[W]orse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.
The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit. Seventh and eighth grades were a place into which one descended. One descended from the relative safety and wildness and bigness one felt in sixth grade, eleven years old. Then the worm turned, and it was all over for any small feeling that one was essentially all right. One wasn't. One was no longer just some kid. One was suddenly a Diane Arbus character. It was springtime, for Hitler, and Germany.
I experienced it as being a two-year game of "The Farmer in the Dell." I hung out with the popular crowd, as jester, but boy, when those parties and dances rolled round, this cheese stood alone, watching my friends go steady and kiss, and then, like all you other cheeses, I went home and cried. There we were, all of us cheeses alone, emotionally broken by unrequited love and at the same time amped out of our minds on hormones and shame.
Seventh and eighth grades were about waiting to get picked for teams, waiting to get asked to dance, waiting to grow taller, waiting to grow breasts. They were about praying for God to grow dark hairs on my legs so I could shave them. They were about having pipe-cleaner legs. They were about violence, meanness, chaos. They were about The Lord of the Flies. They were about feeling completely other. But more than anything else, they were about hurt and aloneness. There is a beautiful poem by a man named Roy Fuller, which ends, "Hurt beyond hurting, never to forget," and whenever I remember those lines, which is often, I think of my father's death ten years ago this month, and I think about seventh and eighth grades.
I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.
The Voice doesn't originate from bullying. The Voice is self-doubt and if you don't have at least a bit of it you're a cocky asshole. I'm not questioning that it might be exacerbated by bullying, but even people who don't feel haunted by past cruelties sometimes worry that they're an incompetent fraud. That's not something that someone did to you.
I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart. I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.
I do want to take a second and address the "bullied for being smart" phenomenon. I think it does happen, but it happens more in the minds of the bullied than the mind of the bully
All those well-meaning parents and administrator were actually more harmful to me than the bullies themselves. Think of the messages they were sending! "Smart people get beat up." "You're being beat up because of some ingrained thing you can't change."
One day, in Spring, after much of the school year had passed, I got fed up. ... . So I waited until the teacher's back was turned, and I reached back and jammed that pen into her calf.
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