By Christine Fonseca
School was always a minefield for me. Academically, it was easy. Even fun.
But socially, that was a whole different story.
As far back as I can remember, I was the object of ridicule. My shame started with overt acts of aggression: getting shoved in the bus as I walked to my seat, being slammed into the walls in the crowded hallways.
Yep, I was the target of a good ole’ fashioned bully, Rhonda Smith. She was a lot smaller than me, with an attitude and a mean streak that struck fear into my heart in an instant. I never understood what I did to warrant the physical abuse. But understand it or not, it happened. Almost daily.
I never told my mom, my teachers, or the principal. Neither did any of the other students that silenced watched her brand of torture. I just dealt with it in my own way—through silence.
I changed schools in the fall due to a change in district boundaries. I was thrilled, overjoyed. Finally: a chance to be rid of Rhonda Smith and her daily torture-fest.
At first things started off great in my new school. I made friends and enjoyed the music classes not offered at the other school. Things changed by the end of the year. And this time, it wasn’t physical. It was worse.
This time it was emotional.
The bullying started off small: lighthearted teasing about the clothes I wore (always out of style), or the way the teachers treated me (giving me special projects).
By sixth grade, it was vicious. The boys mocked my over-developed chest, and the girls—they just assumed things about me. Horrible, nasty things.
“Whore!” they’d yell whenever I walked by. “Who are you going to make out with this time? Don’t forget to collect your money.”
The whispers grew to taunts and rumors that followed me everywhere. It didn’t matter to any of them that I’d never talked to a boy on the phone, let alone gone out.
I was ashamed that anyone would think of me in that way. I believed I must be to blame for what was happening. Filled with shame, I stayed quiet. Again.
No one stopped the rumors. Not even my friends.
No one tried to protect me. Not a teacher, nor my parents.
I was an outcast. I couldn’t fit in with the orchestra geeks, the nerds, the socialites or the jocks.
I was alone.
High school brought another change when my mom remarried—a new school in a new district. Maybe I could find a place to belong in this new place.
Everything was different in this new place. The kids, the cars, the cliques—all of it screamed of money. Except for me. So much for fitting in with this group.
I decided to avoid the social scene altogether. I ignored the kids and buried my head in stories of faraway places. As I expected, that netted me a fresh round of taunts. During class, they’d whisper innuendos about me, pairing me up with the teacher they loved to ridicule. The innuendos grew until rumors about me and the teacher spread all over campus.
Great. Now my reputation was ruined for good.
They were so wrong about me. They always had been. These people didn’t know me. They didn’t even try to get to know me. They didn’t care that I was a talented musician. Or a good student. Or reasonably good-looking. They didn’t care that I looked like them. They just insisted on cutting through me with their words, their hatred.
The summer before my senior year, I devised a plan: a way out of the constant loneliness and torment that defined my life to that point. I started modeling. At 5’10”, I thought this could be my ticket out of the land of outcasts.
I colored and cut my hair, got my braces taken off, and started dressing in chic East Coast fashion looks I designed myself—a startling change from the California fashion that surrounded me. I stopped caring about my school work or music and focused on things that had the coolness factor: dancing, clubs, clothes. The opposite of everything I was before.
The first day of school came. I grabbed my bag and headed out, giving myself one last look in the mirror.
The day was like a dream. Everyone talked about me—but not in taunts. Not this time. This time it was about my metamorphosis. I finally fit in. Or so I thought.
The problem was I wasn’t me anymore. I was nothing more than a mask. A painful lie.
My nights were filled trying to maintain the persona I had created. My grades dropped. My dreams for college began to slip away. Too many parties, too little homework—it caught up with me, tearing away at my relationships with family, my relationship with myself. I was miserable.
I never thought being part of the in-crowd would make me feel so bad all the time. But the truth of it was that I hated it. I had to get out.
And the crowd turned on me as soon as I stopped partying, stopped going along with everything they wanted.
This time, though, their taunts didn’t bother me. I’d finally figured out the truth about bullies.
Their words don’t hurt if you don’t let them.
I’m not going to say it was easy. And I’ll admit I still struggle with my need to be part of the in-crowd. But I did learn that changing who I was in order to fit in didn’t solve any of my problems. Nor did it make the bullying stop.
The only thing that stopped it for me was deciding that they couldn’t hurt me anymore.
School psychologist by day and lover of books by night, I started writing as a way to blend the two. My parenting and advice books for kids delve into the often turbulent world of emotional intensity and giftedness. In addition to writing books related to giftedness, I write contemporary, fantasy, romance, and gothic novels for teens.
I live in Southern California with my husband and daughters. When I’m not helping adolescents deal with the transition to adulthood or playing Band Hero with my family, I can be found sipping a skinny vanilla latte at my favorite coffee house, writing my next book.
You can also contact me via email at christine(at)christinefonseca(dot)com.