The Terrible Year
My last year of middle school should have been a good one. It should have been filled with all the good things that come with being the oldest group in the school. I was never really popular, so I didn’t imagine to reap the same rewards as that crowd, but I did expect to have some amount of respect for being in the oldest class. I never imagined that I would be the victim of such abuse from what seemed like the entire school. Not only from the popular crowds in my grade but also from the popular crowds in the younger ones. Isabel turned everyone against me. I’m sure she spun some story that blamed me for her having two prosthetic legs. I’d heard bits and pieces of the story she weaved about her accident and my involvement. The worst part of those rumors painted me as a hateful sister who pushed her in front of the car. I was never a really outspoken person, and I was still riddled with guilt from the accident Isabel had those many years ago, so I took whatever came to me because I truly believed I deserved it, even if what Isabel was saying were lies. For some reason, I thought her hate had an ending point. If I let her do whatever she wanted to hurt me through her status at school, maybe someday she would back off and realize how sorry I was. Maybe she would start to forgive me.
The torture started slowly. It began with a small pile of burning embers that grew and grew to this great flame of terror that eventually consumed me whole. It burned me alive. The first few weeks of her hatred campaign was pretty routine in retrospect. People would giggle maliciously when I entered a room, when I walked by them in the hallway. It was all quite innocuous at the time, and I could just about handle the trepidation I felt at being the most talked about pariah in the school. When that got boring for everyone, the messages began to creep up in random places. Loser. Weirdo. Fugly Duckling. These little gems would find their way in the forms of scrap paper slipped into my locker, waiting for me to find. They were written on my desk and whispered loudly when I was in earshot of anyone that mattered. Of course the sniggering didn’t stop. These continued in response to those precious moments when I found those words super gluing themselves to me wherever I happened to be. As soon as I grew accustomed to that step in the hate plan, the hateful words started to become more specific.
One day in particular stands out to me. I was heading to my locker at the end of the day. I passed by crowd after crowd of Isabel supporters who laughed at my loneliness and sniggered at my loser status as it trudged past them. When I reached my locker, I was thankful to see that the word, “LOSER,” written in all caps across the door had been scrubbed clean, with only the faintest shadow of its existence left to see. I mused to myself that I would paint it over or put some kind of small photo over it to fully extinguish the reminder of that week’s bullying session. I opened my locker and was shocked to see what was inside while simultaneously trying to hold it together so that the eyes that I knew were watching me would not have the full satisfaction of the slight they were shoving in my face. I could hear the laughter building behind me, next to me, all around me.
On a small, blue index card, the word, “Dyke,” was written in a lovingly beautiful script. Someone had taken the time to make sure the curse was aesthetic at the very least. I lifted this small, blue card with its gentle message from what it had been delicately resting against. A small, fetid fish. I didn’t understand why the laughter swelled as the gift was revealed to me. “You must be a dumb dyke,” someone shouted from the crowd. “Read the other side, idiot.” I didn’t want to obey. But I had to know what the fish was all about, so I turned the card:
Why do you want to be called Sam when your name is Samantha? We know it’s because you wish you were a boy, you smelly dyke. We know you like girls. That’s why your breath always smells like rotten fish. You go down on so many girls there’s no amount of brushing your teeth that will make your mouth smell like anything other than where it’s been. You’re a dirty, disgusting slut, and everyone knows it.
I couldn’t keep my cool then. I knew they had won with the first tear that fell down my face. There was no stopping the uproar then. And where were all the teachers? I had no idea. I only knew they were all pretty quick to clock out at the end of the day. I was alone, unprotected. I pulled the fish from my locker and turned to face the encroaching crowd. Nothing but a wall of laughter and looks of disgust. And from this fuzzy wall of people, Isabel’s face became alarmingly clear. She stood towards the back, locking eyes with me. At first, her face was expressionless. And very slowly her lip began to curl up in a malicious smirk. She had never looked so evil to me. At worst, she just laughed along with the other bullies as they continued to torture me from week to week. But this time, it felt so personal. It felt so concentrated. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
I marched up to her and parted the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea. Taken aback by my purposeful stride, they couldn’t help but move out of my way. I was a bullet train driving straight towards Isabel. I stopped a few feet short of my target. She continued to smirk at me, challenging me to do anything. She wanted more fuel to add to the fire. More reasons to continue making my life a living hell. I threw the fish as hard as I could, right at her face. She was too surprised by my burst of anger to move out of the way in time. It struck her firmly on the left side of her face, and slid down her cheek for a few moments before falling to the floor. I could feel the hush in the crowd covering me like an itchy blanket. “You fucking bitch!” I yelled, “I guess being sorry wasn’t enough. You had to do this, did you? Well, you win! I fucking hate you now.” I could see the anger building in her eyes, like a concentrated explosion in a house fire. But she didn’t yell. I walked away knowing my life was going to be so much worse now that I finally broke my composure in the worst possible way. My anger would only incite more rage. I was smart enough to know that.
I turned to see that Isabel was still rooted in the same spot. Most of the crowd had gone when the drama was finally over and there was nothing more to see. She was surrounded by her core group, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. They were patting her on the shoulder, giving her hugs and words of encouragement. She was crying. It was confounding. I was the victim here; couldn’t they see that? She had put me through weeks of emotional abuse executed by her cronies. And yet there they were, telling her it would all be okay. That I was the one that was a bitch. That I wouldn’t get away with hurting her. How hypocritical justice is when you’re that young. Despite what I said, that bigger sister instinct kicked in for just a fleeting moment. I almost turned back to be a part of the comforting crowd but immediately stopped myself. I knew I didn’t hate her. I was angry and hurt and incredulous that she would go this far. But there was no going back with Isabel. She had burned the bridge, and I cut down the last ties that could lead me back to her, that could bring us back together.
The bullying got worse at school. It finally got physical, starting with shoves in the hallway, pushes to my back to knock me into my locker while my back was turned to the crowds. Physical threats by some in the girls’ restroom. My lunch, my books, anything I held in my hands was knocked out of my hands wherever possible as they sneered at me and called me dyke. Lesbo. Fish Mouth. Whatever inspiration came to them in the moment was hurled at me like large, poisonous daggers. I tried not to do anything. I didn’t cry because it no longer meant anything after my outburst that day after school. It only spurred them on. I didn’t have the right to cry after I hurt and humiliated my sister so badly. How ironic.
When I started showing up at home with bruises and cuts, I had to lie. I got too rowdy in gym class. I tripped on the stairs on my way home, on the way to school. And when those lies became harder and harder for my parents to believe, I told them that the soccer team was starting training early this year, and the practice sessions could get a little rough at times. This was easier for my parents to swallow since I’d been playing soccer for a few years in little leagues and since there was a school team for eighth graders. Isabel would tense up during these times at home, look relieved when I lied my way through them and resume the mask of indifference she put on in front of my parents, so they wouldn’t know the part she played in the real story behind my physical marks. They accepted it with no question, assuming that since we were “at that age,” we were just going through a phase where we weren’t really friends. In their minds, we’d reconnect when we got older. I found that extremely hard to believe given the current circumstances.