wrong with me, but there must have been something wrong with you. I wanted to ask you so many questions, but I knew the answers wouldn’t help me recover, so I didn’t. Now, I neither hate nor pity you. I simply remember you. I will always carry you with me, the memories of how you hurt and scarred me, but what happened is firmly in the past. I like myself now, now that I’ve left behind the fear and the hatred, and I hope that one day you’ll be able to do the same.
- Anwen (probably not the same one you thought you knew)