Dear Jillian: Letter to a Young Bully
By Kelly Parra
I was that girl growing up. Quiet. A little shy. Unsure of myself. You were the total opposite. Outspoken. Vibrant. Confident. The leader of your clique of girls in sixth grade. You wore your hair short with this thin tail down the back you sometimes braided**.
I moved often from school to school so I was more than eager for a new friendship. I’d been brought into your circle. I don’t even think you really noticed me until this one moment that stands out in my mind. The group of us were on the bleachers. You were stepping from one row to the next and we were all following you like a train. I wanted you to be my friend but it struck me as silly. I stopped. I stepped in another direction and that’s when you saw me. You really saw me. And walked over to me to compliment me on my shoes.
The girls all followed you.
And it seemed in that moment I was accepted by you.
Me, the quiet girl, who was often afraid. Afraid to get too close. Afraid when I’d have to move again. Afraid to stand up for myself.
You were slim, tall, and kind of pretty. The boys in our grade all listened to you. Cared what you said. You liked the cutest boy in sixth grade and you went steady with him for a while. When you broke up, you still liked him. So no one ever said they liked him because you did.
Another moment comes to mind. The day we became closer friends.
I’d moved again. But this time closer to your house***. There was a park pathway that ran between our homes. You were so happy. I was happy to have a new close friend. I’d go over your house after school and play Nintendo.
I learned more about you. You loved to dance. You liked the Raiders. And you lived with your father, step mom, and older sister. They were a cool family and always let you have friends over. Sometimes your sister was mean to you. I felt bad…we were all scared of your older sister.
Soon we all liked to dance like you, and bought matching Raider jackets like yours.
One day you were mad at your best friend. She didn’t really like me because I think she noticed us getting closer. You sent one of the girls over to tell her why you were mad at her and the girl was your messenger, running back and forth between you and your old best friend, because you told her to.
The old best friend was out of the group. She didn’t get to hang out with us anymore. We weren’t allowed to talk to her.
I think we were all a little scared one day one of us would be like your old best friend. Cast aside without any friends.
There was a new girl. She was pretty with long dark hair. One of the boys liked her. You wanted them to go steady. You went back and forth between them to make it happen and it did. You were so happy; you told them they looked so cute together.
When you wanted something for us, it usually happened.
One day one of the boys started to like me. His name was Robby****. I wasn’t sure I liked him. Sure, he was nice. But there was something inside me that was uncomfortable. I didn’t want him as my boyfriend but you said, “Please, Kelly? He really likes you!” You had this way of asking something that if you didn’t get it, it would be the end of the world. You would face serious disappointment if it didn’t happen. Causing you disappointment wasn’t an option. And if I made you happy, it seemed we were both happy. Going against my own feelings, I agreed.
You see, everyone listened to you and we were all afraid to say no.
I kissed him one day at somebody’s house. And I didn’t like how he kissed. I told you. You said, “You want to break up with him because he doesn’t kiss good? Come on, Kelly, that’s so mean!”
I stayed with him for a couple of weeks.
I held his hand. He told me how much he liked me and I couldn’t really say it back. I was in his talent show and he sang to me in front of the whole school. I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I told you I just didn’t like him. For some reason, I couldn’t break up with the boy without telling you first. Without you saying it was okay. You finally accepted it, I think, because you didn’t have a boyfriend either. You went to tell him I didn’t want to go steady anymore. I felt a little bad because he seemed sad, like he really liked me. But I was just so relieved I didn’t have to be with him anymore.
Slowly, all the couples broke up.
I was a cheerleader. You were a basketball player. I cheered for you on the girls’ team and I cheered for the boys’ team, too. One day, I started to like someone out of our group. A basketball player named Michael*****. He was so cute. I told you and you brought Michael into our group and you took control, telling him I liked him. It turned out he liked me too. We started to go steady, and you somehow became his good friend too.
We met his mom, who was so kick-back. We went to her house, and we both liked her. But you made sure you were closer to her and that was okay with me because I really liked Michael.
Everything was great. I had a boyfriend I wanted to be with. You and I were best friends. We had fun. We laughed. We shared secrets. We went on trips together with our families.
But somewhere, sometime, something changed. And even now, I don’t know when it happened.
The awful day arrived when you were mad at me. One of the girls came up to me in the lunch line to tell me. I’d said something that made me sound like I knew more about something than you did. And you didn’t like it. I guess I got too comfortable and let my guard down, thinking we were really best friends and nothing could break us apart.
I remember feeling this dread in the pit of my stomach. I tried to defend myself. When that didn’t work, I said I was sorry even though I really didn’t do anything wrong. You said you didn’t care. That’s all I ever said was, “sorry.” The old best friend was back and she was happy I was out.
I didn’t get to hang out with everyone anymore.
I was the outcast.
I was alone.
Michael and I broke up.
I wasn’t invited to any of our friends’ houses.
You were just done with me, and so was everyone else, because you said so.
There were tears at home. I tried to tell my mother I didn’t have any friends. But it seemed like adults just didn’t get it. Didn’t understand what it was like to be all alone at our age. It’s like darkness with no light. It’s like sadness with no ending.
The girls who had acted like my friends didn’t see me anymore. The boys kind of gave me a sad smile, like they felt sorry for me.
I knew it’d be lonely till summer, but I managed to get through the days without any friends. And then the strangest thing happened. At the end of the school year, on the last day of school, you decided to become my friend again, and I just let you. You told me you’d kissed Michael at a party, but ended up pushing him away because you couldn’t do that to me.
To me. I didn’t understand, because you’d already hurt me be out casting me like I never mattered.
And deep inside, I realized you had gotten me out of the way for a boy. For Michael.
We moved again that summer, this time out of town.
We were still friends for the first half of the summer without the other friends around. Just you and me. There was a change in our friendship, I noticed. It wasn’t the same as it was. I was more careful with you, wondering what you might do next.
Once school started, we lost touch.
Now, Jillian, we’re adults. I haven’t spoken to you since the seventh grade when you called to tell me how Michael was going steady with a pretty, older girl and how you were all good friends. I didn’t care but I listened to you and when I hung up it was a relief. Like a constriction released from my chest.
You were no longer my friend. You were no longer controlling my life. But I could tell you were still controlling others.
I’ll always remember how in your own way you were a young bully. No, you didn’t shout and call people names, you didn’t punch or hit, but you took control of your friends’ lives and bullied them into doing whatever you wanted, whether they wanted to do it or not.
I’m not sure if it’s because you were bullied at home by your older sister or if you felt you didn’t have enough control, but you were a bully. And I can see it now even though I couldn’t see it then.
I’ve let go of the hurt you caused me a long time ago, but I wonder about you sometimes. I wonder if you’ve found real happiness. If you ever think about how you were the leader of the pack, and if you regret the way you treated people.
Sometimes I wish I stood up to you back then. But I was still growing into the adult I am today. Still learning about life. Still finding myself. And that’s okay. That’s what kids do. They experience. They learn. They become stronger. I finally get that.
Now I just hope my children don’t follow in my own footsteps. If someone reads this letter, I hope she’ll realize bullies come in different shapes, sizes, and ages, and maybe she’ll stand up against a bully like you.
* Name has been changed.
**Everyone thought that thin braid was so cool.
*** This time I didn’t have to change schools!!
**** No, his name wasn’t Robby. But I did end up using his name in one of my books. J
***** I just realized I used Michael’s name in a book too. Pretty surreal.
Kelly Parra is the author of the teen novels Graffiti Girl and Invisible Touch and also writes adult fiction as Kelly Lynn Parra. She lives in Central Coast California with her family and enjoys writing stories about underdogs who beat the odds. Visit her online atwww.KellyParra.com.