That Time I Was Bullied – Repeatedly – As a Kid

I’d like to share a story from my childhood. This is not an easy piece to write or post.

Please note: this post may be triggering to victims of abuse or bullying.

. . .

I am a victim of childhood bullying.

My story takes place over a couple of weeks in fourth grade. I used to be chased, hit, and spit on by three students. They were comparable in size, but then again, I was a pretty short kid growing up (and am now a pretty short adult). But they were first graders.

I used to get beat up by kids three years my junior on the playground.

They’d chase me to the edge of the playground and I’d pull up a loose chain link fence and run onto the adjacent soccer field that wasn’t technically our school’s property. For whatever reason, they never chased me under the fence. But they’d wait there, taunting me through the open chain links, fully prepared to kick my ass if I tried to wiggle back under and run away. So I’d just walk the length of the fence, these three boys walking with me on the other side, shouting at me, spitting on me, trying to grab my jacket if I got too close.

When the teachers would yell that recess was over, I’d wait until the playground emptied, then run back into the building. This went on for a few weeks.

I finally told my parents. I don’t think I ever told them all the details as I’ve posted up here, so Mom and Papa, if you’re reading this, here’s the whole story for the first time. I think I had said there were some boys at recess who were making fun of me. I’ll never forget my Mom telling me: “Keiko, it’s their problem. They’re the ones who have the problems and issues, not you. You can stand up to them without getting into a fight because you’re better than them and you know how to use your words.”

The next day at recess, I brought my camera. I took pictures of them through the fence. I told them I was taking their photos to show to the teacher, that I would have evidence. (In hindsight, I realize that was pretty astute for a fourth grader, but I suppose I got the idea because my father is a photojournalist.) Somewhere in an old picture box are these still photos of these hateful faces frozen in time, their faces overlaid with that grey chainlink fence, their fingers clawing, teeth literally bared, and anger flashing in their eyes. I will never forget a single detail of their faces.

Photo evidence captured, they remained undaunted. I put the camera away and told them that my Mom said that their making fun of me is their problem, that I’m the better person because I wouldn’t fight them, and that I would use my words.

I will never, ever forget the moment the one taller black boy looked straight at me and said:

“No, this is your problem.” And then he spit at my face through the fence.

It dripped off my cheek and landed on my pink winter jacket. Then they ran off.

. . .

It’s been twenty years since that day and I will never forget it.

I am 29 years old and I still can’t write about being bullied by first graders as a fourth grader without getting embarrassed, ashamed, and angry. I imagine people think that I should probably get over some silly little bullying problem from two decades ago. I mean, it’s not like they hit me or anything.

Their words haunt me.

I may have moved on emotionally, but that doesn’t mean that I can forget it. In that moment: a switch flipped. A scar was left.

I became permanently marked – and changed – by bullying.

. . .

Bullying has changed since I was a little kid. We didn’t have cyberbullying when I was younger. We were still using an Apple IIe in our classrooms and you were the child of privilege if you had Prodigy at home.

Today, it’s a different story. Fourth graders have access to the internet. There are plenty of parents who do very little to limit their children’s access to computers and cell phones, so it’s no wonder that even a 10-year old can receive harassing, threatening text messages.

But bullying doesn’t always happen under the veil of technology. It can be painfully overt like my experience. It happens in the halls between class, in the locker rooms before gym, or while you’re sitting on the bus on your way to school. Or even, like in my case, when you’re waiting for the bus to arrive.

. . .

When I was in fifth grade, there was a kid at my bus stop that I couldn’t stand. There was no misunderstanding about how much we hated each other. But he used to tease me every day. I’d try to ignore him or come up with a witty comeback. This winter morning, he didn’t say anything. He grabbed a fistful of snow with leaves, sticks, and ice shards in it, and formed it into a tightly packed ball. I thought he was going to throw it at me.

I was wrong.

He grabbed my neck from behind with one arm and with the other, shoved the snow in my nose and mouth so I couldn’t breathe. The leaves got in my mouth. The sticks and ice cut my face. I started choking and crying. He held me for a full minute while I struggled against him before he let me go.

I ran home, only 3 houses away and told my mom. By the time she ran out to the street, she could see my bus turning the corner. She called the school. He was called in to the principal’s office.

I learned at the end of the day he’d been suspended and kicked off the bus route.

. . .

I was bullied because I was the smart kid, a little goofy, a little weird. I asked questions (too many). I was chatty (too much). I did all the extra credit assignments when they were given out and even when they weren’t.

I was the goody-two-shoes, the brown-noser, the nerd.

Truth is, I was just really excited about learning and school. My parents had raised me to always remain curious, to apply myself, and to never take for granted for a second the miracle and wonder of the world around me. These are values I hope to pass down to my own children one day, because they’ve shaped who I am.

It was this love of learning that apparently was the equivalent of an invisible target painted on me that said: “Bullies: Have At Her.”

It’s taken me years to embrace these traits as opposed to the internal monologue I repeated over and over to myself as a teen: don’t be so different Keiko. Don’t stand out so much. Try not to be so smart.

Don’t get me wrong: I was still kind of a weird teen, but with a level of self-consciousness that bordered on the neurotic. I was perpetually worrying about what other people thought about me. Traces of this self-doubt still remain with me today.

Because, as those first-graders would be happy to remind me: it was my problem.

. . .

This has been an incredibly difficult post to write. I had actually had the first half of this post written for months, sitting in my draft folder because publishing it felt too painful.

But then I heard about Jamey Rodemeyer.

Jamey was a gay teen who made an “It Gets Better” video. His video was widely-praised as he spoke with such optimism. He was about to start high school and even after years of being bullied about his sexuality, he seemed enthusiastic for the future ahead.

On September 18, 2011, Jamey committed suicide.

He was 14.

. . .

I’m writing this post today with courage found in reading this post by JW Moxie from last month. She describes a bullying experience where she physically fought back. Reading her post, it triggered a lot of memories and emotions. I never found the courage to fight back as a kid.

I think in many ways, my experiences with being bullied, have inadvertently shaped me into a strong woman today. I can pinpoint the exact moment I developed a fighter’s spirit.

I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones who made it.

. . .

With all of my attention focused on MS 26 earlier this week, I completely missed everything about Michigan’s disgusting anti-bullying law that passed in Michigan’s State Senate on Tuesday.

Wait a minute, how can I call an anti-bullying bill disgusting?

Because conservative groups lobbied to have additional language added to Senate Bill 137 – also known as Matt’s Safe School Law after another gay teen who committed suicide as the result of bullying – to allow bullying in cases where the bully’s actions are the result of  “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Critics of this bill have dubbed it the License to Bully bill, claiming it provides a blueprint for bullies. If a bully can claim that they bullied someone because they were offended on religious or moral grounds, they are exempt from this law. It boggles the mind that a piece of anti-bullying legislation actually paves the way for… more bullying. This was the final prodding that I needed to share my story.

You can tell Michigan just how you feel about their new and very flawed law here.

. . .

I hope you’ve found this post useful. I hope this post has raised awareness about bullying. I hope you’ll share it with others to continue to raise awareness about bullying, particularly with regard to Michigan’s absurd new law.

And if you’ve been bullied, I’m so sorry we share this in common. I hope you’ll share your story with others too so that something can be done about bullying on a national level.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to share on this matter. No clever final sentence.

Just thanks for reading my story.

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  1. says

    Very good post. I’ll have to take a look at the Michigan part next. Yes, it brought back memories of school and neighborhood bullies. Picture it, Upstate NY in November. My neighbor’s two children have just knocked me to the ground for the umpteenth time and this time have taken my shoes away from me. They then play keep away with my shoes. Yeah I remember, all too well unfortunately.

  2. says

    I am so sorry that you had to go through this, Keiko. Nobody should ever have to deal with these kinds of people. And thank you for your bravery in putting it out there.
    But I know it has made you stronger and the kind of person who stands up for the underdog because you know how it feels to be downtrodden.
    You have a very powerful gift.

  3. says

    Thank you for writing this Keiko. I had no idea Michigan passed such a heinous bill. I can’t really believe it. If I were the “Matt” in “Matt’s Safe School Law” I would be ashamed and disappointed. I’m ashamed and disappointed myself.

    I was also teased and bullied in middle school. A lot. I came from Hong Kong in seventh grade and while I was more mature and had more world experience than my peers, I was clueless when it came to the their social expectations and was light years behind them in “social” maturity. My international school was very faced paced and my seventh grade year was basically a repeat of my sixth grade year, making me seem way more advanced academically than I was.

    So yeah, my situation was ripe for bullying. These four girls would have at me almost every day. They said I was “dogging” them (I had no idea what that meant) and would push me against a wall and stick their face right in my face. I could smell their cheap Revlon lipstick (the favorite shade, I later learned, was “Toast of New York”). After spewing hurtful things at me for a while usually they let me go. The few times I stood up straight and looked them full in the face, they punched me. Once when I tried to fight back they pulled my hair out in clumps as they yanked me to the floor. That fight got broken up by fellow students and I don’t think the girls ever got in trouble for what they did.

    Once they tied me sweatshirt to a poll (with me in it) so tight that I couldn’t get out. When my vice principal found me, a good ten minutes into 3rd period), he just untied me and sent me on my way. He never even asked what had happened. I never understood that, not even to this day.

    The weird thing was, one of them was in my art class, without her fellow cohorts. In that class she totally ignored me, and was sometimes even civil to me. For some reason that made me loathe her more, maybe I recognized her weakness and I hated her for it. At least the other girls were acting on emotions they actually felt when it seemed she was letting herself get bullied into bully me.

    Luckily they were all 8th graders and they graduated at the end of the year. My 8th grade year was so much better, but I never forgot how it felt to be in that position. To this day, when I have hall duty, I cringe as I see the meeker kids standing on the outskirts of the big groups, pretending to be a part of a crowd that doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. I remember how that felt. I still feel that way sometimes.

  4. says

    Thank you.

    Thank you for having the courage to share your bullying stories for others. It takes great courage and you have my respect for it. Growing up I was always the shy, quiet girl who was lucky enough to be free of bullying until my high school years. But once the bullying started, my high school years were miserable. Everyone picked on me for my weight. Because I was a band nerd and I loved being a band nerd. Because I didn’t have the latest popular clothes. I was never manhandled, hit or spit on, but the words can do just as much damage as any fist. Sometimes, they do more. It forever shaped me after high school. I never thought that I was worthy of a date or a boyfriend so I didn’t date. It wasn’t til I met my husband that I started to move past those words and it was only with his help. Were together almost 9 years now and its taken our battles with infertility for me to come full circle and finally be the girl that fights back.

    I just hope and pray that it doesn’t take as long for the others affected by bullying to stand up and fight back.

    Thank you for posting and having the courage to tell your story.

  5. says

    This was such a brave post. I am appalled at what children are capable of, I just don’t understand how they learn so much hate at such an early age. Although I was never bullied physically, I was teased and tormented verbally. To this day, I am still effected by it. It’s incredible that it forms us like it does.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I was bullied, too. It was much subtler–but the scars go so deep that I have PTSD from what I went through. It went on in some form from preschool through 12th grade. It never took the form of the type of physical bullying you describe. When I was in elementary school, words were used against me in cruel ways. By the time I was in high school, I was simply shut out of all social activities. I’m in therapy for the PTSD now, but the pain is still sharp when I think about what I went through.

    I’m sorry that you were bullied. And I am so pissed to realize what that Michigan “anti-bullying” law means.

    Thanks again for posting this and helping to raise awareness about the damaging effects of childhood bullying.

  7. says

    I’m so sorry that you went through that, and admire your courage for speaking up.

    I don’t think of myself as having been bullied, yet I could easily list 10-15 separate incidents in which other children behaved in a cruel or violent manner toward me for no particular reason. It was never the same kid twice (except for Jamie Ninni when I was in 5th grade and he was in 3rd–he liked to chase me around on his bike and ride as hard as he could into my legs–the jerk!). I think that adults really need to step up and to teach kids that it is NOT OK to be cruel from a much earlier age.

    Jamey’s story breaks my heart. No child should go through that.

  8. says

    I want to know what the hell kind of moral conviction allows anyone to be less than compassionate towards another human being.

    I was the victim of bulling–not physical, but verbal–throughout my elementary school years. It left me with self-doubt that unfortunately still rears its ugly head.

    But more recently, I was the victim of bullying in the workplace. And when I stood up to the bully, my life was made a living hell, and none of my superiors did anything about it. My only choice was to leave, of my own free will, so I did. Because I left on my own, and because everyone else was complicit in what happened, I don’t have much of a legal leg to stand on if I wanted to do anything about it.

    I think that not only are we too tolerant of bullying and sexism and discrimination of so many kinds in schools; so many people still allow these things to happen to adults in the workplace. When are people going to start having common human decency? No matter WHO we are, or WHAT we believe?

    • says

      AND … I got on my soapbox too quickly here, but I wanted to say that I am sorry that you had to endure that hellish existence in school … and that I am so glad that you’ve grown up to be the woman you are. There are many people who are lucky that you’re you, Keiko.

  9. says

    I am so sorry that you had to endure bullying in school, Keiko. NO child should have to learn to cope with such actions; it makes me terribly sad that so many kids are going through this kind of treatment on a daily basis – it hurts my heart.

    I went and signed the petition concerning Michigan’s “anti-bullying” bill as well. As a Christian, I find it terribly disturbing that there is language in this law that allows children and adults to cowardly hide their hatred and disgusting actions behind religion. I cannot think of one religion in the world today that openly allows or promotes such actions – NOT ONE!

    Christians are called to LOVE EVERYONE – no matter who they are or what they do. The Bible says we are to turn the other cheek and constantly forgive and NEVER judge anyone else lest we be judged. The only thing we are supposed to (no, actually COMMANDED to do!) is LOVE one another. I don’t know about everyone else’s definition of “love”; but mine does not include teasing, tormenting, hitting, or hurting another human being!

    I am DISGUSTED at how many people within my own faith twist and mangle the words of heaven to support their own prejudices. Jesus surrounded himself with out-casts, people who had literally endured bullying from those around them; and he loved them. He held them dear. If that is not an example of how we should act toward one another, then I don’t know what is.

    Obviously, I am only speaking from my experience as a Christian, but I have MANY friends of so many other faiths…I cannot imagine ANY of my Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu friends condoning violence (verbal, physical, emotional) in any way. I do not know for whom that language was included in the bill, but it is extremely disturbing to me; and I am VERY disappointed with Michigan’s law-makers right now!

  10. says

    Another amazing post. I’m so sorry that you went through this garbage.

    I was bullied from second grade through senior year – by the same three people. Initially, they would throw things at my head to make my glasses fly off, but eventually they stopped because I was bigger than they were. One fight on the bus stopped the physical stuff (my dad was a powerlifter, and as a little kid, I lifted weights for fun). But the words never stopped, and to this day I can’t actually even tell people what those bullies said to me. I told a teacher once that they were saying bad things to me, but she told me I’d have to repeat what they said, and I couldn’t.

    As for that bill, I don’t understand it. “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins” – right?