What’s a Bully?

Last night, Dylan told me about middle school – really opened up about it for the first time.  He kept saying, “It’s really dark.”  He didn’t mean the lighting was bad.

He talked about a popular kid named Andrew who treats him like garbage.  Who whispers rotten things like, “I love you and I want you to be my partner” during class.  Dylan said, “He’s very good looking.  And he’s dumb as a post.”

He talked about a boy who bit one of his friends last year and drew blood, who this year choked Dylan during lunchtime because Dylan accidentally hit him with his lunchbox.  I’ve told Dylan he could fight back.  I’ve told him he has my permission to clobber anyone who hurts him.  Dylan chooses not to.  He said this biting, choking boy is kind of his friend.

He said, “I feel sorry for them.  I know that if they do these things, their lives must be harder than mine.  I don’t want to make their lives even worse by hurting them.”

Then Dylan talked about a girl who tried to commit suicide – again.  He talked about how beautiful she is, but that she doesn’t seem to have any close friends, even though a lot of people talk to her.  He said that after her second suicide attempt, on Tuesday, more people are talking to her now.  She’s even smiling a little bit.  But other people are attacking her viciously online, sending messages ostracizing her further … for trying to kill herself.

“You said that people who commit suicide don’t usually talk about it first,” he told me.  “But she talked about it all the time.  She told lots of people she was going to do it.  And then she took a bunch of pills.”

“She’s just so beautiful,” he said.  “Why would she want to kill herself?”

I tried to answer him.  I talked about middle schoolers trying to find themselves, about fighting back without fighting.  I talked about choosing how you will deal with it.  “There are only two choices,” I told him.  “You can let it get you down, or you can learn to laugh about it.”

I don’t know anything else.  I don’t know how to handle it.  Middle school almost killed me.  I let it get me down.  For 30 years, I let it get me down.

Shane, my 9-year-old, was sitting next to Dylan the whole time he was talking.  Shane is two years away from middle school and has no idea what’s going to happen there.  He wasn’t listening, really, but I know from experience that he’ll come back later – maybe in a few weeks – and ask me a hard question about this conversation.

Dylan said to Shane, “It’s really dark in middle school.”

Shane seemed to be in his own world, and thought this was his opportunity to talk.  He said, “Mom, I dare you to go into the woods on Halloween night.”

So we changed the subject, but today I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about my baby being brutalized by middle school.  Thinking about how I did nothing to save myself from middle school, and how I can do nothing to save Dylan, either.

At 6:30, I went into Dylan’s room, where he was just waking up.  I rubbed his back and said, “Don’t let them crush your spirit.  You have such a wonderful spirit.”

He said, “I’ll try, Mom.”

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