Meredith Speaks: On BullyingBy Merri Leston
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I didn’t write this for the longest time because I thought that maybe you were right. I really was as worthless as you made me feel. I deserved what you did.
Even the very word bullying detracts from its seriousness, makes it sound juvenile, banal.
I have been bullied: pass the tiny violin.
In a ‘stiff upper lip’ culture, bullying is a valued method of character building, of rooting out the weak amongst us. The outsiders.
The bully is justified, protected even. We sanctimoniously pardon the bully, oh what a tough childhood they must have had. Oh, what a lovely war: kids just being kids.
My bullying was beautifully done. Like some perverse Cotard delusion, I ceased to exist. Not spoken to, a year without a single word. Just whispers. I was, in a moment, a leper. The condemned.
I would have preferred it if you just hit me.
When I left I remember you wrote such nice things about me. Was that your version of repent?
I still don’t know why you did it. I really wish you had just told me, if I knew what you thought was wrong. But with no one target I thought that it was my entire being. Everything had to be changed.
The starvation was blissful, my pain made visible. But the more weight I lost, the more friends I made.
Do you know how close I came to dying?
And then the anxiety. Every word that came out of my mouth had to be judged, incase what came out would trigger another exodus.
Do you even understand? Can you? Every. Word. Criticized. When you see your friends oh how you laugh. What fun you must have. When I see mine I stand the chance of losing everything all over again.
Like Pagliacci in the doctor’s chair, I was the depressed clown stuck behind their fourth wall. I learnt to be funny, I wanted to control how I was laughed at this time.
My rituals kept me safe. Praying every night to just get through the day without incident – but it had to be exactly 20 times over. Wearing a ring around my neck, that seemed to work. The panic when I lost that ring…
Friendships infected relationships too: I chose the men who could remind me how worthless you told me I was. At least then, when they left me, I always knew it was coming. You see, the pain you know is easier than the pain that you don’t.
And then I chose work. You gave me the chip on my shoulder that I healed with perfectionism. I would work 12 hours a day, learning, regurgitating, learning again. I was a success at last.
You took my self-esteem and I didn’t know how to build it back alone. So I chose the numbers and the letters to measure up; the pounds lost, the A*s and the First Class meant I really mattered. Didn’t it? Doesn’t it?
Does altruism actually exist? Sometimes I am scared that at the root of my good heart is you. That I have become an angel only to exorcise these demons. Why would anyone hurt me if I helped them first?
The first time I wrote this piece I lied at the end. I said I forgave you, maybe could even love you again. But I don’t, and I don’t want to tell the silent victims of bullying that true freedom comes from forgiving you. To tell them that they are only strong again if they can see it in their hearts to let you go.
I don’t believe that, and I don’t want to believe it either. I studied psychology to understand why you hurt me, but I still really don’t know.
I thought I had started to leave you behind, my self-esteem showed grassroots. But being honest with myself you are still the specter in my soul. My self-worth still only flourishes when I spite you, not in spite of you.
I am so tired of you. So humiliated by you. This wound is a decade old and I blame myself for the scar you left behind.
But I am trying. Every day I challenge you by putting trust in those I love. Tentatively; God I’m still so scared they will abandon me like you.
I find vulnerability so hard. Did you even know you hurt me when I was at my weakest? My family, my mind all falling apart and you chose then to put the dagger in.
Friends do indeed stab you in the front, Oscar. My heart is rarely given again.
I want to lie and say that I have written this to bring comfort to those who still hurt like me, are ashamed like me. But, mainly, I write this because I want you to hurt too. I want you to feel what I felt and feel and know the damage you did and continue to do. My forgiveness absolves you, and I will not allow it.
There is of course Milgram’s curse: can I be so sure, in a world of turned tables, that I wouldn’t have turned on you just as you did me? I am no pedal stool. So, in this version of events, I was your victim. But perhaps in another, you would have been mine.
This world is not characterized by good or evil as we would like it. It would be easier. It would be easier for me to live my life with you as my pantomime villain. But you are not that. You were children, all children. You were human then and you are human now.
The pain goes on but I can truly say I am no longer in first aid, putting plasters on these wounds: anorexia, altruism, alcohol. No more.
Today I work on myself because I deserve it. I deserve a beautiful life and I will not live it waiting for your apology. I may never get it, and my self-worth needs to come from the ashes you left behind and not the fire that failing to forgive you would stoke.
Holding on to hate is indeed venomous, but forgiving you brings you as much peace as it does me, a peace that you do not deserve.
So on to forgetting, on to living.
You didn’t recognize me when I walked past you in the street. Your abuse made me thinner, but it made me walk taller too.