Bullying is a hot topic these days. It's all over the news and in the papers. Stories all over the place about children who hurt themselves or others in response to bullying.
I know a little something about this, since as a young girl I was bullied for being chubby by a couple of brothers who lived a few doors down. We rode the same bus together, swam on the same swim team and every year of elementary school I was in the same class as at least one of them. It really was torture, stepping on the bus everyday knowing what I faced ahead. I wasn't equipped to handle it. I referenced one of the episodes of teasing here on the blog back in 2006 telling the story of failed valentines' days.
And then I saw my bully on Oprah.
Over 10 years ago, J.S., the older brother, decided to take a bunch of tanning pills to make himself look black. He went down south to live out the experiment of living his life as a black man. He lasted merely a week, apparently crippled by the discrimination he faced as a man of color. I find this somewhat ironic.
I had heard about the segment years ago, but never saw it before last night. Oprah showed the clip again on a recent episode recapping previous stories she had done on the issue of race. It really was shocking to me. And I did something I never thought I would do. I found him on Facebook and wrote him a note.
I don't want to post the entire note here, but I asked if he remembered me and I recounted to him the pain he caused me in the constant bullying over the years and the effect it had on my life--both negative and positive. I didn't get dramatic or go into lots of detail, I presented it concisely and with a somewhat removed tone. No blubbering. No accusations. This is how I wrapped it up:
I was really surprised about what I learned of your racial experiment on Oprah. I don't know why I felt the need to sit down and write to you after so many years, maybe it is crazy since it's not like I sit around thinking about this any more. Don't get me wrong, I am not reaching out to you to berate you or accuse you of anything. I am not looking for redemption, an apology or even a response. I bet you don't even remember any of this-- I was probably too sensitive, and maybe you were just "boys being boys". But for some reason I just wanted you to know about it.
I really didn't know what to expect in return, if anything. Would he lash out at me for over-reacting? Would he ignore it? I decided before I sent it that the response didn't matter. I said what I wanted to say. I didn't write him with any expectations. But, to my surprise, within an hour of sending it he wrote me back. This is what he said:
I remember you and your brother and sister well. The house you lived in is still the Walker House to my mind. I do remember teasing you and am glad that you wrote me cause I feel very guilty about it. I was often callous and cruel with my words. Probably still am sometimes. I'm a writer now and sometimes think to myself that is where I learned about the positive and negative power words can have. But feel very bad about the people who paid the price so I could learn that. I apologize for hurting you and wish you all the best.
What do you think? I am still processing this since it all happened last night. The response is nice to see, I am genuinely glad he replied and actually apologized. But what happened, happened and those scars may never fully heal.
I think I got more out finding the courage to write him than getting a response. I feel good about that.