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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY MARLENE MIRANDA, Wharton High
It was the middle of my freshman year, and I had done a good job of blending in so that no one would notice me. I figured if no one noticed me, then no one would bother to make fun of me. That’s what high school felt like for me back then, constant avoidance. I didn’t realize at the time that the method I was using to survive high school would be what hindered me from growing. I also didn’t realize that a boy in my English I class would teach me a lesson I’m still learning today.
His name was Lawrence. He was tall, skinny and awkward, and had an extremely nasal voice. It was well-known that he had financial issues at home. He was a target for insults. I sat across from him in the classroom, and I watched for weeks as my classmates verbally ripped him to shreds. They’d make fun of his tattered Nikes, polo shirts with holes in them, worn-out jeans and unkempt hair. Kids would whisper things and snicker as he spoke in class. He never insulted any of the classmates back. He kept his mouth zipped and permanently in a frown. Until one day.
We were reading a passage in class and the teacher asked if anyone would volunteer to read aloud. Lawrence was the first to raise his hand. He was excited that he had gotten the opportunity to read in front of his teacher. A paragraph in, the whispers started. A few giggles escaped. Lawrence kept on reading, until the giggles erupted into full laughter from most of class. The few of us who felt awkward about the situation just watched as the laughter drowned out Lawrence, and he stopped. His hands gripped at his desk, and his knuckles turned white. Boys sitting next to me felt bold enough to call him Urkel, and quack at him.
Lawrence slammed his fist down onto his desk and looked at the people making comments. His eyes started to water, the first time he had such a strong reaction to the harassment. This made the guys in my class laugh even harder. My English teacher tried to calm everyone down, with little success. Lawrence walked out.
The next day, our teacher informed us that Lawrence had switched schools. She didn’t need to tell us why. I felt absolutely sick. I thought of Lawrence staying home because he was so afraid and embarrassed of what people would say or do to him.
We all had seen Lawrence being made fun of many times. Why didn’t any of us say anything? Why was it so easy to just sit there and watch?
Most of us have been there. We’ve been made fun of. We’ve been put down. It’s humiliating to be ridiculed by your peers. But most of the time, we don’t speak up when we see it happening to others. We’re afraid the target will be moved onto us.
I had been taught all my life ways to avoid getting bullied. Don’t wear anything too gaudy even if you really like it, because people will judge you. Don’t leave your hair frizzy, even if it’s your natural hair texture, because people will tell you that you’re ugly. If you don’t fit in, if you don’t get others to like you, you’re not worth anything. Ridiculously, we work toward this impossible goal of impressing people we may not even like, instead of being ourselves.
What I did to Lawrence was terrible. I’ve wanted to apologize to him every day since. Watching someone be bullied and not responding is just as bad as actually bullying. That avoidance I had used as a tool suddenly was stabbing at me. I was too afraid to even attempt to stand up for this kid or be his friend.
I completely regret that day. Ever since then, I’ve worked to befriend so-called outcasts, and to stand up against people who think it’s amusing to make fun of someone’s “imperfections.”
I wish I had been brave enough to do it for Lawrence.