To this day, I wish I could forgive them.
But I’m afraid that there are parts of me missing
that I will never get back, because no one stepped in to save me.
And telling myself “They were wrong” is cold consolation because, well, were they?
I still remember getting punished because I fought back, but what would you have me do? Bear it?
I remember having to admit to crimes I didn’t commit because an upperclassman said I was there.
I had braided hair. She said a little girl with braids had vandalized the hallway walls.
And try as I could to tell the truth the teacher wouldn’t have it…
So I settled for the lie I felt they wanted.
Detention, after all, was less of a discipline and more a relief
because at least in isolation, no one was trying to hurt me.
The silence understood in a way well-meaning teachers never would because I was the “single parent child,” the “problem child” that needed solving;
Not the broken branch that needed healing.
And even now, the “We’re proud of yous” ring hollow because they sound
Like sighs of relief that I did not become another statistic, not signs they actually believed in me.
But I am a statistic of another kind, and my mind
Is still full of the voices of those I tried to tell you were eroding me,
but which you dismissed as due to my character flaws–
As if fitting in was ever a judge of the outcast’s character.
Some nights, I want to scream: “YOU LET THEM HURT ME!”
You let them eat me alive every day until there was little of me left.
Until, by the time I hit high school,
I was reduced to a shadow in the back of the room; a noisy ghost.
I still remember the name of the girl who read my diary,
Or the one who out of “Christian charity”–
she told me her parents said mine were sinners–
invited me to her birthday party.
Somehow that hurt more than not being invited because it meant I was pitied.
I was that pathetic. I jumped through hoops to fit in but always hit the ground too hard, bruising my heart.
I remember the boy who pulled the blanket away when I was changing,
baring budding breasts to the eyes of laughing boys.
Until today I can’t trust men, and as much as I love children
I also fear them because in my head, I am still nine,
clinging to my so-called best friend’s leg so she would forgive me for sticking a toe out of line,
“What did I do this time?!”
Because of them, I’m so used to people leaving that I push them away,
Even as I hold them close.
I am still in Grade Five,
giving my report in front of the class and my peers are laughing, bombarding me
with unnecessary questions, like spitballs,
Until the noise grows overwhelming and I do what they want me to do:
In my mind, my tormentors are still pre-pubescent, still covered by the motherhood statement that “Kids are cruel.”
It is so easy for me to accept the doctrine that we are all born sinners because I know for a fact children are not innocent.
They can be monsters. And even if their adult forms greet me politely in Starbucks I still feel like I’m going to vomit each time.
This is trauma. This is PTSD. I am a veteran of a war that was far from invisible except that no one decided to see it.
I fought for ten years until all the fight was taken out of me,
And my high school degree was one in “Shut up and take it.”
My favorite teacher once asked how I could write about what rape is
With such shattering clarity.
I never told her it was because every day my classmates were raping me.
Not sexually, but emotionally,
But then rape is not a crime of sex but violence, it is an assertion of power.
I found out I was powerless.
That the social hierarchy meant it was everybody’s word against mine.
And so I never fought back anymore because in grade school I learned
“This will go faster if you don’t struggle.”
I stopped struggling.
All I wanted was one person who would understand that I was only different on the outside;
On the inside my needs were the same.
I was the same.
Just like you.
And so when you called me ugly, or stupid, or loud, or a problem, you were calling yourselves that,
Or worse yet, your children.
I hope you’ll never have to explain to them
Why they are beautiful, even if the world tells them otherwise;
Hope they will never look at you with my eyes.
Because bones broken by words should never have to be a rite of passage.
Fight for them. Fight so they will never have to learn not to.
Fight so that the definition of high school can cease to be a mortal hell,
And that kids of ten or twelve won’t have to contemplate slitting their wrists.
Do it for this: a truth we universally acknowledge,
That ALL MEN AND WOMEN, whole or broken, loud or silent,
were created EQUAL. And equally beautiful.
That fitting in isn’t as important as being human.
Do it so that we may all reclaim our humanity, our sanity, and maybe,
when the nightmare finally ends I,
And those like me,
Will be able to wake up.