Midwest Voices

Brooke Palmer: Lingering memories of bullying endure long after graduation

The bullying that people experience in schools like Paseo Academy has a lingering effect long after graduation.
The bullying that people experience in schools like Paseo Academy has a lingering effect long after graduation. The Kansas City Star

Dear Mrs. Bus Driver:

For sixth through half of eighth grade, I attended the Kansas City Middle School of the Arts. Although I loved this magnet school and had many friends there, I grew tired of the long commute and the dearth of social connections in my own neighborhood.

In 1991, I decided to transfer to Raytown Middle School for the spring semester. You drove the Timber Valley bus route. Whether you disliked my artsy style or simply that I was the new kid, you singled me out.

You gawked at me each morning when I boarded. One afternoon when I exited the bus and crossed the street toward my house, you leaped from the driver’s seat and raged at me — in front of a bus full of students — for making the apparently wrong decision to cross in front of the bus.

Another time you wrote me a discipline slip for having a “bad attitude” and giving you “dirty looks.” Although you were wrong, I remained humble and henceforth lowered my eyes to the floor when boarding your bus to prevent additional unfounded punishments.

Although you weren't my sole tormentor that semester — I received daily insults from other students and even had a history teacher ask me to stand up in the classroom to display an example of “unusual style” — you were the first authority figure I encountered at the start of each school day. It was you who set the tone of negativity that followed me throughout the day. While your treatment of me was emotionally harmful at the time, it did not define me; rather, it defined the ignorance and small-mindedness of those of you who helped me decide to get out of there and return to the arts magnet school from which I graduated in 1995.

Today I learn about educators, organizations and businesses in Raytown that embrace diversity and respectfulness as the demographics there have changed over time. Thus, I assume that behavior such as yours is no longer tolerated institutionally.

Maybe you have changed, too. I hope so because being mean is a legacy no one should want.

Dear M---:

You enrolled at my high school in 1992, and my then-boyfriend immediately took an interest in you. When he began spending time with you behind my back, you were honest with me. When I became heartbroken at the revelation, you were sorry. This should have been the perfect moment to break up with the emotionally manipulative boyfriend and move on. After all, it was he who had lied.

Instead, I projected all of my bitterness and anger at you. Using the rumor mill, verbal insults and the telephone, I launched a personal campaign of harassment to infuse intimidation and ridicule into your life.

Had social media existed at the time, my persecution would have been even more insidious. My unwarranted behavior took a heavy toll on both of us.

You struggled through each school day, attempting to avoid or ignore my instigations; I struggled with my conscience to reconcile the kind, nonjudgmental person I had always been with the vengeful, obsessed person I had become. Eventually my anger ran its course, and I left you alone.

Later I apologized to you. But the guilt I still carry today serves as a reminder that we each have the capacity to become a bully. And while having been bullied may be an influencing factor, it is not a cause, nor an excuse.

We must seek — and offer — healthier ways to process emotional pain and rejection, whether in our youth or adulthood, because inflicting pain is a virus. It stays with us even as we spread it around.

Brooke Palmer of Kansas City is an editor for a publishing company and freelance writer on music and nightlife. Reach her at oped@kcstar.com.

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