Last week, I was approached by Yasmine Galenorn and Mandy M. Roth about contributing to an event they were putting together. They were tired of hearing more and more stories about kids ending their lives to escape bullying. I am, too. A lot of us are. So as authors, we decided to take a stand the best way we know how–with our words. And so I offer you …
The Sad Tale of Jabusa and the Bullies
It was the last day of sixth grade, and Jabusa was finally on her way to the big times.
She skipped out the door and went to unlock her bike from the bike rack. The note was wedged in right next to the lock, so she wouldn’t miss it. Her overactive imagination immediately came up with variety of scenarios—one of the fairy tale plots she loved. Stories of secret admirers and mysteries to be solved. Nancy Drew receiving a love note from one of the Hardy Boys. Rapunzel getting word from the prince that he would liberate her from the tower.
But Jabusa’s life in elementary school was far from a fairy tale.
She didn’t remember the day the trouble started or the event that set it off. All she know was that for some reason she was that kid. The one who didn’t quite fit.
Maybe it was because she didn’t wear the right clothes. Or because of the large, blue glasses constantly slipping down her nose. Or because she never knew the right things to say.
The secret formula to popularity had always eluded her. She was a kid who spent her summers helping an old woman and her mentally-challenged helper (a man-child who always called her “friend”) clean the houses. She was one of the few kids whose parents were divorced. She had an older sister with emotional problems that monopolized much of her single mother’s time. Hardly a resume that screamed coolness.
In lieu of actual friends, Jabusa spent most of her befriending characters from books. Ramona Quimby, Babysitter’s Club, and the kids from Narnia never made fun of her. Besides, books usually had happy—or at least hopeful– endings and she could pretend she was one of those brave, wise kids who always seemed to know what to do.
Naturally, the attacks at school were led by a boy with whom Jabusa was desperately in love. He repaid her adoration by alternately yelling at, punching and spitting on her. Because he was also very popular, the other kids joined in on the fun, including crafting imaginative nicknames to try to impress him.
Names like “Jabusa.”
See, she’d gotten a perm. That was her first mistake. Trying to change herself to fit in. That doomed hairdo became the “Medusa” part of the nickname.
The other half came from the fact that she was overweight. Not obese, mind you. Just hadn’t grown tall enough for all of her skin. And for this crime, the first half of the nickname was taken from Jabba the Hutt.
Jabba + Medusa = Jabusa.
Before you laugh, imagine being a 10-year-old, insecure girl, and having people whose approval you desperately crave compare you to a snake-headed gorgon and a disgusting, obese criminal from a Sci-Fi movie.
Jabusa didn’t attend elementary school—she endured it. So when she walked out of the building on that last day of sixth grade, she thought she was finally free of her tormentors.
But tormentors don’t like easy escapes.
I’d like to tell you this story is a fiction I created to prove a point. I’d love to brush this off and say, “Oh, no, I made up Jabusa.” But we’re not here to dance around the truth. We’re here today to face the bully thing head on.
My name is Jaye Wells, but my bullies used to call me Jabusa.
All these years later, I don’t recall the exact words of the note they left on my bike. However, the gist of it is seared into the fabric of who I am. Those words and letters are indelible scars that inform my sense of self to this day.
We all hate you. You have no friends. You’re stupid and ugly.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially masochistic, I think back on that day in class. While I was happily doing my last-minute work and looking forward to summer, the kids in my class were surreptitiously passing around that piece of paper. Signing their names to that devil’s petition. I imagine at least one of them must have run out of the classroom the instant the bell rang to ensure that note was waiting for me.
Sometimes, I think I would do anything to just go back in time and prevent myself from finding that note. If this were one of my books, that’s the ending I’d write. But this isn’t fiction. It really happened, and so, here I am, an adult haunted by a prank pulled by a group of schoolyard sociopaths.
These days, I don’t need anyone to fight my battles for me. All those years of not fitting in made me a keen observer and whittled my tongue into a weapon.
Deep down, I am still that kid with the bad perm and the tight pants, who just wanted to fit in so desperately.
I’m ashamed and embarrassed that this happened to me. I was terrified to share this story with you. But then I realized that those thoughts were the old victim talking.
Bullies never pull their punches. So neither will I.
Here are some things I know about bullies:
1. Everyone is in pain. You may deal with your pain by withdrawing into books or computer games. Bullies deal with it by tearing down other people. Their pain is so deep that only inflicting more pain eases it. That’s not an excuse, by the way. It’s just that maybe, understanding that, will make it a little easier to survive it.
2. Ignoring bullies rarely works. When adults tell you that it’s because we don’t understand how to deal with bullies either. Good people don’t understand bad people. A good person would never punch you for touching their soccer ball or spit on you for the crime of existing. Bullies are unreasonable, and we don’t understand how to make them stop through reasonable means.
I’m sorry to tell you that because it shouldn’t be that way. But it’s reality and the sooner you learn to deal with unreasonable people, the easier life will be for you. You’ll deal with them your entire life. It sucks, but there it is.
3. Bullies hate confidence. I am not a proponent of violence, but I am a proponent of not being a victim. So take karate to learn self-defense. Learn how to walk with your shoulder back and your chin high in defiance. Learn how to tell a joke. Learn how to deflect aggressive speech. Learn how to avoid danger.
4. You have a right to feel safe. If you do not feel safe, you have a right to stand up for yourself. If someone corners you, threatens you or makes you feel scared, you go find help. Your teachers, your coach, your school counselor, your parents, your siblings, your pastor, rabbi, or some kid in your school who is nice. Find someone, anyone and make them listen to you. If you can’t find anyone to help, then go back to No. 3 and learn how to defend yourself.
5. Bullies thrive on the sheep mentality. If you are not a bully or the one being bullied, you still have a role in the cycle. Kids who stand by while a bully terrorizes their friends are culpable. This is why I have taught my own son to stand up for kids who are smaller or weaker than him. He knows that if I ever find out he stood by doing nothing or—God forbid—joins in during bullying, he will answer to me because in our family we do not abide bullies of any stripe. Complacency and fear are fuel to bullies. As communities, we must teach our children to stand up and do the right thing. Even if it is a scary thing. Even if it is a not-popular thing. Because there is pride and bravery in doing the right thing.
I’d like to tell you that sixth grade was my last brush with bullying. But it wasn’t.
In eighth grade, I was at a new school. A private Catholic one in a nicer neighborhood with “nicer” kids.
The calls began one night and didn’t stop for weeks. Several times every night, a falsetto voice would spit venom through the phone receiver. The same phrase—one I will not repeat here—over and over.
Eventually, I stopped answering the phone, but the incessant ringing was its own form of torture. I was 13, and as insecure as any 13 year old about how I looked. And they exploited that for their amusement.
Unlike the Jabusa incident, I didn’t suffer in silence. I told my mom and stepfather right away. And when their efforts to confront the the caller didn’t work, we went to the school administration.
An assembly was called. That day, the entire middle school learned about my shame.
I didn’t want to be seen as a victim. I figured people who aren’t broken don’t get picked on. But that was a victim talking, and I didn’t want to be victimized any more.
So I stood up and I told the kids in my class what was happening. And then I told them that if the calls continued, we’d go to the police and trace the number and press charges.
The calls stopped.
The calls stopped because I stood up to my bully.
I never tell anyone about this period of my life. But I’m telling you in the hopes that maybe if you’re being bullied, you won’t feel so alone.
Maybe the next time your personal tormentor steps up and calls you that name or spits at you, you’ll find that thin, golden vein of strength in your core. Maybe you’ll remember that you’re not alone. Maybe you’ll remember that I’m rooting for you. Maybe you’ll remember that if I can survive it and grow up to be a reasonably happy person, so can you.
I hope that you will learn to love yourself. I hope that you can be brave. But most of all, I hope that you will never believe the tormentors.
Bullies are broken people. Don’t let them break you, too.
Below is a list of all the authors participating in Authors Against Bullies. Go read their stories. Help spread the word. Take a stand.