7th grade, pre-algebra class ...
As I worked out a problem on the board, the boy whispered loud enough so I could hear, but the teacher couldn't, "Steven Gay-vis. Steven Gay-vis." My ears burned.
8th grade, homeroom ...
"Are you going to take your boyfriend to the Spring Dance," the girl taunted me in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. I flushed and sank lower in my seat.
The first day of 9th grade ...
"Aren't you the one everyone thought was gay in middle school," the guy asked me as I sat at the high school cafeteria table full of students from another middle school with whom I was trying to make friends. I said nothing.
Three small instances. Simple sentences. Not-so-innocent questions. 30 years later I still remember them as the tiny pieces of grit that got under my skin. Oyster-like, I built up layers of protection, coating the grit until it no longer hurt. But, at the core of my sparkly fabulousness, they are still there.
Was I bullied in school? Some. What did I do to get through it? I made friends. It wasn't easy. In seventh grade, in a new town, at a new school (and one in which no one I met over the summer attended), I made three friends. Three. A guy down the street who never looked clean and cursed like a sailor. A girl from a poorer part of town who was in most of my classes. And, an 8th grader who would sit beside me on the bus in the mornings and talk to me. Three friends are better than none. Three friends provided refuge against being alone. Three friends who made each day bearable. Three friends who probably kept me alive.
Middle school was hard. High school wasn't as bad. The consolidation of several schools in our county meant that I could have a fresh start. Until that incidence in the cafeteria, I believed that was true. I coped the only way I knew how. I avoided contact with people from my middle school. I made friends with students from the other schools. In a school of 1600, the boy who never looked clean and the girl from the poorer part of town disappeared in the masses of bodies changing classes. Still, I was sometimes bullied, but I made a group of friends who wouldn't tease me ... and that's all I needed. Smart kids who were ostracized for being smart and band geeks. The Island of Misfit Toys. That's where I found my safety net.
At the beginning of the Fall of my 11th grade year, the band director said to me, "You need to come out of your shell." I nodded, but I don't think he realized my shell was what was keeping me from falling to pieces.
It's taken me a long, long time to become comfortable with who I am and how I look. Bullying didn't make it easier, but it also helped shape me into the person I am today (who I love. I love me! Yay!). So, today I'm wearing purple in support of all those kids who are being bullied and teased in school.
Hang in there, kittens. I close with the rapidly becoming schmaltzy "It Gets Better." It does get better (even if you aren't a fabulously wealthy, exceedingly handsome famous actor/designer/writer). It even gets better if you are a vicious unrepentant bitter old queen.