New Story: Finding Me

Finding Me
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.

I wish.

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.

Maybe.

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.

Hair—perfect.

Clothes—perfect.

Smile—perfect.

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 find me at my usual haunts, Facebook  and Twitter.

You can also contact me via email at christine(at)christinefonseca(dot)com.

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New Story: Bus Driver Beware!

BUS DRIVER BEWARE!
By Linda Joy Singleton

When school ended for the day, Stacy’s worries were just beginning. She hoped Jordy would leave her alone.

As she headed for the bus stop, she saw Jordy joking with his friends. Stacy wanted to run in the opposite direction, but the bus was her only way home.

“Wait and see what I’m going to do to Wimpy Wimpole!” Jordy boasted loudly to his pals.

“Our bus driver is pathetic,” Jamal said, grinning.

“And this is his unlucky day.”

The boys nudged each other and laughed.

Stacy frowned. Jordy was tall, beefy and meaner than a trained attack dog. Last week he put wet gummy worms in her hair and yesterday he pushed her in a mud puddle. Everyone laughed and no one offered to help her up. At least the bully had a new target today.

Still, she felt sorry for the bus driver.

Bus #7, a large yellow monster, slowed in front of the school. Tires screeched and the clanky engine whined to a stop. Double doors whooshed open and there sat Mr. Wimpole; a green cap over his bald head as he wiped his sweaty face with a hanky.

Jordy pushed to the front of the line and faced the bus driver. A few kids called out, “Go, Jordy!”

Mr. Wimpole frowned. “I-I don’t wa-want any trouble,” he said. “No tricks. And no laughing at me. I-I hate being laughed at.”

Jordy grinned wickedly.

Stacy watched in fear as Jordy sprinkled sneezing powder on a handkerchief. Something terrible was going to happen. But at least it wouldn’t happen to her.

Jordy climbed the bus steps then pretended to lose his balance. He fell against the bus driver, grabbing the handkerchief and replacing it with powdered one.

Stacy saw this hanky switch, but didn’t warn Mr. Wimpole. Instead, she hid behind a tall girl. So she didn’t see when the bus driver dabbed the hanky to his face and began to sneeze.

The kids roared with laughter, all except Stacy who felt terrible. She should have warned the bus driver.

“You’ll be sorry, Jordy!” Mr. Wimpole warned.

But Jordy didn’t care. He laughed then reached out to snatch the bus driver’s green cap, tossing it away. Poor Mr. Wimpole stood there; bald, sweaty, and embarrassed.

Impulsively, Stacy sprang forward and caught the green cap. She returned it to the bus driver. Jordy shot her an angry “I’ll get you later” look.

Soon the bus was full and moving down the road.

While kids laughed and talked noisily, Stacy watched the bus driver. Something about him was different. And as Stacy glanced out the window, the scenery looked weird, too. No buildings or people. A fog had appeared, swallowing the bus in a misty gulp.

“Why are we going so fast?” someone yelled.

“Where’d the fog come from?” another kid shouted.

The bus driver’s eyes glowed like headlights and he foamed viciously at the mouth. “I told you not to laugh at me,” he growled.

Sharp fingernails sprouted from his hands, growing longer and longer then curling around the steering wheel.  The bus shot forward like a rocket, its passengers now prisoners.

Stacy screamed. Mr. Wimpole’s face was inhuman. His skin sagged like rotting flesh, his bloodless lips twisted into a demonic grimace. “You like pranks?” he taunted. “Good! I’ll give you pranks!”

The bus driver didn’t move, yet suddenly a whipped cream missile flew toward Jordy. SWISH! SMASH! SMOOSH!  Jordy had a banana cream pie in the face.

“Not funny!” Jordy shouted.

“Oh, you need a towel?” the bus driver asked.

A white towel appeared from nowhere and snaked through the air. It landed on Jordy’s face and he began to sneeze.  Ka-Choo! Ka-Choo! KA-CHOO!

Despite her fear, Stacy smiled. Jordy did look funny.

The bus driver looked at Stacy and an odd feeling came over her. She was floating! Her mind was free. And suddenly she saw the world through new eyes; eyes that glowed like headlights and a brain that cried REVENGE!

I’m the bus driver! she realized.

But Mr. Wimpole was still there, too, and she heard him telling her to go after Jordy.  This was her chance to get even for the mud puddle, gummy worms, and other bullying.

Thousands of squirming candy worms appeared like an angry cloud over Jordy’s head. One by one, they slithered down to Jordy’s hair, neck, and into his clothes.  “NO!! NO!!” the boy screamed, until he sucked a huge sugary worm into his mouth.

Kids laughed and applauded. No one defended him and Stacy wondered if Jordy had any real friends. She began to feel sorry for him.

But Mr. Wimpole’s voice urged her to keep going.  Memories of teasing and tears sprang to her mind. Jordy was a horrible person. He deserved punishment.

Jordy bolted from his chair.  “I’m outta here!” he cried, but then he slipped and landed in a puddle of mud.

The bus roared with laughter.  Whipped cream, banana pieces, gummy worms, and mud covered Jordy. But Stacy no longer laughed.

“No more!” she begged the bus driver.

The bus driver ignored her. As Jordy tried to stand up, a new enemy flew toward him: a giant roll of toilet paper. Paper unravelled, sticking to Jordy’s body. The roll twirled round and round, wrapping Jordy up like a mummy.  He was being tee-peed!

“Stop it!” Stacy cried. “Getting even doesn’t make anything right. Only wrong! We’re just as bad as Jordy.”

Something changed in the bus driver. Stacy felt revenge mellow to only sadness. And she heard a whispered, “I’m sorry.”

As the fog cleared and sun shone through windows, the bus slowed to a normal pace. Stacy looked down and was relieved that she was herself again.

Glancing over she saw a green cap covering a bald head and a peaceful face reflected in the overhead mirror.

The kids on the bus chatted, laughed, and behaved as if nothing weird had happened … all except Jordy.  He sat huddled in his seat with his arms wrapped around himself and a scared look in his eyes. There was a tell-tale spot of whipped cream on his ear.

The bus screeched to a stop.

Jordy, Stacy, and a few other kids rose to get off.

Stacy held back and watched as Jordy descended the stairs.  “Watch your step, young man,” the bus driver stated.

“Oh, I will. I will! I promise, Mr. Wimpole.”  Then Jordy bolted out of the double doors and ran…as fast as he could.

As Stacy started to leave the bus, she paused and looked back at the bus driver. He smiled, tipped his green cap, then gave her a knowing wink.

Stacy smiled and winked back.

Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 35 YA/MG books, including THE SEER, STRANGE ENCOUNTERS and the DEAD GIRL series. Read more stories and get tips on writing at her website: www.LindaJoySingleton.com

Rookie Magazine joins the conversation.

Awesome new online mag for teens Rookie (which Dear Bully contributor Stephanie Kuehnert is a part of!) joins the conversation about bullying.

In editor Tavi Gevinson’s words:

Trying to talk seriously about bullying is hard . . . This is the first in a series of posts in which we try to have that conversation.

Publication Day…

Congratulations to all of the contributors, and to Megan and Carrie, on the publication of Dear Bully! Notes and congrats to all of you are all over our inboxes and the web. As we’ve been saying around here (I’m looking at you, CJ), if this book can help one kid, then we’ve done it! Here’s to all of you!

–ED

PS

Here’s a post we loved from contributor The Pigeon‘s Mo Willems’ blog.

Dear Bully in the New York Times!

We are so proud that Dear Bully was included in the New York Times Children’s Book Review’s Back to School Bookshelf. Here’s our favorite part:

“This anthology of personal essays provides empathetic and heartfelt stories from each corner of the schoolyard: the bullied, the bystander and the bully himself are all represented. Their words will be a welcome palliative or a wise pre-emptive defense against the trials of adolescent social dynamics.”

Thanks, New York Times!

Read the full review here.