Not a Funny Story by Emily Franklin

Not a Funny Story
By Emily Franklin

A note to readers: I planned on making this essay funny. I thought I’d write a sarcastic, amusing letter to a former bully or the girl who made me feel crappy in eighth grade. I am funny. Really. My novels are filled with wry humor and wit. And yet, when I sat down to write about this particular incident, funny isn’t what came out.

Say it’s sixth or seventh grade and say you’re one of those girls who is not quite in one group and not quite in another. You can’t be categorized. You don’t know this at the time, but some girls find this a problem. People like to have you fit neatly into one social heading: alpha girls, bookish girls, poor girls. You—h happily—float from one group to the next.

This means that while you are welcome in all the groups, you are integral to none of them. No one waits for you to go to lunch. No one feels their party is incomplete without you. On the other hand, you always have a place to sit and can chat equally well with B about her new hair cut and crush on A or S about her parents’ divorce or C about writing stories, which you both love to do.

When X announces her sleepover, you can’t wait to attend. There will be laughter way late at night, food tucked into bathrobes, dares and truths about boys, private jokes to reference the following Monday.

But then you can’t make it. Not because you don’t want to—nothing sounds better than sitting with your knees tucked to your chin while X braids your hair or asks who you like. But you’ve got a high fever, a serious infection—again—and wind up missing not only the sleepover but the whole following week of school.

When you enter the classroom on Monday morning, hang up your red book bag on its metal hook, you see W and wave, looking forward to hearing every details of the sleepover jokes and conversations you missed. But W turns away from you. So do K and B. In fact, no one will make eye contact with you, and when you decide it’s not just your imagination, you approach E and B and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” they turn away.

You experience the same feelings as watching the scary movies everyone else loves but you hate: chills, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, fear, that sickening pull in your gut. You try again, just to talk to someone. Anyone. But even the people who have no one to talk to—the girl who doesn’t wash her hair, the boy who still picks his nose—they won’t speak to you.

Finally, S with her sad eyes, divorced parents, and tiny voice, says, “Just so you know, I didn’t sign it.”

You ask what she means.

“The petition. The one W wrote.”

This is what happened when you were away. You missed the sleepover and W moved in for the kill. You never realized she was jockeying for some social position, or how it’s always a game, even if you chose not to play it. So W writes a document, forms a club called the I Hate [Your Name Here] club. Like all clubs, it has focus, a sole goal: hating you. She works on it the whole week and convinces some kids easily. They are eager to please W and sign without question. Others take work—W has to persuade them, make them long to be part of the majority of haters, woo them with campaign promises. She is the president of the club.

But there are those who will not be so easily conned or swayed. For them, W offers them to the chance to just be in the band. It’s like a lesser form of hating. You just sing the club’s theme song. But still, you can’t speak to the subject.

S is the only person in the entire grade who joins neither the band nor the club.

I could tell you how this is all real, how hellish it was, how alone I felt, or how I rallied. I called W’s second-in-command and when she hung up on me, I went right to her mother. Once I involved the parents, the club crumbled, but the damages were never addressed, just absorbed into everyday life.

We should have talked about it. We should have all spoken with teachers and parents. I never did.

I tell this story to my own children so that they will tell me, so they will speak.

But mainly, I tell my children so that they will be like S and stand up—though standing up is difficult and sometimes dangerous. I tell my children this because it is easy to pass it off as a funny incident that happened a long time ago. I tell them now because as a parent I am amazed at how quick people are to say “Well, girls are mean at that age” or “Everyone does stuff like that at one point or another” or “I wouldn’t go back to that age if you paid me a million dollars.” Where do you draw the line between not being nice and being cruel? At what point is it unacceptable? How threatened can you feel going to school each day?

I tell this story now because it should have been told then. Because out of a class of sixty people, only one of was by my side. Only one said no.

Emily Franklin is the author of over a dozen books for teens, including two critically-acclaimed series, The Principles of Love and The Other Half of Me. Emily’s other young adult titles include the novels in the Chalet Girls series, and the forthcoming Half-Life of Planets. She has also written two novels for adults, Liner Notes and The Girls’ Almanac. She also edited the anthologies It’s a Wonderful Lie: 26 Truths about Life in Your Twenties and How to Spell Chanukah: 18 Writers on 8 Nights of Lights. Check out her website at www.emilyfranklin.com.

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New Story: The Trinity From Hell

The Trinity from Hell
By Jenny O’Connell

Dear Amy, Lauren and Maura,

As the bouncy-haired, tight-jeans trio of eighth grade, you walked the halls like you owned them. As a seventh grader I was supposed to know my place. And my place was way below you. For no reason other than that you didn’t like me. Not that you actually knew me. But I knew you. You were like Charlie’s Angels, three girls who were as dangerous as they were beautiful.

Funny, how you loved my brother, a fellow eighth grader. You’d think you would like me, or at least tolerate me, simply because we were related. Not so. And not so funny that when I started dating an eighth grader you called me a slut. You knew there was no other name that could cut a girl down to size even if she’d never actually French kissed a guy in her life. Even if the mere thought scared her to death.

So I avoided you at all costs. Would take the long way to class if it meant I didn’t have to walk past the three of you watching me, whispering, laughing. I was outnumbered and it brought you such pleasure, such amusement. Slut.

But then there was a day that you were outnumbered, Amy, at Paul H’s Bar Mitzvah. Paul only invited three girls—me, my best friend and you. You were there because your families were friends. We were there because we were Paul’s friends. Two against one. Us against you. We should have showed you what it was like to be made to feel like the unwanted one. We should have taught you a lesson.

Only we didn’t. Because we were nice. And we were naïve. So we talked to you, cautiously at first, waiting to see what you were really like, if you were the same bitch we encountered in the hallways of school. And without Lauren and Maura you lost your edge, or maybe you just lost your power.

That Monday at school we waited to see what would happen, if you’d acknowledge us, if you’d tell your friends that we weren’t so bad after all. But you didn’t. And you know what? We weren’t really surprised. I wasn’t surprised, although I was disappointed. Because I’d really hoped that you’d tell Lauren and Maura that we were nice, that we were fun, that I wasn’t a slut—that they were wrong. Not because I wanted to be your friend, but because I wanted to believe that even a bitch like you could be a regular person.

The next year you all went off to high school, and the following year I went to a different school in another town. I never had to see you again. So why, all these years later, do I remember your names, how your hair would curl away from your face in perfect Farrah Fawcett-styled feathers, how you’d look at me with narrowed eyes and snide smiles, how you made a thirteen year old loathe and fear you? Because you helped make me the person I am today. The one that wants to kick the ass of every smart-mouthed girl who thinks she’s better than everyone else. The one who knows how small you were inside no matter how big the curls in your hair, how blue your eyeliner or how tight your jeans. You might not even remember any of this, but I do. And I know that putting up with your shit made me stronger, made me kinder, made me me. You didn’t break me, you didn’t win. I am who I am not because of you but in spite of you.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. Something I wish I’d said to you as a seventh grader: You suck.

Jenny

Jenny O’Connell is the author of Plan B, The Book of Luke, Local Girls,and Rich Boys. Visit her online at www.jennyoconnell.com.

 

 

New story: Bullying by Sarah Antz

Bullying
By Sarah Antz

When I was in primary school in England, there was a girl called Mary who everyone was afraid of. I was no exception. If she wanted to be your friend, you were friends with her, until she decided she no longer wanted you around. No one dared refuse. And I was picked up and dropped more times than I care to remember.

Reflecting on it now, I realize that she was jealous of close friendships and so she tried her hardest to split them up by wanting to be “friends” with one of them. I remember vividly the times when I was out of favor and dreading having to go to school, knowing that she’d instruct the other girls in our class not to speak to me. And even though each time didn’t last long—she’d always have someone else in her sights—it was enough to induce stomach pains and for me to beg my parents for a day off school. No one dared tell the teachers or their parents for fear of repercussions, because Mary wasn’t afraid to deal with anyone who crossed her.

At age eleven everyone in the area took an exam to see which high school they’d attend. Most of the girls in my class passed to go a particular girl’s school. Including Mary. We formed about a third of the girls in my new class. As soon as we got there, Mary started in on the bullying again. It was the same routine she had in primary school: No one was brave enough to stand up to her. It seemed like we were destined for another seven years of torture.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Mary’s father, a local vicar, was moved to a different parish in another part of the country…and she left. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since. It was like a cloud was lifted off the whole class. Suddenly, everyone was friends with each other. We no longer had cliques, we all hung out together. Our sense of relief was so powerful.

We later heard that Mary had run away from home, become involved with drugs, and died. I was upset that someone so young had lost her life. And now that I’m older I can recognize that it was her troubled background that made her the way she was.

Looking back, it’s incredible that a single person could affect so many of us. I guess that we pretended not to notice when someone was being victimized because we were thankful that it wasn’t us. I often wonder how things would have turned out if we’d all got together and stood up to her.

Sarah Antz is an author of fiction for teens. Her debut novel The Second Virginity of Suzy Green was published by Flux. Visit her online at sarahantz.com.

New story: Locker Weather

Locker Weather
By Jennifer Sky

My school locker is on the south side of an outside courtyard, exposed to all the weather Florida can conjure—tangle your hair wind, sideways rain, subtropical heat—but I don’t mind. I like the weather.

In my hands, I hold it: the issue! The one I plucked from the mailbox, delivered yesterday. The issue of Seventeen Magazine featuring me! Me! I was in Seventeen!

Marisol with the raven locks and ruby lips won the grand prize and was featured on a page all to herself. But look across from her smiling face and there I am, wearing a cute bikini, laughing and carrying a giant beach umbrella.

Word had gotten around that I had won some modeling contest and would be in Seventeen. This was a small town—of course it had.

And with that, came the anger.

“Jenny isn’t pretty enough to be a model!”

She’s a dork; that will never change.”

“Are you kidding, Jenny is in Seventeen? Ew.”

Yes, I heard them, loud whispers behind me. But it wasn’t going to get me down, not this time.

Bent over and half hiding in my locker, I shuffle books—math, history, Spanish—trying to decide if I should leave the magazine there or bring it with me, when an on-it’s-way-to-baritone voice speaks behind me.

“Saw your magazine.”

I turn slightly startled to see Seth Walker and a friend approaching. Seth ,who laughed and pointed at my blonde hairy legs when I was just starting sixth grade. Seth, who had pulled my slip down to my ankles in the middle of the crowded cafeteria. Seth, who cornered me one day between classes, alone in the hall, his breath on the side of my neck, and asked if I liked girls.

Inside, my belly gave a quiver. Oh no.

Seth’s locker and mine were always near each other because both our last names started with W. Lucky me.

Seth’s behind me now, both hands on the lockers next to mine, and I can’t turn or leave. I feel fingers brush the back of my jeans as I try to hide the magazine. He sees and snatches it away.

Flipping pages, he comes to the one marked with a Post-it—my page, my picture. Me, happy.

The blue of his eyes taking in every contour and color on the page. Roaming. Hunting. Judging.

A slight giggle or a hmph escapes his lips. Leaning in, he pins me against the wall, face-to-face. I am caught.

Coming too close he says, “Your boobs look hot.”

Blood rushes up to my cheeks and out my hair follicles.

I suddenly feel dirty.

Dirty and ashamed of my body I have worked so hard to get into shape, to rid myself of “ugly-dorky-Jenny.” All my work, all my wild ideas for the future, for being successful and pretty and happy; all my belief suddenly feels stupid and shameful in his eyes.

And I’m mad.

Mad at the pig-boys for making me feel this way, mad at myself for feeling the blistering embarrassment, and mad at the magazine for making me wear a bikini when I wasn’t really comfortable with it in the first place.

Mad.

Is this the way it’ll be? Is this modeling? I thought I’d be proud, have self-confidence, but this feeling of being tiny, this compulsive shame, the disgrace of my body through wolf-boys’ eyes?

Why does a boy saying I look hot make me feel this? Maybe because, for the first time, I feel that I am being seen as an object. And it’s creepy.

Seth and his friend cast a few more glances and then stride off as the bell rings.

Leaving me, my show-and-tell, my pride, shattered like delicate stained glass back into just boring sand.

I place the evidence in my locker and shut the door. The lock spins and twists—like the sudden weather inside me. Landing in a totally random pattern to be put back straight someday.

And I walk away.

Jennifer Sky is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, a student, and believer in magical things. Her work has appeared online at The Rumpus, Interview Magazine, Electric Literature, 12th Street, and in the short story anthology Love Magick. She lives in Brooklyn and is working on a memoir about fashion, Hollywood, and PTSD.  Visit her online at www.jennifersky.com.

New story: Bullying Isn’t Funny

Bullying Isn’t Funny
by Eileen Cook

I’ve always been funny. It’s my thing. Some people get beauty, others sports ability, a lucky few even get musical talent. Me? I can’t dance, sing, catch a ball, and no one has called to make me a top model, but I can make people laugh. It’s a handy skill and unlike sports ability, it rarely results in injury. You don’t see too many torn tendons from cracking a good joke.

Being funny is a bit like your own personal super power. It can be used for good or evil. Granted not always as handy as being able to fly, or having your fingertips shoot lightening, but you have to work with what you got. The question is what do you do with all that power? It isn’t that you plan to use your power to be cruel, no one sets out to be the villain, but sometimes it’s easy to make fun of someone who doesn’t fit in, who’s different, or just plain weird. No one means anything by it. It’s just a joke. Besides, if they are laughing at what you say, it means they aren’t laughing at you.

In high school I had a classmate named Dennis. Dennis was pretty dorky. He wore his pants too short and he seemed to always have hot lunch spilled on his shirt. He had terrible acne and wasn’t the best student. He was always trying to fit in, but he never did. I don’t know if anyone ever physically bullied him, but he certainly had more than his fair share of “funny” comments made at his expense.

Dennis died in an accident. They announced it the morning on the PA before classes. He was the first person in our class to die and everyone was shocked and a few of us started to cry.  I wasn’t crying because I was sad he was gone. You can’t cry for someone you didn’t know. I cried because I was ashamed. I knew I could have been nicer. I could have used my humor to turn the situation around on the person making fun of him, but I never did. I laughed at Dennis, not with him.

I realized then that it was up to me. Being funny comes with responsibility; I had to use it wisely. Bullies aren’t just the people who shove someone around or the one who makes the snotty comment. Bullies are also the people who stand on the side and laugh. I promised myself I would never feel that shame again. I would use my humor for good, to make people laugh with me, not at someone else. I wanted to be a hero, not a villain. I wanted to know I stood up when it mattered. Feel free to join me, the world can always use another superhero, and you don’t even have to look good in a Lycra suit.

Eileen Cook spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She is the author of The Education of Hailey KendrickGetting Revenge on Lauren Wood, What Would Emma Do?, as well as the Fourth Grade Fairy series. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and dogs. You can visit her online at www.EileenCook.com.

The ALA’s Rainbow List

News! Dear Bully has been named to the ALA’s 2012 Rainbow List named by the Rainbow Project, a joint task force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table and the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Queer Round Table of the American Library Association. Congratulations, everyone, and thank you for sharing your stories!

Check out the full 2012 Rainbow List here. Lots of great books to go out there and read!

New Story: Bully Thwarted by Suburban District 129 Employee

Bully Thwarted by Suburban District 129 Employee
By Joshua C. Cohen

I knew, as my stop approached, I was dead. Duwayne Runder guaranteed me a “beat down” four days earlier and that afternoon he sprung his trap. All week I managed to avoid him, relying on the superior speed and nimbleness that Mother Nature often graces upon her runts.  Duwayne stood six inches taller, 80 pounds heavier and two years older than me and my three friends from the neighborhood. Compared to the lumbering, oafish Duwayne, we were all runts.

The best thing about “Duwayne-the-Destroyer” was his slow, bumbling stride that allowed potential prey (i.e. me) to easily flee his ogre-fueled rages.  In fact, my friends and I grew comfortable with our superior speed, sometimes even taunting Duwayne, knowing his furious fists were useless if he never actually caught us. Until every once in awhile he caught us. Did I mention that my buddies and I weren’t all that smart?

The afternoon of my promised beat down, Duwayne stood waiting for me at the school bus stop, taking advantage of the fact that his high school finished a half-hour earlier than our junior high. From the bus window I watched him rub his hands together in eager anticipation of my torture. A wave of ooooohs travelled up the bus rows as the other kids, spotting Duwayne out the windows and hearing the rumors, understood I was that guy, the guy you know is about to get the crap pounded out of him in a fight and you think to yourself with a shudder, Man I am sooooo glad that isn’t me.

Two of my buddies turned from the window while Duwayne ground one fist into the palm of the other as if debating what atrocity to commit first: shish-kebab my spleen; dice my liver; or melon ball my brains and use my skull as a finger bowl. My friends offered sympathetic shrugs but were otherwise powerless to help as they led the way up the aisle of the bus. We all knew it could just as easily be them the next time, that my promised beating humiliated all of us as Duwayne’s fists announced he ran the block.

“This is gonna be fun,” Duwayne chuckled, placing himself immediately in front of the bus staircase, leaving me no room to maneuver, no room to escape. As I exited the bus his hands clamped down on my wrist and elbow, then wrenched my arm up behind my back.

“Let him go,” my friend, Brent, mumbled, voice faint as I felt.

“Yeah,” my friend, Sam, bleated softly, already accepting my doom as a foregone conclusion—a “law-of-the-jungle” tribute we twerps must all one day make.

“This is gonna be real fun,” Duwayne repeated even louder for their benefit, his voice cheery with the promise to really enjoy my suffering. Forcing my arm in a direction it didn’t want to go was a mere warm-up for Duwayne, sort of like bully calisthenics.

On school days from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the adults still at their jobs, our neighborhood was a universe populated by kids and run by teens. We all carried house keys. We all made our own snacks after school. We all watched the same cartoons.

When Duwayne nabbed me at 3:01 p.m., it gave him two hours and fifty nine minutes to pummel the holy hell out of me without worrying about any grown-ups coming to my rescue.

I.

Was.

Screwed.

Caught in his Orc-like clutches, my elfish speed useless, knowing there was no way I could fight him, I proceeded with my last option: groveling.

“Come on,” I whined about a dozen times. [Friendly Survival Tip #1: This argument doesn’t work. Ever!] Then I moved on to the harder stuff. I invoked The Promise. A mostly futile gesture, The Promise appears mirage-like before a desperate victim grasping at the false hope that he may actually escape a beating if he offers to engage in various acts of self-humiliation such as:

1) Choking down a dried dog turd;

2) Licking the bully’s spit off the sidewalk; or

3) The always popular “offering to beat yourself up” to save the bully the trouble.

[Friendly Survival Tip #2: While The Promise offers lots of laughs and giggles for the bully, it only delays the inevitable. You’re still getting clobbered.]

Duwayne led me across the street and onto my front lawn. He yanked my elbow even farther up my back as his other hand shoved me down onto the ground while all the neighborhood kids watched in horror and fascination. I think I managed to hold back tears at least until after Duwayne put me on my back and sat on my chest with his knees pinning my upper arms, grinding painfully into my skinny biceps. This was his favorite maneuver. Duwayne put Jack Sanders in this same position only a few weeks earlier and things ended poorly for Jack. Looking up into Duwayne’s scary-happy face while blades of grass scratched at my neck and cheeks and my arms burned from his fat knee caps digging under my flesh, I sniffed quietly, powerless to change or influence the outcome, knowing he was about to pop me in the face and enjoy it. Plus, the crotch of his jeans was way—way!— too close to my face. He smelled like Orc piss.

About then Duwayne drizzled a long string of spit onto my forehead and I scrunched up my eyes, waiting for the hit. Here it comes

And that’s when Duwayne flew off me. More precisely, someone tore him from my chest.

“Get off!” the bus driver shouted like a drill sergeant.

 Wait! Hold up! The bus driver?!

 Yeah, the bus driver!

The bus driver! The heavy guy I’d never spoken to all school year as he chauffeured us to and from school, the guy with a scruffy beard that chewed gum and scowled at all of us like we were germ-ridden mutants responsible for denying him a way cooler life of professional video gaming and rock starring. The bus driver! This …this … man-dude I assumed didn’t even know I existed, stood there saving me. I looked across the street and realized the bus hadn’t moved, just sat in the road idling, its “stop” arm still extended.

“Get out of here!” The bus driver shouted at Duwayne. Seeing him for the first time out of his seat, reaching his full height, I understood just how massive the bus driver was. His girth, mostly in his belly, promised to squash Duwayne in one sumo-style splat.

Duwayne shuffled off down the street, glancing back over his shoulder, his eyes silently vowing to me that this wasn’t over. He’d still menace our neighborhood, stalking us until puberty re-balanced the scales and we no longer needed to run when we saw him approach, but on that day my skin got seriously saved by a transportation employee of Suburban School District 129.

The bus driver turned to me while I wiped back the tears on my face—not to mention the spit gob on my forehead.

“You’re alright,” the bus driver told me. This was a statement and not a question.

I nodded in agreement that, yeah, I was fine. No biggie. Beat downs by Duwayne happened all the time. Everything was cool.

Not knowing how to actually thank someone for saving my life, I didn’t. The bus driver watched me for a second, satisfied I really was alright. He turned around, crossed the lawn, then crossed the road to get back on the bus before driving off. A row of faces poking out the rectangular bus windows watched me watch them back until the big, yellow machine disappeared around the corner onto Stinson Avenue.

Most adults care what happens to other people’s kids. In a good way. They may not seem like they’re paying attention but most of them are keeping tabs and they’ll offer refuge if asked. Sometimes the surliest grown-ups are the most vigilant. I know because I fit that category now, having waded in a few times to stop one-sided “fights,” remembering how it felt to be small and helpless on the grass, staring up at the face of an Orc and thinking nobody will understand, nobody can help.

Joshua C. Cohen began writing the novel “Leverage” after reading a news account of a horrific attack by a group of high school seniors on their fellow underclassmen. When the victims reluctantly came forward, instead of receiving offers of help, they were ostracized by the surrounding community for sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season. Joshua’s fascination with that part of human nature–the need to keep quiet when awful things occur and how that leads to victims getting wronged twice–is what started the whole story that eventually led to “Leverage.”

Joshua C. Cohen grew up in Minnesota and was an avid athlete in many sports but he fell in love with gymnastics and devoted most of his time to training in that sport. Despite his intense effort, he discovered very quickly, when he walked on to the men’s gymnastics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that there was no way he was going to compete at the collegiate level. Joshua promptly walked himself right back off the team and chose, instead, to live vicariously as an elite level gymnast by rooming with and befriending members of the squad.

“Leverage” allowed Joshua a perfect opportunity to combine his love of both gymnastics and football into one story.

If you want to read more, please visit his website at leveragethebook.com