Active Voice Column: My Victim Limit
by P. Kristen Enos
(All rights reserved)
I’m not a fan of activity that involves making you feel better at the expense of someone else, so bullying is right down at the bottom of my list. This is a very ironic statement since I have and can exhibit such traits – usually in the form of “jokes”, but I do try to catch myself in the act and curb the behavior. But it took a lot of big and little experiences to get me to even be aware of this side of myself – most notably some key years in my junior and senior years of high school where I was the target of some bullies.
I do not look back on those years with any amount of fondness – just memories of encounters and experiences that I survived more than anything else. Not being a social extrovert by nature as well as being the Asian tomboy, I was incredibly awkward with the typical issues around the next phase of growing up with that new experience called P.E. class, which was survivable since I was a natural athlete. I was just glad that I hadn’t really dealt with questioning my sexual orientation back then because I’m sure that would’ve been just icing on the very bitter cake.
My family was stationed in Southern California from when I was age eight to fourteen. I had gone through junior high, which was a two year school that covered grades 7 and 8. I was thrilled to finally enter high school at 9th grade with the feeling of hard-earned maturity as I entered my final phase of childhood.
However, being a military family, we were transferred to Omaha a couple of months into that freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, the Omaha’s school system covered three years for junior high – so being in 9th grade meant I was dropped back down into school phase that just a few months ago I had celebrated leaving. Having grown up in the military life, I was used to being the new girl, and though we hadn’t moved regularly recently, the junior/high school transitions in California was like that but the difference was that everyone went through it, not just me.
In Omaha, or more precisely Bellevue, I remember having been introduced and these large group of girls excitedly coming up to me with just a verbal barrage of things to do and a lot of recommendations of girls I shouldn’t talk to. Needless to say, weeks later I ended becoming friends with these black-listed girls, who’s biggest crime (which I shared) was not being socially hip or popular and may have had a trait or two that would make them seem easier to pick on than others. Like them, I just wanted to get through these school years with being left alone.
Somewhere along the way, I became the focus of this three girls, two who were friends (and who transferred to high school with me – but that’s a different story) and this other girl that I have no real idea why I got into her cross-hairs.
As much of a social odd-ball that I was, I was never bullied in California. But here are the facts about this girl that I knew (or assumed): she was African-American, part of the clique with other African-American kids (none of whom that I had issues with), in a lot of my classes, from Omaha, and had an older brother. Oh, and she was feminine, wore glasses and was short – which coming from an Asian person, that says a lot. I honestly do not remember her name, which to me is a good thing as the ultimate victim’s revenge.
I don’t remember what exact moments or incidents made me aware that I was her target. I can only guess it may be a combination of me being Asian (because that was very much an oddity at the school), I was a tomboy, and not afraid to show how intelligent I was. But instead of just ignoring me or telling me to my face that they didn’t like me, she would conspire the other two girls to do really things to make my life difficult while under the radar of teacher awareness. Juvenile things like shoving my books out of my hands or off my desk, or making my chair shake since one of the other girls sat behind me.
Now, I’ve witnessed horrible bullying incidences with the girls I had befriended at this school. Incidents that were all swallowed and tolerated, with stifled tears more often than not – involving eggs or another one involving a lighter. And I felt horrible that I couldn’t do anything to assist or stop it.
But when it became my turn, I really understood the frustration. Going to an authority figure, and thereby ratting them out, was dangerous because of fear of repercussions because you don’t trust bullies to act with honor or integrity or any other social limits short of just don’t get caught. So compared to those moments, I considered my own encounters to be tolerable, with a focus on not allowing the harassment to escalate in intensity or involving other people.
And when I tried to use my own parents as a sounding board, their advice was… lacking, having clearly never been in such situations themselves. So I quickly learned that it was something that I had to deal with on my own. And to complicate matters even more, I was still going through my intense Baptist Born-again Christian phase and was a firm believer in turning the other cheek no matter what somebody did. I felt it was the spiritual test to suffer through this harassment because I knew it would end, hopefully by the year’s end when we all transferred to hopefully different high schools.
One afternoon, I walked to my next class with everyone else and was almost there, needing just to descend this wide stair-case of about 10 steps or so. I was at the top when I suddenly felt this hand shove against my back. I stumbled forward down the steps and my athletic instincts took over: I flung my books out of my hands with the priority of using my arms to regain my balance while only mid-way down the staircase. I was still standing, no one was around me but I turned around and saw this short, AFrican-American girl at the top of the stairs, who was obviously waiting to see the results of her handiwork.
I looked at her square in the eye and said, “You are dead!”
And then I charged her.
I chased her through the crowded hallway and I think she believed how serious I was because she ran! But when she went up the flight of stairs, my Christian guilt and practical nature suddenly flashed in my mind and I screeched to a stop. After all, if I had caught her (which wasn’t a doubt in a my mind), the next step would have been just beating the pulp out of her which, and that had far more potential repercussions that just weren’t worth it.
So I went back to my class, after picking up my books, but I was so furious and frustrated that was shaking and on the verge of tears. A friend of mine noticed and asked what happened. Though I never mentioned any of the previous bullying instances, I explained what had just happened and she immediately blurted in disgust “Is that girl sick?!” I had to admit that reaction made me feel better.
I never reported that incident to an adult figure – no proof and fear of repercussions. And the next few days were spent with a cat and mouse behavior of me making sure that I didn’t put myself in the position of having her being able to do that again, (she obviously didn’t feel deterred since I never got her into trouble.)
I then started to do other things, like asking my teach to move my desk away from the other girl who was enjoying playing with my chair. I remember asking him to move me but not wanting to say who was causing me trouble, but he pointed out that he couldn’t find another seat if he didn’t know who was I was trying to avoid. I reluctantly stated that it was the girl seated behind me, and I got a new seat the next morning – much to her disgust.
I don’t recall any other significant encounters with that African-American girl. Maybe she gave up, or I became smarter about curbing her behavior. But the encounter with her showed me that I wasn’t going to ultimate tolerate harassment or otherwise belittling behavior.
And ironically, I’ve always told people that I stopped being a Christian around that time in my life because I just didn’t emotionally fit with the philosophies (never mind the lesbian thing, which I dealt with years later). And thinking about it now, I can’t help but wonder if bullying incident led to my realization that turning the other cheek was just not something I could continue to embrace.
I also believe this incident led me to becoming the kind of activist that I became, where self-esteem and social acceptance were my priorities.
Though I readily admit that if — for some bizarre reason –- the staircase incident ever happened again, I wouldn’t stop chasing. At least until that person realized that I wasn’t someone to be messed with.