Jennifer Branton is a nerd by trade most often writing about books and video games. She has a BA in Journalism from Lewis University
The Loss Of A My Little Pony
The very first day in kindergarten, it was decided that I was going to be prey for the future bullies.
All the classic signs were there: my family had moved in the middle of the school year and I didn't know anyone when classes returned from winter break. We had moved from Chicago Ridge to Orland Park, where I later learned the most entitled little beast children dwell. At the age of six, I was told that my family must be poor because I was wearing the wrong clothes. By the end of the week there was a rumor that I ate boogers, and no one would talk to me except for a girl who had the disadvantage of having huge front teeth that reminded me of a rabbit and always wore pigtails that became my only friend.
By second or third grade I had no friends minus pigtails and we spent the recesses bringing our collection of My Little Ponies to school and raced around the hill imagining stories that our ponies were involved with. Everyone else on the playground ignored us, except for the one day that a girl from our class asked to see what ponies I had. Meekly I handed her whatever I had brought to school that day, watching as she stroked the straw-like doll hair admirably before lofting my prized possessions over the back fence of the school yard.
I never told and I never got my toys back.
The Horrors Of High School And Beyond
Junior high and high school were much of the same. The same kids that were cruel through grade school were the same that I avoided in the hallways in high school. I had little to no friends growing up but I was able to convince my parents otherwise always making up stories about people that I was off to go see but instead I would just walk the neighborhood for hours pretending to be at someone's house or a movie with friends.
I had no self esteem which was growing worse every day. I didn't realize I was starting to feel the precursor to the depression and anxiety I was diagnosed with as an adult until I think back on these events now.
It actually wasn't until my college years when I finally began to over compensate for how alone I had felt in my teenage years alienated by both my peers and a neglectful family that never bothered to check in on what was going on in my life.
Now as an adult, I was suffering the effects of never finding a way to trust other people when I was younger.
I was still a wallflower, I never got involved, I hung back in a crowd.
I was the observer and not a doer.
I found that most of the people that I called close friends were mere associates and that I was was hanger on in the group that was only drafted in because of mutually knowing someone else. When I finally met my husband, it was embarrassing to tell him that I still really had no friend group that I could introduce him too.
I had never really learned to coexist with other people as I spent my whole life trying to run from them.
I spent my life in the shadows chronicling experiences I had vicariously through people that barely knew my name. Yet there was a safety to being a ghost. I didn't have to feel anything. No one had any expectations of the girl that no one really took the time to know.
The Day I Tried To Live
Then it happened, I had finally found a group that I felt I really fit into.
They were a ragtag group of miscreants that managed to find each other not long after the college years but the numbers kept amassing. This collective of friends, some actually roommates, kept expanding as someone was constantly bringing in another lost lamb to the group.
What they had in common was the love of craft beer, of silly movies, occasional sporting events like watching the UFC fights on Pay Per View. Their numbers were mostly male, but a few girlfriends added to the pack on occasion. Often I was the only female. Still sheepish and quiet, often playing with my phone in the corner to mask that I had no idea what to say to these people even though we spent so much time together.
I tried to win favor with them by always being the person to offer to buy dinner, or share my pack of cigarettes, or whatever possession I happen to have for the masses.
I would show up dutifully to every party or social call, making it known that I was someone that could be counted on. I still didn't know what to say to these people but I would listen attentively and try to offer advice to their issues with relationships, work, or among the other friends in the group they were bickering with.
I hadn't had much success in being a friend so I didn't know how. I knew from the examples of when I had been bullied in school of how those people I hated acted with their friends, but it was obvious I was faking.
I gave everything to those people. Trying to be their friend, trying to fit in with the group but after experiencing a sexual assault at the hands of one of them that I should have trusted the most, I was suddenly on my own again and no one was looking to take my side on the situation.
I haven't really had any friends since, learning that I had given up in trusting anyone but myself and my husband.
Today And The Day After
I haven't seen any of those people in at least three or more years but I haven't forgotten about them. Occasionally I get the passive Facebook message that seems half calling me out, maybe half serious inquiry if I wanted to catch up. From all my years of bullying as a child, I can't for the moment take the chance that even if someone was serious about trying to bury the hatchet that I should trust them.
Being the victim of bullying as a child does have an impact on you as an adult.
If sounds ridiculous that something so stupid as the girl in grade school that threw my Ponies over the fence had scarred me from being able to make friends now that I am in my thirties, but it is what I think about when I try to talk to new people. I feel like I will be judged the same way I was in a new school with the wrong clothes when I was six.
I feel like everyone else already knows the rules and I am on the outside trying to learn the customs and that I have to past the tests to be able to get into their world.
I never reply to those messages on Facebook. I shouldn't because they stood up for their friend the creep and never wanted to hear my side. They wouldn't believe me because my history of backing down to everyone that had ever crossed me. I was the best sort of victim.
I'm working on trying to be able to trust more people and integrate myself into more social situations. I tell my husband I might want to join some social activities to give ourselves the chance to make friends.
I am ashamed that I let everyone in my life take what they could from me because I didn't know how to fight for myself because no one ever showed me how when I was being picked on as a kid and instead I only retreated into myself.
I need to keep working on having a future where I am no longer afraid to be in social situations. Maybe it will take a lot more therapy but I am slowly starting to make some progress.
It's cliche to hope that people will learn from their actions as more and more comes out in the media of how bullying has impacted many in their adult lives, but there will always be the hope that maybe it will change one day. I can't get back all that I missed out on in my early life, but there is always hope for the future.