When Levi woke me from my slumbers this morning, I was in the midst of a terrible nightmare. In it, I was me, now, in all my current happy and confident Devon-ness, but I was having to deal with and kowtow to some of the bullies of my youth. I stayed in bed for quite some time, intentionally feeling the heaviness this dream left in my chest, and thinking about how to put my thoughts and emotions into words.
My youth, like many people’s, was split into a dichotomy of home and school life. My amazing mother gave me outlandish confidence by imparting to me that she believed I was the smartest, most beautiful girl in the land. In our Boone apartment or in the round house on Beech Mountain, NC where I lived while attending middle school, I believed her.
And then I started middle school.
And the bullying began.
When I talk about bullying, I suppose it should be clarified that until I dealt with high school bullies, there was no physical violence incurred. During my time at Avery County Middle School, I was subjected to psychological warfare in the form of the “popular” girls telling my friends I was a freak and subsequently being left without anyone to commiserate with about the ordeal. I remember all too well the feeling of my face aflame when the lead girl mocked my thrift store pants in seventh grade Biology class, or during World History that year, the same girl passed notes to my friends saying, “Let’s all not talk to Devon today. Isn’t she weird?” One of my “friends” was kind enough to let me know that no one would be talking to me anymore, due to my inherent weirdness.
I was weird–and still am. It’s a lot easier to embrace when you’re not surrounded by heavily religious and terribly athletic 12 year-old girls with raging hormones and insecurity complexes. I was one of the shortest kids in class until I hit 12, when I rocketed up to 5’8″ in a single summer. I was desperately shy and quiet–and had my feelings wounded more often than not by things many others would have ignored or brushed off. I was in accelerated classes and read huge novels on my hour-long bus rides to and from school; we always lived a great distance from the schools I attended. I had healthy food in my bagged lunches–not candy bars and chips–and my present obsession with thrift store shopping was imparted to me as early as the age of 7. In middle school terms, I suppose these facets make one sort of a weirdo.
The bullying continued after moving across the country from North Carolina to where I began and attended high school in Estes Park, Colorado. But it wasn’t to the same degree. And at 14, I found punk rock and had friends who didn’t care what the “popular kids” said to or about me.
I preach on occasion about the notion of “being kind” because of what actions and words can do to people. When I was bullied in middle school, I walked around with a perpetually upset stomach, praying for the snowstorm that would close school for a couple of days. I had no clue there would be remnants of those emotions still haunting me into my 30s. I woke up feeling slightly ill today, but am thankful for the words and the person I’ve challenged myself to become. Being subjected to bullying is one of the many, many reasons I know it’s easier to practice kindness.
Down the line, you may well thank yourself for doing so. And others will, too.