I know I wasn’t the first, but I feel like I was. In a time when you constantly read about cyber-bullying and the evil things kids do to each other in cyber-space, remembering a nasty note hand-written on paper makes me feel ancient- as if I was the first in a long line of bullied kids.
It was seventh grade. I was in middle school and I received a note- a vicious, evil note signed not only by my beautiful, popular, best friend but by all of her little followers. Each person wrote an individual phrase and signed it. The crinkled, white paper looked more like a page torn out of a yearbook than an actual letter. Different colored inks and pencil colored the page. The scrawling phrases read- “You are such a bitch.” “Whore.” “Slut.” “You deserve nothing. You deserve to die.”
I was thirteen and in no-way fulfilled the definition of what a slut or a whore can be, but there it was and those words followed me for the next five years. What was my mistake? What did I do to receive such wrath? I lied about liking a boy. Apparently, this guy, this child, wasn’t good enough for my image and to protect my reputation, my best friend demanded I stop talking to him. Did I? No. I lied to her and remained friends with him. She found out and BOOM! In retaliation, she and a friend planned revenge and I received the note.
Devastated by the letter, I went to the guidance counselor. He asked me if I wanted the students punished. The infringement was worth a suspension, but the decision was in my hands. I said, “No.” figuring their suspensions would make them hate me even more. I regret this decision now because the bullying didn’t end there. They didn’t hate me any less. In fact, I think they thought me weak. After the momentary fear they felt when they were caught, they soon realized that they could abuse me and get away with it. Even though the ring-leader eventually moved away, every school day, for the next FIVE years, I would hear the whispers and giggles in the hallway. “Bitch.” “Whore.” “Slut.”
I tried running away. In fact, I had plans to leave my hometown and travel to New York City with some older guy I didn’t know. He made comments I didn’t understand such as “Your virginity is a commodity.” If it wasn’t for one of my friends finally telling her father where I was, I’d probably be dead right now.
This was the beginning of a downward spiral. Eventually, I did make some bad decisions- all of which I own, but that letter opened a door to a pathway full of pain, a lack of self-worth and a lack of self-respect. Sometimes, when you hear negative words enough, even if they aren’t true, you start to believe them.
Through love, friends and a strong-will, I made it through my middle school and high school years. By my senior year of high school, I was even hailed as one of the most improved students. In my senior year of high school, I also received one heart-felt apology from a student who helped organize the letter. I will never forget the tears in her eyes and the honesty behind her words. Her eyes bared the pain in my soul. I forgave her instantly.
I recently had the honor of seeing “Wicked.” I didn’t know what to expect. I grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz” but had never read Gregory Maguire’s story about the lives of the witches of Oz. I went to the musical blind and found my soul torn open, vulnerable, reliving a life I had long forgotten.
Galinda looked and acted just like my “best friend” and Elphaba? Well, she kind of reminded me of me. When “Loathing” came on and Galinda and her groupies ganged up on Elphaba, I couldn’t breathe. I was in middle school again. I was in high school again. After burying my pain for decades and overcoming so many downfalls, one five minute song scraped away the ivy-covered fascade, destroyed the grand tomb walls of my past and made me face those skeletons I had long forgotten. There is nothing more powerful than art, music and words. When all three are put together, the sheer intensity can take my breath away.
Did I cry? Yes. I ugly cried and I found myself reflecting on my life.
Have I forgiven my “best friend.” Yes, in my heart, though she has never asked for it.
I think of the “Wicked” song, “For Good.” People, pain, events come into our lives for a reason. We learn from them. And I’d like to say, all of it has changed me for the better.
It’s hard to find a silver lining when you’re hurting and I wish I could take the pain away from every person that has ever been hurt by a bully. If there is one thing I know, it’s that the words and actions of bullies can be very painful. We may never know why we have to be a victim to these evil behaviors, but we have to have faith in ourselves, our lives and our hearts. Try to be strong and try not to let them get you down. Confide in loved ones, talk to a school counselor, write your feelings down, listen to music- express yourself and your feelings. You are important. Your feelings are important and even though you may feel alone, you are not. There are thousands, if not millions of people feeling just like you, right now. Things can and will get better. In the end, all the pain I felt made me the person I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing! Defy gravity! You can do it and you will find that in the end, all of this has changed you for the good.
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women