Wednesday, September 19, 2012

By Callie, age 12, Pasadena

Have you ever been bullied? I have, and it was terrifying. I was so stressed out I actually started pulling out my own eyebrows. A few times a week, I got headaches that hurt so much I’d get sick to my stomach. My doctor thought I might have a brain tumor. He did a bunch of tests, but when the results came back, he had a different diagnosis: extreme stress.

How can a girl have so much stress, you ask? For two years, a group of kids in my school picked on me constantly. They pushed me around and laughed at me. They called me names, tripped me, and put nasty notes in my locker. One time, a girl even threw my jacket into the toilet.

“You’re So Popular!” It started after I’d been chosen to be in a children’s chorus in Cleveland. I got to perform with other kids in “Rock the Orchestra.” There was a huge concert, the performance was broadcast on TV, and a CD and DVD were made, too. My picture was in the newspaper, so even though I never talked about it at school, kids knew. After that weekend, one girl said to me, “You think you’re so popular!”

That hurt, but it confused me, too. I had friends, but I wasn’t “so popular.” When I got home, I asked my mom what she meant. My mom said she was probably just jealous.

My parents had always told me I shouldn’t talk about performing when I was at school. Not because I shouldn’t be proud of my accomplishments, but because kids might think I was bragging. I was just beginning to understand what they meant.

From then on, it got worse. I went to a small Catholic school, and there were only about 45 kids in my whole grade. Most of the girls did sports and Girl Scouts, but because I liked to sing and perform, I did different activities. That made me an outsider. I did have friends, but they were being picked on, too.

Good Catholic Girls? I tried to tell my teachers and the principal what was going on, but they didn’t believe me. Of course none of the mean kids ever did anything when the teacher was looking. My parents did believe me, though. They talked to my teacher, the school counselor, and principal, too. But my teacher was also the softball coach, and most of the bullies were on her team. She just couldn’t believe that her girls, who were from “good Catholic families,” would ever mistreat anyone.

I think I’m a pretty strong person. If you want to perform you have to face rejection. You audition a lot and you get turned down a lot, for all sorts of reasons. You get rejected because your hair is the wrong the color or you’re too tall or too short or because of something you can’t control, like you remind the director of his cousin that he doesn’t like. But whatever it is, it’s always about the work. It isn’t really about you as a person.

It’s different when you’re being cut down by your classmates just for being yourself. It hurts so much! I even started to wonder if maybe they were right, that there was something wrong with me. Why else would these kids keep being so mean when I just wanted to be friends? And it made it that much worse that even the adults didn’t believe me. I felt so alone.

The summer after sixth grade, I went to camps with other kids. I traveled a lot, performed in dance competitions, and got to hang out with my friends. I stopped being so stressed. My headaches went away and I stopped pulling out my eyebrows. My parents thought a small private school was the best place for me, but I really wanted to switch to the public school. So I interviewed public school kids in my neighborhood and made a list of all the reasons it would be better for me. I put the no tolerance policy toward bullying at the top. It took a while to convince my parents, but they finally decided to let me change schools.

Bullies on the Bus Even though my new school was big and scary at first, it was still10 times better than going back to my old school. By October I’d made a bunch of new friends. But would you believe that the bullying still didn’t end? The kids from my old school rode a bus that stopped at the public school every day. They’d yell at me as I walked by, saying things like “So-and-so hates you,” and “You can’t sing.”

One day a guidance counselor from my new school saw this happening. He talked to the bus driver, the principal from my old school and the principal from my new school. It was nice to have an adult besides my parents finally see what was going on. Since then, friends at my new school walk with me past the buses, and no one says anything.

But even if I were walking alone, the teasing wouldn’t get to me like it used to. Believe it or not, I feel sorry for the bullies now. They used to make me feel like I wasn’t as good as they were, but really, what kind of people act like that?

Remember what I said about being rejected at an audition…how it doesn’t hurt so much it’s about the work, not you? Well, I finally realized something else. All that bullying was never about me, either. Those kids didn’t pick on me because there was something wrong with me. They picked on me because there was something wrong with them. They’re unhappy, and they don’t know anything about true friendship. Who wants to hang out with a group where no one new gets in and no one old dares to speak up or do anything different? That’s just sad.

Last year, I auditioned for a role in an off-Broadway production of “A Christmas Carol”—and I got it, which was a dream come true. You know what the best part was, though? I’ve got great new friends, and they were totally supportive and truly happy for me. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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