I had forgotten about you, until last summer, when someone posted an old photo of you on Facebook. You were on the beach with your friends, hamming it up and having the time of your lives, without a care in the world. But I wasn’t in that picture.
I was the “ugly” girl, the one who didn’t belong. I was different, an outsider. I wore lots of black, and ripped up hand-me-down jeans, with big dorky glasses, and fake, wanna-be Doc Martens because I was too poor to afford real ones. I read Albert Camus on the beach, instead of playing bikini volleyball with pink-polished girls. I was doomed.
The only reason you met me that summer was that I’d been sent to stay with another family for a week, the parents of your friends, while my mother was in the hospital, which, you can imagine, is pretty rough on a kid. But you, Bully, had no idea. You had no idea that I needed shelter, that I needed a place to forget that things were already kind of horrible. I needed a home away from home.
But kids are cruel.
I was walking with your group, who tolerated me because I was staying with your friends, but then you decided you’d had enough. You turned toward me and started a rant, telling me how ugly you thought I was, because I wasn’t like you or your friends. Your exact words were, “You’re an ugly dog. You should go find a fire hydrant, and piss on it.” Then you spat, and turned away. Worse, no one stood up for me. I trailed behind everyone else, feeling like you’d sunk a knife in my chest. The pain lingered and spread like gangrene.
That night I tried to disappear. I ran away, hoping to somehow meet my end. I slipped out of the house, and ran down dirt roads in the dark. I stopped at the playground down by the beach, and lay down on the basketball court, flattening my body against the black top, hoping to make myself invisible. I stared up the stars, cruel stars that couldn’t help me, that could only blink in their oblivion.
Then I heard a voice.
Someone called my name from the edge of the playground, a grownup who realized I was gone. But I stayed silent, only wanting to come home when I was good and ready.
The grownup turned around, and left.
I lay on my back a little longer, realizing that I was cold, and that I’d eventually get hungry, and that my mom and dad and brother didn’t deserve to be punished for someone else’s crime. I got up and dusted myself off, trudging back to the house in the dark, slipping back in, making up a story that I had simply gone for a midnight walk. Everyone shrugged it off and went back to business as usual. No one knew what I was feeling.
I saw you again, Bully, over the next few days. Still being a loud-mouthed jerk, like the day before, and the day before that. Then I left and went home to my family, where things were better. I tried to forget about you, wondering every so often if everyone else saw what you saw, if I was really as ugly as you say, if I was worth anyone’s time and attention. I suffered this way for years.
I’m a grown-up now. And I eventually realized you were wrong, that I am beautiful. I’ve forged my own confident path in the world, a path where brains are just as valuable as beauty, and love is more important than anything else. But to do this, I needed to embrace my outsiderness and forget about you, and bury your face way, way in the past.
Until I saw your picture on Facebook last summer. Memories came flooding back, as did a sadness for my former self, someone who was fragile, but became stronger. I wondered where you are now, and if you have daughters, and if anyone is else torturing them the way you tortured me.
I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I hope that karma isn’t a bitch, that your daughters are healthy and happy and safe.
That is my sincerest wish for you, Bully.
Because love is more important than anything else.