When Your Childhood Bully Apologizes

By Lisa Sugarman

People never cease to amaze me. Both in the best and in the worst ways. But this little vignette is about someone surprising me in a good way—a way I never could’ve predicted. My personal favorite as far as surprises go, because they boost my faith in humankind.

It all started last Monday morning when I got a private message from a “friend” through Facebook.Screen-Shot-2012-01-05-at-6_05_49-PM

Now it just so happened that when the message came through I was at work. And as us conscientious employees all know, our employers don’t like it when we use social media during the day, so firewalls are everywhere in the workplace. Meaning we can’t always read messages right there on the spot. Which is why, when her message showed up, I could only see the first name of the sender and nothing else. Damn firewalls.

But because I only have a couple of good friends who share that name, I naturally assumed it was from one or the other. Needless to say, it was a huge surprise when I finally opened the message later that day only to learn that it was sent from someone else altogether—someone I never expected.

Even more surprising than getting a message from her, though, was my total dumbfoundedness over what the message said. And you need to keep in mind that the fact that we were “friends” on social media was in no way a reflection of a friendship in real life. She had connected with me during my early days on Facebook and I never really gave it much thought because we happen to have a lot of mutual friends. Because other than her virtual friend request, we had had no relationship, not since we were kids.

Now before I tell you what this girl from my past had to say, it’s important that you know a critical detail about how we know each other. We went to grammar school together. And without mincing words, she was the one and only girl who ever truly bullied me as a kid. All through grade school, for some inexplicable reason, she saw an enormous target painted on my chest every time she looked at me and made it her mission to make my life miserable.

It didn’t matter whether we were in the classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground, or in the gym, she was on me like white on rice every single chance she got. She made fun of my clothes; she made fun of my hair; she made fun of the fact that I was a tomboy and loved to get dirty and run around with the boys. She tortured me every single day that I can remember. Funny the things that stick with us. And believe me, this stuff stuck with me.bully_420-420x0

Although the strange thing was that nothing had ever happened between us to warrant me being singled out and harassed like that. (Never usually does, though.) It’s not like we had been friends and we’d had a falling out or anything; or I had cut off her ponytail during art class; or kicked her dog. There was no rhyme or reason. It just was. And for me, who could never seem to get away from it, it was brutal. Day in and day out, for years. Until she went off to private school and I never saw her again.

It was a solid twenty years later, after we had both moved back to our hometown, that our paths eventually crossed again. And I have to say, damned if I didn’t still have that same icky feeling in the pit of my belly that first time I saw her—like I did when I was ten—even in spite of the fact that we were both all grown up and married with families of our own. Amazing how memories can have such a visceral effect on us, isn’t it?

Not that she would ever have known how it felt to see her again, but inside I could still feel the emotional scar of how I had been treated when I recalled the memory of our childhood together. In the same exact way that we remember our first love or our first kiss or our first true best friend, we remember, all too vividly, the people who tried to tear us down.

Flash forward thirty-seven or so years to now and you’ll be able to better understand why the message she sent me nearly knocked me off my chair.

She apologized. For all of it. Out of the clear and beautiful blue sky. And I never ever saw it coming.sorry-500x375c

She owned everything. And I mean everything. And she said that she’s actually wanted to reach out to me for years but never knew how.

Why now, I didn’t know. Nor did I really care. Because it happened. And while my entire life has never been predicated on getting an apology from the girl who bullied me as a kid, it certainly did feel nice to A) hear her acknowledge what she had done, and B) apologize for all of it.

So while it may not have come exactly when I needed it most (like in the sixth grade), the apology did eventually come; and it meant something. (Albeit slightly diluted by the fact that it came three-and-a-half decades late.) And it reaffirmed my faith that everyone has the bandwidth to evolve if they want to badly enough.

See, I’ve always believed that we all have the capacity to change—to apologize, to forgive, and to move on. Simply because it’s the right thing to do. And even though it’s tough as hell to find the guts to do it, the end game is well worth it all the way around. And regardless of who this girl was then or is now, what she did took courage and that I respect. It’s like I say to my own kids, when you screw up, own it. And even if it’s not going to fix the situation altogether, apologize. Because at the very least, a sincere apology will improve your standing. If only just a little bit. And it will show the person you hurt that the way they feel matters. And at the end of the day, that’s really all that counts.

Now with all this in mind, find someone you crapped on somewhere along the line and go make it right. Give them a sincere apology and I’ll be willing to bet that they’ll accept it with open arms. Just consider it a worthwhile leap of faith.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

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5 thoughts on “When Your Childhood Bully Apologizes

  1. I have a weirdly similar story, but from the opposite perspective. I was picked on a by a girl in 6th grade. My mother always chocked it up to jealousy, which at 11 of course I did not see. This girl once set me up to be the victim of a class-wide practical joke. Some friends told me about it and her plans were foiled, but it was a pretty constant thing to be her victim. One day, this girl’s mother called my mom and started laying her out because of what I was doing to her daughter. I was in shock. I promised my mother that everything her mother said I was doing to her daughter, she was actually doing to ME! And for once, my mother believed me. My mother saw her behavior and knew I was telling the truth.

    I recently got this message on FB: “Hi remember me? We figure skated together. I finally found you on FB. I think of you often, especially when I see kids being bullied on tv. I still can remember the day you kicked me all the way home from school. I hope you are a better person now.”

    Once again, I was in complete shock. First, because I barely remember her from figure skating as I was a very competitive skater (perhaps the root of the jealousy, seen in 20/20 hindsight.) But we had gone through 6 years of grammar school together! Her mother was our Camp Fire Girls troop leader! I was flabbergasted but finally answered, “Of course I remember you. And I too, hope I am a better person now.” Because I do. I try every day to be. But cue the Twilight Zone music!

  2. How rare a moment in anyone’s life. This woman demonstrates a lot of deep self reflection, a lot of recognition and shame for her actions and eventually, a ton of courage in seeking you out and owning her actions. How many of us would have her courage? Food for thought for any of us that teased another person so many years ago. Thank you Lisa, great article as usual.

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