9th Ramble – How Being ‘Broken’ Actually Helped (For Once)

Regarding bullying and why I  have the friends I do.

Bullying is one of those things that, because the word gets thrown around a lot, almost loses any sense of impact to those who’ve never been through it. You just don’t realise how bad it can be if you’ve never actually experienced it (a sentiment which can be applied to many an societal issue).

This Ramble has come from completely out of the blue because my best friend Hatter just made her own post about her experience of being bullied and then Jess did too and I just can’t help but want to talk about what they’re talking about. I’ve been aware of Hatter’s past experiences with bullying for quite some time, and it’s always bothered me that I wasn’t there to stop it, that I didn’t get to know her until a whole decade of our lives had passed. It’s a pointless sentiment; I know. Myself, I have had a complicated relationship with bullying though I will admit to being unscathed by it in the long run. As with most things, it stems from my inability to perceive human emotion in the normal way, an issue that was much more severe in my younger days.

We start at preschool, when I was 2/3 years old. My parents – who were informed of my brother’s and my daily activities – became mildly concerned by the fact that I always stayed indoors and didn’t talk to anyone, including my sibling. I say mildly, because by this point they were used to my anti-social nature, but when they queried our supervisor at the preschool they found themselves overwhelmingly angry; she had quite flippantly mused that my tendency to sit in a corner alone might have something to do with the fact that I was being bullied. She had never mentioned the bullying to them before and only seemed to do so now as an afterthought. Obviously I was far too young to have any memories of this leftover, but I was apparently not only made fun of but physically abused: bruise, scraped, had sand thrown in my eyes (which explained why I avoided sandpits like the plague), all the fun stuff. Being as I was a naturally ‘shy’, extremely diminutive child it’s no wonder that I was the prime target for bullying.

Leaving preschool solved all that. I suspect that it’s the real reason my father started me on Kempo the next year despite normally waiting for kids to be older. Everything was grand, even moving schools seemed to not faze me and they learnt that me looking sad was not at all an indicator of me actually being sad. Life was fine, right?

Well as it turns out, I was still a small, quiet, awkward child – still the perfect candidate for being harassed, though thankfully the bullies were now too scared of being caught to be rough (which is probably to their own benefit, let’s be honest). And it’s here that a strange paradox appears. My social ineptitude was the main reason I was chosen as a target, and yet it was also the reason I haven’t ‘suffered’ from bullying. Without the violent aspects of the practice, I was simply unable to notice that I was technically being bullied; I have since learnt from my brother that he noticed something was wrong but never said anything because he knew if I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t be upset by it.

Things changed in Year 4. After a half decade of ignorance I made friends with a Filipino girl named Nikka (I think; I wasn’t good at spelling), though it was rare anyone didn’t deliberately pronounce it wrong. This was at a time that I had begun to realise I wasn’t a normal human being and so I was curious as to why Nikka always followed me and made no other friends. In essence, the reason was that she felt more comfortable around someone who “knew what it felt like”, given that I was “also being picked on”. It was a shock to me, to hear that she thought I was also being bullied. So I began to watch people, to learn patterns, and sure enough noticed similar treatment; it left me somewhat shell-shocked for a while, and then I got mad. Really, really mad. (Not that you would know it, since I still hadn’t worked out how to make facial expressions properly).

Very soon, anyone who couldn’t see past Nikka’s unfortunate phonetics found themselves in quite the disagreeable situation. She moved away shortly, but because of her I now paid attention to other people, learnt the language of humans in the only way I knew how to, got better at recognising the particular signs of a bullying case. When my sister raised victim flags I saw them before my parents did and I was on a literal warpath. I became part of the Buddy system at the school not because I liked hanging out with the younger kids but because the red hat we wore gave me actual authority and power over everyone. When I moved up to secondary school I found a reticent, painfully naive girl whom I befriended simply so that she wouldn’t inevitably fall prey to bullying again. Skip ahead a few more years and I approached an isolated student who thought they were being sneaky about observing me.

Those were, of course, Hatter and Jess respectively. Did I make friends with them both (among others) in a very calculated and superficial way? Why yes, I did. But whatever my initial reasons were, I found myself with 2 new family members I would kill for. I only knew Nikka for a few months overall and I hardly think about her, but in a weird way she is the reason I make friends with the people I do. My mother says that I “collect broken people” and I can’t honestly deny that (though perhaps saying it less harshly wouldn’t harm anyone, mother).

So no, bullying hasn’t hurt me, hasn’t left me with any physical or mental scars, and I will never claim to understand what it feels like to be bullied since I was too bad at human-ing to suffer from it. But if I see it happening around me? You can be damn sure I won’t stay silent. Too many times have I seen people ignoring it because they don’t want to have to deal with any kind of responsibility, adults passing it off as the antics of children, teachers not even noticing something is wrong. If even someone as rubbish at social interaction as me can pick up on it, then that truly is shameful. Bystanders are just as guilty as the bullies themselves.

Of course, I’m still not perfect. I’m annoyed that I couldn’t get there sooner for my friends, that I couldn’t dislocate a few arms for Jess years earlier. I regret leaving Hatter alone in 6th form with the toxicity of a friendship group I had never fully been comfortable with in the first place. I’m absolutely furious that my sister – no matter how good she becomes at hiding it – is still intensely insecure about her friends and whether or not they will betray her. I don’t know what it feels like to be bullied but I know what it does to other people, and I refuse to stand idly by and watch it happen like so many people do without a second thought.

So no, I haven’t suffered from bullying.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been affected.

Hatter, Jess, and myself

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I literally don't know what I'm doing

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