The Amazon Trail

Teased To Death

By Lee Lynch

LeeLynchLg

 

 

I never put this in words until recently: I’m afraid of children. Crazy, right? Unnatural. Just plain dumb.

About a month ago, while still digesting that news flash from my brain, I had a related revelation which was brought on by all the recent talk about bullying. Here goes: I’m afraid of children because of the incessant bullying I got as a kid. So obvious. I kinda understood it, but kinda didn’t want to look at it.

Growing up in my neighborhood, kids got teased, not bullied. Bullying happened, it was just called teasing. Often, it was called harmless teasing. I don’t know if the adults were being polite or they believed themselves and thought I was over sensitive. They sure didn’t stop it. My mother basically told me to stand up for myself, something I never figured out how to do. Instead, I cried.

I cried in classrooms, I cried in the backyard of my apartment building, I cried on the street. Children, from toddlers to teens, mocked me for looking like a boy, for being smart, for building roads in the mud, for wanting to be the father when we played house, for wearing hand-me-down boys’ clothes and homemade girls’ clothes, for my name, for not having a religion, for my skinny body. For being different.

Walking with my mother, well into adulthood, I cringed when children came toward us, terrified they’d call me names or ask if I was a boy or a girl. I even feared my niece and nephew, especially during their teen years when I knew I’d be the weird aunt. They weren’t mean kids, though, and now that they’re grown, I couldn’t ask for stronger supporters.

But kids are unpredictable and bullying takes its toll. Especially when it’s not called by its right name. That’s a negation of a child’s experience: “Oh, they’re just teasing you.” I don’t know what the right way would be for a parent to help a child who is bullied. I do know that ignoring the issue isn’t. My sweetheart tells me she stood up for her little sister. I’m in awe of her for that. Protecting another child is a heroic act for any little peewee.

I’m not alone in this experience. A lot has been written about the cycle of bullying and how adults who have been bullied perpetuate the behavior. I haven’t read anything about adults who’ve learned compassion from the experience, or about adults who go into the helping professions or otherwise devote their lives to lessening the pain of others, human or four-legged. That’s what I took from my little ordeal.

I know I got off easy: no one disowned me, beat me up, or tried to kill me. I didn’t have to live on the streets, go hungry, or be violated. The damage was more subtle. Before age five or six I was an outgoing friendly kid, never a bit of trouble, according to my mother. She claimed that I would talk to every stranger on the street. Then I changed. I became shy, withdrawn, silent. I was reluctant to eat. The crying started. My affect​ ​became flat. Kids and adults and my mother teased me for never smiling. And that’s how I stayed most of the time for many years.

No therapist picked up on this. I would have been embarrassed to bring up teasing. After all, I was taught to ignore it, a mere childhood discomfort.  I never dealt with the bullying issue, never thought it was an issue, even as it went on right into college.

By high school, though, I’d come out. All of a sudden I knew who I was, understood my difference. Shaming me was not as effective as it had been, partly because I had a group identity. I didn’t know many gays, but those I knew accepted me as I was. Being bullied was an unspoken bond. We played at being tough dykes on the city streets and seldom were hassled.

Yet the damage had been done. ​I wasn’t going to let anyone see the little girl I’d been ever again.

I live in an adult community now. Little by little I’ve found myself relaxing, becoming more outgoing, talking to strangers in the ‘hood. It’s a small miracle for me, though I don’t know that I’ll ever trust the neighbors not to turn against me. Holidays, demon grandchildren visit, and I find myself getting all gimlet-eyed with suspicion, hyper-vigilant like in the old days.

I never learned how to protect myself from them. Now that I know the truth, that I was badly bullied, my fears don’t seem so crazy or unnatural and certainly not dumb. Raising awareness about bullying is a real smart move.

Somehow my natural resilience prevailed and formed who I am today.  Unlike others who were teased to death.

Copyright 2015 Lee Lynch

8 Responses to “The Amazon Trail”


  1. 1 jenjsilver August 13, 2015 at 11:25 AM

    This makes perfect sense to me. I’ve never felt comfortable around children either. I was always the odd one out at school. Other kids thought I was weird. Maybe that’s why I became an avid reader and withdrew into other worlds.

    Like

  2. 2 Renee Bess August 13, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    Thanks for sharing this part of your history, Lee. And bravo to you for not only surviving the “teasing,” but for becoming one of the “adults who learned compassion from the experience.” Bless you!

    Like

  3. 3 onamarae August 13, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    I would like to echo Renee’s comments. Bullying kills not only kids and teens, but adults, too. It can be that viscous or that insidious. Thank you for sharing, thank you for surviving, thank you for your compassion.
    Ona

    Like

  4. 5 S.A. August 14, 2015 at 3:31 PM

    Tough topic; thanks for sharing such a personal story. Kids (and adults) can be cruel, no mistake, and studies (and experience) show that the scars can be long-lasting for recipients of bullying. Maybe people who don’t intervene are just as intimidated/confused about how to react? Nonetheless, to do nothing is not okay, albeit the easier path. For what it’s worth, you survived and got to where you are both in spite of and because of those early experiences, and I think you’ve turned out great! Again, thanks for sharing!

    Like

  5. 6 Anita Bradshaw August 14, 2015 at 5:20 PM

    Many thanks for the post! As someone who was teased a lot as a kid and also told to buck up that I was too sensitive, I grew up with a warped understanding of acceptable/unacceptable behavior. Took me a long time to learn what was normal and what was unkind and how to stand up for myself. Thanks for validating that experience and I’m sorry that you shared that sort of thing growing up. Bullying/teasing isn’t fun or funny and kids need to learn how to deal with it and adults must stop it. Thanks, again for the post!

    Like

  6. 7 Devlyn August 15, 2015 at 10:00 PM

    Lee, I always saw you as a strong and compassionate person but I didn’t really know until I read this blog just how special you are. You, like many are a survivor and while bullying is horrific, telling your story like you have helps to repel the stigma. We should all be so brave as to STOP bullying when we become aware of it. We should provide safe havens for those being bullied.
    Kudos to you Lee, you are brave and a survivor.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 8 francimcmahon August 25, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    Lee, I got shivers as I read this because you were telling my story. I agree that not all victims of abuse turn into abusers, and that is an excellent point. Reading the other comments here tells me also how many of us have survived bullying, and not just survived but become strong compassionate creative beautiful and kind women.

    Like


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