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Challenge: Bullying Hurts

When your childhood bully apologizes

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People never cease to amaze me. Both in the best and in the worst possible ways. This little vignette, though, is about someone surprising me in a good way—my personal favorite in terms of surprises because they boost my faith in humankind.

It all started when I got a private message from a very unexpected “friend” through Facebook. Now it just so happened that when the message came through I was at work. And as we all know, firewalls are everywhere in the workplace, so we can’t always read them right there on the spot because our employers don’t like it when we’re using social media during the day. Which is why, when her message came through, I could only see the first name of the sender and nothing else.

But because I only have a couple of good friends who share that name, I naturally assumed I knew which one it was from. Needless to say, it was a huge surprise when I finally opened the message later that afternoon only to learn that it was sent from someone else altogether—someone I never expected. But even more than my surprise over getting a message from her, was my total dumbfoundedness over what the message said.

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Now before I tell you what this girl from my past had to say, it’s important that you know a critical detail about how we know each other. Without mincing words, she was the one and only girl who ever truly bullied me as a kid. All through grammar school, for some inexplicable reason, she saw an enormous target painted on my chest every time she looked at me and made her it mission to make my life miserable.

It didn’t matter whether we were in the classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground, or in the gym, she was on me like white on rice every chance she got and took a bizarre amount of satisfaction from bullying me. Funny the things that stick with you. And believe me, this stuff stuck.

Although the strange thing was that nothing ever happened between us to warrant being singled out and harassed like I was. It’s not like we had been friends and we’d had a falling out. Or I had cut off her ponytail during art class. Or kicked her dog. There was no rhyme or reason. It just was. And for me, who could never seem to get away from it, it was brutal. Day in and day out, for years. Until she went off to private school and I never saw her again.

It was a solid twenty years later, after we had both moved back to our hometown, that our paths eventually crossed again. And I have to say, damn if I didn’t still have that same icky feeling in the pit of my belly when I saw her, exactly like I did when I was ten. And even in spite of the fact that we were both grown up and married with families of our own, that visceral reaction to seeing her again threw my brain back to my ten-year-old self. Funny how memories can have such a primal effect on us.

Not that she would ever have known, but inside I could still feel the emotional scar of how I had been treated when I ran my mind over the memory of our childhood together. In the same exact way that we remember our first love or our first kiss or our first true best friend, we remember, all too vividly, the people who tried to tear us down.

Flash forward thirty-seven or so years to now and you’ll be able to better understand why the message she sent me nearly knocked me off my chair.

She apologized. For everything. Out of the clear and beautiful blue sky. And I never ever saw it coming.

She owned everything and said that she actually wanted to reach out to me over the years but never knew how.

Why now, I didn’t know. Nor did I really care. Because it happened. And I recognized that it took an enormous amount of courage to put herself out there and own her behavior like that.

So, while it may not have come exactly when I needed it most (like in the fifth grade), the apology did eventually come; and it meant something. (Albeit slightly diluted by the fact that it came three-and-a-half decades late.) And it reaffirmed my faith that everyone has the capacity to make things right if they want to badly enough.

See, I’ve always believed that we all have the ability to change—to apologize, to forgive, and to move on. Simply because it’s the right thing to do. And even though it’s tough as hell to find the guts to do it, the end game is well worth it all the way around.

Now with all this in mind, find someone you crapped on somewhere along the line and go make it right. Because we’ve all done it. So, forget about how long it’s been or how it’ll be received and give them a sincere apology. Because I’ll be willing to bet that they’ll accept it with open arms. Just consider it a worthwhile leap of faith.

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