“Move it you fat cow,” demanded the little boy behind me. Most onlookers would have noted that the speaker was not exactly in a position to criticize a classmate’s weight as he was not lean in any way, but no one would dare challenge the class bully.
“Just shut up, David!” I exclaimed, raising my voice to the shrill pitch only a nine-year-old girl can achieve, my tightened fists shaking.
A barrage of superbly rude words flew out of his mouth, but verbal assault was nothing new to me. In previous months, David had made sure that I was well experienced in receiving abuse. Nearly every day at recess from the start of my fourth grade year, and at any other opportunity as well, David would strut over to me, flanked by two or three of his friends, to call me a variety of hurtful names. Some of the more common insults included “ugly” and “stupid,” neither of which, I now realize, were remotely true.
Despite my outward appearance of calm and endurance, David’s comments pierced my subconscious like the long, thick needle of a syringe filled with insecurities. I was a child who took everything seriously, whether it was a math test or a silly joke. The lesions he forged on my mind and self-confidence oozed with poisonous anxiety. I became angry and withdrawn, a frightened animal licking her wounds, glaring at innocent passersby as though they had inflicted her injuries. Every time David uttered an abrasive comment, every time one of his friends called me a rude name, I would grow more and more suspicious of my peers and ever distrustful of the things they said to me, always searching for underlying insults in their words. I would lash out at people who didn’t deserve it, hissing like an angry cat and spewing awkward insults before I could stop the ill-advised remarks spilling from my mouth. I was emotionally volatile, prone to eruption without warning, violent and unpredictable, and for that, my classmates avoided me.
I recall several conversations with my fourth grade teacher about these outbursts. She would tell me the same things every time.
“Honey, they don’t mean to hurt your feelings.” “All they want is to be your friends.” “He only picks on you because he’s trying to feel better about himself.” She employed all the customary clichés in her arguments, so I did not believe her the first time, nor did she convince me over the course of our subsequent discussions. The more she repeated herself, the less her convictions meant to me, and eventually I...