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Writers Reflect On Childhood Torment In 'Dear Bully'
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Writers Reflect On Childhood Torment In 'Dear Bully'

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Writers Reflect On Childhood Torment In 'Dear Bully'
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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Even decades later, some of us cannot help but cringe when the new school year begins, as we remember teases and taunts, and sometimes our own paralysis, as we stood helpless before the power of a bully. Sometimes they ganged up, sometimes they dished out real violence, but always with large helpings of humiliation. What would you say or write to that bully today? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You could also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We take this idea from a new book, where Carrie Jones and Megan Kelly Hall compiled a collection of stories from writers called "Dear Bully." Later in the program, we'll remember the engineer who created the container, and as a by-product, globalized trade. But first, "Dear Bully," and we begin with Carolyn Mackler, who joins us from our bureau in New York. She's the author of several teen novels, including "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things." And it's nice to have you with us today.

CAROLYN MACKLER: Thanks, Neal. It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And your story in this collection is called "Dear Elizabeth." And tell us a little about Elizabeth.

MACKLER: Elizabeth is - when I got the letter she was a sixth grade girl from Illinois, and I got a lot of letters from readers who have just finished "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things." And Elizabeth wrote to me and said - well, her letter is actually also included in the "Dear Bully" collection. It was such a beautiful letter. It was one of those that really made me stop in my day and think, wow, my books reach people.

She wrote me that she read "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things." She said she'd been ridiculed her whole life because of her weight and she identified with my 15-year-old character in book, Virginia. And it gave her inspiration. It made her feel like she was a happier person because of it. She felt triumph because of my own character's rebellion. And she thanked me for writing the book, or the - and - it was one of those letters that - it also touched in me the reason I wrote "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things," which was because of some of the experiences I had as a teenager being bullied.

CONAN: And you write: It's important to remember that you get over them. And then at the end of your story you say wait a minute. Well, not entirely.

MACKLER: Exactly. Exactly. When you think about bullying, you think, well, it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. And it did. I mean, my own experiences being bullied did make me a more compassionate person. It made me more sympathetic to the adolescent experience. It made me really understand the depth of despair you can go through as an adolescent. And it helps me in my novels, it helps me parent my children. And so, yes, I'm stronger because of my own experiences. But, also it does; it affects me 25 years later. I still think about it when I walk into a room, and I feel judged. And I immediately think, well, they don't like me. And I think, well, I have to prove it, they'll like me.

And so it's a voice in my head even now.

CONAN: Even now? How long did it take you to write that book, when you got around to it?

MACKLER: "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things?"

CONAN: Uh-huh.

MACKLER: Probably about a year, a year-and-a-half from first draft to the book coming out. And it was a very emotional book. It's not about me, it's not my story. But it really - my own personal story did inform my character and how she started to come into herself, and love herself for who she was, you know, despite what people thought of her.

CONAN: And have you ever told anybody about your experience being bullied?

MACKLER: You know, it's so funny. I walking here and I was thinking this is - I'm very nervous. I haven't, I haven't talked about my experience. I think that being bullied is a shameful experience. It is - it was - prior to being bullied I was a very footloose 6th grader. You know, I was quirky, I was creative. I really felt good of my own body. And when I was bullied in 5th grade, I - my self-esteem tanked, and I felt skittish, and I felt nervous, and I felt shameful. I though there's something wrong with me and people really noticed it. And I don't want people to notice it anymore. And through the rest of junior high and high school I was always thinking I need to hide stuff. I don't anyone to know, I have to overcome it. I have to be funny, I have to look good.

And I felt like I reinvented myself as someone who wasn't bullied. I didn't want that narrative to be part of who I was. So, no, writing this letter was very powerful for me.

CONAN: And if you could write to your bully today, what would you say?

MACKLER: I would say that what you do does affect people; that maybe someone is having fun, and maybe someone needs to feel a little better in their day. Or identify with a group of friends. We're all laughing, now we feel better. But it does affect people. Everything you do to other people affect them, and how you treat people affects them. I would like them to think about it. I'd like them to write me back. I'd like them to not friend me on Facebook, because that's what they've done.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACKLER: And I have not accepted their request.

CONAN: Really? So, they...

MACKLER: Really.

CONAN: ...contact you.

MACKLER: If you have friended me, hey. Heard you wrote a novel; it's amazing what you're doing. And I say, thanks to you. I can go to those depths of despair.

CONAN: Wow.

MACKLER: No. Friend request, no.

CONAN: Friend request, no. Carrie Jones is also with us, a co-editor of "Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories," joins us from the studios at Maine Public Radio in Bangor. And, nice to have you with us today.

CARRIE JONES: Thank you. It's nice to be here. Thank you for having us.

CONAN: And how did you come up with this concept?

JONES: Megan Kelly Hall and I had both on the same exact day become outraged on our own personal blogs about Phoebe Prince, a girl who had been allegedly bullied and killed herself in Massachusetts, which is where Megan had come from. For me, Phoebe was a really beautiful young person who was also an incredible writer. And it hit home, especially after hearing about kids who were also allegedly bullied, like Jazmin Lovings, who was from Brooklyn, and 5-years old, and allegedly was bullied at school so badly that she has nightmares every night and they cut off a piece of her hair. And it's just horrifying, and Megan and I were both really upset about it. Separately Megan and I had never been friends before that, or really known each other, other than in the blog world.

And we both called out to other authors for stories and people who weren't published authors, as well, just to share on their blogs and to ask - try to create solidarity though stories so that kids who read the blogs could see that other people had gone through it, that there was a myriad of ways that they dealt with it.

And from that initial call for stories, we created on Facebook a group called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, which I think that in April, 2010. And over the weekend it went from five people to 1,500 people, which may not be a big deal in the New York scheme of things, but for my little Maine brain...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...1,500 people. That's almost my entire town's population. But it also - that major swelling of support kind of showed how upset authors were about this. And since we think about stories, I think an anthology sort of became a natural evolution of our desire to try to do something to help.

CONAN: And if you think that authors are perhaps in larger proportion than others victims of bullying, well, the fact is some huge percentage of kids, especially boys, say that they have been victims of bullies at some point in their school career. So, we're asking your stories today, too. What would you write or say to your bully all these years later? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Nicole(ph), and Nicole's on the line with us from Eagle River in Alaska.

NICOLE: Hello, yes. I'd say to my bully to think about the future before you pick on somebody. I've run into several bullies I've known, people who bullied me when I was a child. And they say that they - as soon as they grow to be adults, they regret what they've done. And each time you lash out at a fellow human being, you're going to lose a little piece of yourself which you might not ever gain back. And so I'd warn them against that; to just think about themselves as well, and sort of not necessarily thinking about the person, because they're young and it's hard to think about somebody you're picking on. But you're going to lose a little bit of yourself each time you attack a person.

CONAN: It's a very generous thought, Nicole. No angry words? No epithets?

NICOLE: No angry words. The one thing that I never - I was bullied pretty hard through all of school, and the one lasting thing that it took with me was it - it seriously affects your social skills. You - all those things that everybody else learns through middle school and high school, you don't pick up, and then it seems like you're dealt with another, additional hurdle as you get into young adulthood because all those things everybody's learned, you haven't necessarily learned or you haven't learned as well as everybody else.

And people think. oh, you know, it ends as soon as high school ends, but no, those lasting effects go with you, the self-confidence, the strength. Those are - I did definitely pick up strength from my bullies.

I've overcome hurdles that I've seen people who are more socially adept not overcome. So I do thank them for that strength. But it's hard. I thought I'd come back at my 10-year reunion angry and bitter, but I'm not. I don't - I carry no anger towards my bullies.

CONAN: Carolyn Mackler, that - did you experience that loss of social skills, too?

MACKLER: I didn't in the same way. I mean, I think I've always - I just love being around people. I've always - I had a good group of friends through the bullying experience. The bullying experience was very specific. It was a group of boys who were - they were teasing me about being Jewish, and I was in a small town, and there weren't a lot of Jewish kids there.

And so I always did have a group of friends, and that, along with a solid family life and reading novels really did keep my self-esteem and my social skills intact.

CONAN: And it's interesting, Carrie Jones, as we read these stories, everybody's story is the same, and everybody's story is different.

JONES: You know, I think - I think that's really the power and the truth of the entire anthology, is that there are these truths, despite the diversity of authors and experiences. And, I mean, we have some people in there who were bullies who admit to having been a bully and how brave I think that is for them as authors, as well as the people who were bullies.

I had authors who were crying because it was the first time they actually wrote about it in a non-fictionalized way, and the truth of the pain from that experience is really echoed throughout the bystanders' point of view, the bullied point of view and the bullies' point of view, and in a way, it almost seems like the labels sometimes that we create of that sort of trifecta sort of can mesh and go around.

I think at the beginning of the segment, you had a man, Tony, who talked about being - having been bullied and then becoming the bully. And we have a couple authors who talk about that, too, and the feeling of power that they felt. I mean, there's a lot of different reasons people will sometimes bully, and I think there's a lot of different feelings that it can create.

And it's really brave to admit that you have been the victim of bullying, but it's also incredibly brave to admit that you have been the one who has been perpetuating that pain.

And I think, you know, what Nicole just said and what Curtis just said as well, Kurtis Scaletta, one of our contributors to the book, said everything you do as a kid adds up to who you are as an adult. And it's true.

CONAN: Nicole, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. And our thanks, as well, to Carolyn Mackler, who wrote the story "Dear Elizabeth" in the book "Dear Bully" and is also the author of "The Earth, My Butt and Other Round Things," which is not unconnected to the story. Thanks very much for being with us today.

MACKLER: Thank you so much for having me on.

CONAN: What would you write or say to your bully? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Bullying is probably as old as adolescence itself, but what was once viewed as just kids being kids is now recognized as a serious problem. Seventy authors contributed their stories of bullying and being bullied to a new book. Carrie Jones co-edited "Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories."

She also contributed one of her own, "If Mean Froze." She was tormented in school because of her voice and the way she said her S's. So she stopped talking. You can read her story in full at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We've gotten this email from Linda in Tsahalis, Washington. To my bullies: I was bullied from kindergarten to the day I graduated from high school. I wish you could have seen what I had to endure, the emotional abuse at home from an unstable mother who refused to see that fitting in with my peer group was crucial to my development.

I am just now, after years of therapy and medication, beginning to trust people, that they aren't going to hurt me like you did. It took almost 10 years of marriage to trust my husband that he wasn't going to leave me.

We'd like to hear your stories. Again, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Carrie Jones is with us from Maine Public Radio in Bangor. And joining us now from member station WAMC in Albany, New York, is Eric Luper, another contributor to "Dear Bully." He's the author of the youth novel "Jeremy Bender Versus the Cupcake Cadets." And it's nice to have you with us today.

ERIC LUPER: Well, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And your story is about peer pressure.

LUPER: It absolutely is.

CONAN: You were - go ahead, you can tell it much better than I can.

LUPER: Well, when I was in third grade, I relocated. My family relocated to a new town, and it took some time for me to get acclimated to my new surroundings and to my peer group. And through the course of the first few years, I found myself the subject of quite a few bullies in my neighborhood. I lived in north Jersey at the time.

And there came this one turning point, where I was in a situation where I had the opportunity to become the bully, and my story is about how I coped with that.

CONAN: And coped with it, it's a terrible story, in a way. A young boy who's also trying to join the group, desperate to be liked, and you put him through a series of, well, apparently harmless tests until one of them turns terrifying. He puts himself inside-out in his hoodie so he can't see and finds himself tied through the mesh fencing of a tennis court and can't reach the knot to untie himself, and everybody says come on, Luper, let's go.

LUPER: Yeah, and, you know, I remember as this event was unfolding that I knew it was terribly wrong. And, you know, we're talking fifth grade or so for me, and, you know, fifth or sixth grade. And it was a situation where the temptation of receiving the acceptance from the people who had been tormenting me was so enticing that I was sorely tempted to do things that I knew were absolutely wrong.

CONAN: And again, you eventually decided that you had to go back and help the kid. I don't mean to give away the ending of the story. There are 69 others that I'm not giving away in the book.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: But the - did you pay a price for that?

LUPER: Yeah, you know, I found myself - I continued to be ostracized by the same group. You know, I sort of spoiled their fun for the day. And, you know, I look back as an adult at that situation and say, like, thank goodness that I had the sense about me at that age to turn around and undo what I had been part of doing.

You know, and - the bullying went on. I mean, it just continued.

CONAN: Yet given what happened in that story and what you did, it's really a rite of passage.

LUPER: In some regard it is. You know, I mean, I look at every, you know, bully as someone who probably has also been bullied themselves, and, you know, it seems as though, you know, everyone I speak to through the course of not only producing this novel but just being a novelist for young people that everyone has experienced - I won't say everyone, but most people have experienced both sides of that fence.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers in on the conversation. Let's go to Alan(ph), Alan with us from Connersville in Indiana.

ALAN: Hi, yeah. What I want to tell the people who bullied me is that I now realize that I'm actually better than they are. My way of dealing with bullying was to recognize that I was going to go to college and have a great life and get out of this little town I was in, while they were going to be stuck. And it was years before I actually started to feel - realize that, you know, they were really usually bad situations of being abused or, you know, going through terrible things.

And so now, after 20-plus years out of high school, I'm a minister in a small town, and I became both - much like the one I came from, and I'm working, you know, with kids who get bullied and sometimes kids who do the bullying, you know.

In a way, I've come back to try to do something better than I was able to do at the time.

CONAN: And were you right? Did - you obviously have gone on to become a success, but your bullies, was one of them recently elected to the United States Senate or something like that?

ALAN: Well, no. I got a - I ended going out and eventually getting a doctorate from the University of Chicago and, you know, had a lot of different options but realized the place I really belonged was in a small town. So, you know, this is where I am.

CONAN: Alan, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

ALAN: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: And it's interesting as - Carrie Jones, there are so many different categories of these stories. Obviously, one of them is that, you know, dear bully, the idea of writing to the bully himself but also there's a collection of stories under the title "Just Kidding," in other words these are almost the beginnings of something that can develop into something else.

JONES: Yeah, the stories in that collection are sort of - I think you phrased it correctly. It's the beginning of something that could become something else, and both - it could become something horrifying, or it could become something good.

And for a lot of the contributors, like R.L. Stein, who wrote a story called "The Funny Guy," and he was bullied, chased by his bullies, ran into this haunted house - I'm giving away another story ending, which means there's only 68 left, and I apologize.

But he ran into this haunted house and then, you know, created like this ghost's scary voice, uses humor, scared away his bullies and created this self-defense mechanism. But also you can see how that strength became the author, who became the amazing Goosebumps guy, you know, who wrote all these horror, funny horror things.

And it's amazing to read that story because you can almost see how his talent developed there, and, you know, he was lucky. He was able to think quickly and use that talent to become something - to save himself in that situation and become someone amazing as an adult.

CONAN: Almost every kid at some point in their life is so terribly lonely that the appreciation, attention from others is so important and in some ways, especially in that section, the "Just Kidding," the attention of even a bully, well, it can be intimate as well as humiliating and awful.

JONES: That's true. That's a really interesting way of looking at it. And I don't know if I personally was enlightened enough to think about it that way before.

CONAN: Oh, I wasn't at the time, either, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: But you're right. I mean, we often think of the bully as bullying, you know, one of the main reason is for them to get attention. But there is this negative attention that happens when you are the person who has been bullied.

I mean, I know from my own story, that negative attention started to shape me, you know, which Carolyn was talking about a little bit earlier, as well. And, you know, you're being noticed. And so oftentimes that attention makes you want to retreat into yourself and become invisible, which is another theme that echoes - and another truth - that echoes throughout this anthology is how many people just wanted to hide, to lose themselves, to not exist anymore in the most extreme cases because that negative attention became too much.

CONAN: Let's get another story from Linda(ph), Linda with us from Longmont in Colorado. Nice to have you with us, Linda. What would you write to your bully?

LINDA: Hi there. I'd write: Dear Pat, you relentlessly picked on me for being skinny.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LINDA: And 20 years later, our class reunion, I was thin and in shape and you were, by this point, very overweight and not in shape. So there was a little bit of payback there. But mostly you helped me learn that when people say negative things, it says more about them than it says about me, and I'll always be grateful to you for that.

CONAN: So - payback.

LINDA: Payback for one, but also truly, when people say negative things to anyone else, it says a whole lot more about what's going on in the bully's head than it really has to do with the person being bullied. And I've tried to teach my children that and their friends, also.

CONAN: Did you say anything to Pat at that reunion?

LINDA: Oh, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LINDA: There was still some trauma there. So no, I didn't.

CONAN: That's interesting, too, still some trauma there. Eric Luper, I wonder, still some trauma there?

LUPER: Absolutely. You know, even in the - you know...

LINDA: Oh, no, there was still some trauma there, somewhat. No, I didn't.

CONAN: That's interesting too. Still some trauma there. Eric Luper, I wonder, still some trauma there?

LUPER: Absolutely. You know, even in the, you know, my experiences with bullying come out in strange ways, particularly through my writing. You know, I'll find that when I'm starting a book, you know, my most recent is a perfect example - it starts with a bullying scene. And it creeps in, in interesting and insidious ways. You know, even, you know, my sensitivity to it affects my parenting. It affects my interactions with others.

CONAN: Here's an email from Natasha in Davidson, North Carolina: The girl who used to throw ketchuped(ph) French fries at me during lunch has friended me on Facebook now that we're adults. Although I wonder what she would say if I confronted her now about how mean she was. I don't feel a need to, seeing how much better my life has turned out than hers is enough of a comfort for me. And it's interesting, Carrie Jones, there is some payback, and indeed some payback fantasy in your book, but a lot more forgiveness than you'd think.

JONES: There is a lot of forgiveness. You know, I think that, you know, Nancy Holder(ph), one of the contributors, quotes the Dalai Lama - and I may misquote both of them, and I apologize. But she says, if you want to be happy, practice compassion. And if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. And I think for a lot of the writers, they have achieved a certain step in their own personal bullying stories, where they can do that. Not all of us can, but some of us really, truly can, not just practice compassion towards our bullies, but kindness towards our bullies and some understanding.

Writers are a self-reflective lot. And all of our contributors were hardy enough to make it through the bullying. And, you know, not everyone is and - but it's good when you can. And I think that, you know, Melodye Shore's story is a lot like that as well, about how her friends were the beacon of hope in the darkness that helped her make it through her bullying. Another contributor talked to their bully on Facebook, I think it was. And they had no idea, it was (unintelligible).

CONAN: Yeah. They do - yeah.

JONES: They had no idea - the bully had no idea that they had been a bully.

CONAN: Didn't remember it at all, no.

JONES: No, no idea.

CONAN: And she came to an interesting conclusion, saying, it turned out I was my worst bully. I was complicit in this.

JONES: Yeah. And for some people, I think that's true. But for some people, it's not. And it's so hard to create generalizations about bullies and about people who were bullied and about our individual strength. And oftentimes, I think we just get so stuck in trying to create a similar pattern, so we can understand it. And that's why it was important for us to have those 70 stories. Because while there is a truth of pain and compassion in almost every single one of them, there's also those different truths of how people have coped, how it has affected them, what their strengths were, you know?

I, personally, as a first grader, getting bullied for my S's, would not have been able to be - I don't think of myself as being complicit in that bullying at that point in my life. Now, if I'm dispatching at a police department and a police officer comes in and makes fun of my voice by pretending he has a speech defect and I get hurt, I feel like I should be able to deal with that a little bit better. But it still resonates, so there's a truth to that. But we all have different capabilities.

CONAN: Carrie Jones is co-editor of "Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories." Also with us, Eric Luper, who wrote the story in that book, "The Day I Followed," and is also a children's author himself. The "Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets" is among his works. You can - you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And I wanted to read some emails we've gotten. This is Rudolph in Kansas City: The only thing I want to say to my bully is that I made it out of my circumstance despite your best efforts to keep me down. And had you tried to know me, I would have helped you, not avoided you.

This from Glenn: I was only a bully once in fifth grade, and it was only to one particular kid in my class. I think I joined in on the bullying because I didn't want to be bullied. If I could see Phillip Monroe today, I would apologize for my actions. I hope he is listening. And this from Aileen in Dayton: I was not a bully or the bullied. I was a bystander. A girl in my class was constantly bullied for year after year. I was horrified but did nothing. One day, getting on the bus late, there was a seat next to this girl. I started to sit down next to her, and the other kids started calling me on it. She looked up at me with pain-filled eyes, but I couldn't follow through on my reaching out. I was afraid I would be associated with her and suffer the same fate. I moved. This was in 1963. I feel like it was yesterday. I am so ashamed and I wish that I could apologize. I think of her often.

And, Eric Luper, I think of your story and, in a way, yes, you were teasing. When it got out of control, when the kid was tied to the fence, you decided not to be the bystander, not to be the participant.

LUPER: Yeah. And now, you know, when I was originally given the challenge to write a story about my experience with bullying, I mean, of course, the first thing that came to my mind was, you know, all of the instances where I was the victim, where someone was sitting on my chest and stuffing grass in my mouth or, you know, trying to stick my head into the garbage can or something like that. And giving it a lot of thought, I said to myself, you know, I had - I feel like I need to look deeper here. And, you know, all of a sudden, these instances where I was, you know, the tables were turned and I had the power started coming to me. And I said, you know, gosh, I never ever thought of myself as someone who ever dished out bullying, but I guess, in some instances, I was.

CONAN: And motivated, in part, by I'm so glad it's not me?

LUPER: You know, it's just - I think as a child, we lack, in some regard, the ability to step back from a situation and say what are the ripples that will come out of this. As adults, you know, I think - I like to think that we're more capable of doing that. But as a kid, it's - it came from this desperate desire to be accepted or to find myself in a group that wasn't being preyed upon.

CONAN: Eric Luper, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

LUPER: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Eric Luper wrote the story "The Day I Followed" as a contribution to the book "Dear Bully." You can find his contribution on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. And "Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto" is in - also among his works. He joined us today from member station WAMC in Albany. And we're going to ask Carrie Jones, co-editor of "Dear Bully," to stay with us for a little bit. We're going to hear more of your stories about, well, what you tell that bully now. Plus, we'll remember the man who built a better box and changed the world. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: In a few minutes, we're going to be talking about the man who perfected the container. But right now we're talking with Carrie Jones about the book she co-edited, "Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories." She also co-wrote the book "After Obsession." And we wanted to hear your stories about what you would write to that bully after all of these years. And let's go next to Jay, and Jay's on the line with us from Tucson.

JAY: Hi. I just - my story is, is that I had never participated in any clubs and stuff in high school because I was heavy and, you know, had so much shame about it, and I've been teased. And so I went out for the modern dance club at my high school. I just thought, you know, I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to try, and I did. And I got all kinds of feedback from the teacher, kudos, and, oh, my gosh, you're so talented. And so, afterwards, we went down into the gym, you know, into the locker room.

And this little girl, Tammy - perfect blonde hair, perfect body, blue eyes - just unleashed on me in such a way that it was horrible. And she just was like, well, the fat girl made it. And, you know, just relentless. And I just couldn't take it, and I walked away and I went to the teacher. And I told her that I just couldn't do it, you know, because I had gotten accepted into the club. And she asked me why, and I told her. And she said, well, that's just something you're going to have to deal with, but I think you should, you know, follow through.

And of course I didn't, but - so I think what I would tell my bully - part of me wants to say, if I ever see you again, I'm going to kick your ass. And part of me says, you know, why? What did you get out of it? You know, what is your malfunction that you would do that to another human being? Were you that threatened by me? You know? And so - and I'm, you know, I'm just conflicted about what I would say and do to this person if I had seen them.

But her small-minded words had such a significant impact on me. I never ever went to any of my reunions - I haven't to this day - and I carried around so much shame. But I started projecting her image on so many other people who, you know, a little diff went a long way, you know, out of - and she wasn't the first, but it was the effort to make something happen in my life, and then getting that feedback from her, knowing that there is that group of girls, you know, that were all thin. And I wish I had that attitude from that movie, the girl who is dressed as a bumblebee. I wish I just didn't care, but I did.

CONAN: And it sounds, listening to your voice, Jay, you still do.

JAY: Oh, absolutely. It's affected - it affected my life in how - I mean, that and, you know, along with all the other kinds of bullying we go through, my bullying others really was out of - I started lashing out in anger, and then I started doing things to myself, you know, and, you know, trying out experimentation with drugs and hanging out with people who, you know, didn't - I put myself in a position where I would never ever have to feel, you know, and not have to be - experience that, you know, pain of having to be judged in that way. And it was really - it was a profound effect. And I think that - you know, I would hope as an adult that, at this time in her life, that she would, you know, realize that. But I think some people really don't get it. They just don't have a clue as they get older. They don't - they say, well, get over it.

CONAN: We have an interesting email from Brandy(ph) in Arkansas. She wrote, and I think this is - well, and - listen to this: If this was a movie, the other girls would have corrected their behaviors. Sadly, this is not TV. To those girls, I just want to know why? Why would they do this to another human being? What were they getting out of hurting me? I want to know if they think about that time and if they realize how horrible they were. Mostly, I want an apology. Would an apology help, Jane, do you think?

JANE: I think an apology would open a dialogue. I think that it wouldn't change things, but I really would want to have a - I think it would be more about my being able to get validation and to say to that person, this is how you affected my life, that what you said and did had a profound effect. And I agree that there's a certain amount of responsibility we have to take as we get to be adults.

But, you know, having worked with kids, I think sometimes some kids are bullied so bad that I wonder if they have like post-traumatic stress disorder, because it's so painful and so deep that, you know, the physical scars will heal, but for some reason, words and judgment and stuff like that, really - it's just as a wound that doesn't seem to ever really close.

CONAN: Jane, thank you for sharing your story.

JANE: Thank you.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask Carrie Jones about that, but in the context of this email we have from Charlie in Tupelo, Mississippi: In the third grade, my bully was shot and killed by his sister over who controlled the television in their house. Corey was a terror. I was scared, every day, to go to school. When my mother told me what had happened, I hate to say I was incredibly relieved and, quite frankly, very happy. I have few regrets in life, but I do wish I could have reacted some other way. Being free from a bully is one thing. But knowing later that a child died at eight years old is another.

Now that I'm an adult and have a family, I would like to say to my bully, I'm sorry you did not live. I wish somebody could have saved you from your family and the anger that you lived through. And, Carrie Jones, this is more than a mouthful of grass or being pushed against the locker, as bad as those can be. This is life and death sometimes.

JONES: Yeah. It really is life and death sometimes, for the bullied and for the bully, as like in Charlie's situation in which he talks about Corey. You know, you have to wonder about what was going on at Corey's house where he bullied Charlie and, you know, so often bullied - you know, there's different subcategories of bullies. And the bully bullies are often the ones who bully to try to get relief from their own helplessness. You know, they have behavior they see at home or in other places, even on TV, and they use that as role modeling. And that's how they create their own power and their own relief.

We talked about that a little bit earlier with a caller. But, you know, and the woman who just called before, who had that heartbreaking story about modern dance club at, you know, the zenith of her power and she had finally kind of done something and taken her life back and then have that crashing down. I mean, she was strong, and she made it through, you know, with a lot of pain. But there are so any side effects, huge side effects like you mentioned, and other side effects from bullying. It causes fear. It causes depression. It causes anxiety, low self-esteem.

I mean, I am here freaking out about my own voice on NPR, how many years after I was bullied for my S's. And, you know, it causes physical illness in some people. You know, Jazmin Lovings, that little five-year-old girl allegedly wakes up every night screaming, thinking her hair is getting cut and that she's in kindergarten getting kicked and hurt all over again. And then, of course, you know, the ultimately horrifying aspect of it all is it can create suicidal thoughts and sometimes lead to suicide and sometimes lead to homicide, you know, when someone can't take enough and they kill their bully or they kill themselves.

And those are all such devastating, horrifying consequences which show and eliminate that bullying isn't just something you have to live through and it's a right of passage and we should all just be oh, it's OK, everyone. Children have to deal with it. It's something real that can create ripple effects on so many people's lives, and those ripple effects are not usually positive.

CONAN: Carrie Jones, your S's are just fine, radio worthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us today. Carrie Jones is the co-editor of...

JONES: Thank you

CONAN: ..."Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories." Her story "If Mean Froze" appears in the collection, and you can find it on our website at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. She joined us from Maine Public Radio in Bangor. In just a moment, the story of a man who built a better box.

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