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Oliver: Help to cope can come from many sources

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 10:36 a.m. CDT

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For me, the bullying began in sixth grade.

My two best friends and I had a falling out over something stupid. The next thing I knew, I was an outcast.

I was excluded. Horrible rumors were spread. Crank phone calls were made to my house in the middle of the night.

Then the popular girls joined in, with taunts of “Joan, you’re my hero” in the hallways.

In gym class, basketballs would be thrown at my head “accidentally.” I’d be run into when someone “tripped.”

On the bus, the rich girls offered a constant critique of my fashion, or lack thereof.

These were the days of Sergio Valente and Jordache jeans with the fancy back pockets. Show up with a knockoff from the local Zayre store and, well, expect to hear about it.

School was an endless battle, one that took a heavy toll on my self-esteem. Ironically, it made me self-centered, unable to see past my own pain and self-loathing.

Suicide, sadly, wasn’t out of the question.

When the school suggested that I go to the Youth Service Bureau for counseling, I was angry.

Why was I being sent for “help” when my tormentors went unpunished?

Why weren’t they ordered to stop or, better yet, chastised in front of everyone so they could experience the humiliation that I felt daily?

Maybe they were talked to; I’ll never know for sure. The only times I ever was aware of it was when the taunting and abuse got worse.

They wouldn’t abuse me where adults could see. They were mean, not stupid.

I would isolate myself as much as possible, preferring to sit alone at recess.

That is, until Robbie came up one day and sat beside me.

She wasn’t repulsed by my crooked teeth, my bad fashion, and the other deficiencies that so many of our peers relentlessly pointed out.

Then the school’s librarian, Mrs. Telluto, suggested that Robbie and I work in the library during recess. She no doubt knew of my plight, and the arrangement gave me additional cover.

Somehow, I was able to make it through junior high.

It took counseling to work on my battered self-esteem, a peer who wasn’t afraid to befriend an outcast, and the kindness of a special adult.

It took a “village,” as it no doubt will take for the victims of today, as well.

No one thing will solve the problem of bullying, but if everyone does something, we can help today’s children make it through, too.

Eventually, it did get better for me.

I just wish that I had been better able to see at the time just how many people I had on my side.

Far more than I ever could have imagined.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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