Editor’s Note: I am honored to feature this guest post from friend and fellow barre teacher, Robin Marino. Robin was there to support me and as I shared my story at a recent event for the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, which prompted her to share this piece about her own history of abuse in the form of childhood bullying . -Andrea
I am sitting in the audience, listening to someone I find truly inspiring talk about her history with abuse. When she says that abuse chooses no one “type”, I believe her. I believe that this is true. Except for me. My name is Robin Marino, and I was bullied. A lot. And for many years. Although I have long forgiven the people who bullied me, the effect it has had on me – the way that it has informed my life – is monumental. The fact that I could sit on that floor and still think about all the things I should have said, done, or been – makes me sad, At age 41, there is a large part of me that feels like the bullying was my fault. I was weak, I was weird, I was annoying, I was emotional. If I *hadn’t* been any of those things, I never would have been targeted. It’s amazing the things we can believe about ourselves. If someone else said that to me, I would be the first to say “that’s crazy!”. Sometimes even a Women’s Studies degree can’t save you from yourself until you really let yourself see the bigger picture.
I was always a little different. Growing up in a day when not many people talked about sensory processing disorder, I was that child. In that time I was diagnosed with ADHD, but regardless, I was sensitive to everything and everyone. In 1st grade I was teased in the cafeteria – I was known as Skinny Bones (I know; poor me…but trust me that a 1st grader does not care about her skinny badge of honor). For me, real bullying didn’t start until 6th grade, and then I had layers of bullies. In the classroom, my “best friend” would bully me one minute, then become my confidant the next. It was a crazy roller coaster of mindplay, but I felt like I had no choice but to stay friends, despite wedgies in the hall (yes, funny, but no, not so much when it’s you) and spit in my hair.
But that was child’s play until my second layer of bullying came along. Listening on the bus one afternoon to some 5th graders gossip about one of my classmates’ sisters, I decided to pass the information along. Maybe I thought it would give me a leg up in my classroom; I don’t know. As often happens when you choose to get involved, it came back to bite me. The sister was not the least bit upset with the girls talking about her, but life as I knew it at school, on the bus, and in the neighborhood was over. For 3 years, I lived in fear. I was always looking over my shoulder, waiting for my bullies. And did I mention they were younger than me? The shame of that is something you can’t imagine unless you’ve been there.
Verbal and physical abuse was everywhere. Gum on my seat, spitty lifesavers stuck to my jacket on the bus, anything and everything thrown at me – and said to me. Almost an entire bus turned against me rather than stand up for me. Those layers of bullying I mentioned – one more layer added as soon more people joined their “team”. I remember a particularly mortifiying experience in which I babysat next door to one of my bullies. In order for the father to drive me home, he needed to have his neighbor – my bully – watch the kids temporarily. Scared beyond belief, I hid in the garage until the father came out to get into the car. Suffice it to say that I was never asked back.
In 8th grade, my sister pleaded with my parents to do something. It’s not that they didn’t want to before; I had asked them not to. But the day I came home with life savers stuck all over my blue winter jacket, I was so beyond defeated that I would have done anything to make it stop. So my dad did what any loving father would do when his daughter was in pain – he made it go away. My very quiet, non-confrontational dad called each of the girls’ dads and told them to stop. While the shame that goes along with having your dad stand up to your year-younger-than-you bullies is crushing, the peace that goes along with having it all stop is worth it. In the middle of 8th grade, I was free. I could walk the halls without fear. That is priceless.
One of the things that still strikes me to this day is both fathers’ response to my dad – “We try to let the kids work things out on their own”. In the 80′s, there was a lot of that going on. The bus driver on my bus literally pretended like nothing was happening. My 6th grade teacher did the same. My neighborhood friends riding the bus were too scared to do or say anything so they remained silent – or joined in. I don’t blame them – any of them. It wasn’t a culture of “If you see something, say something”. We’ve come a long way. That said, bullying is a lot more in our face, and the stakes are so much higher. In this cyberculture of hiding behind our words, we can wound each other with one press of a key. But finally we are realizing that these kids – the ones without a way to climb out of their pain – cannot do it alone. Even as a 6th grader, I knew something wasn’t right.
Fast forward to me sitting in the audience, thinking about abuse. That while my friend is categorically not responsible for her experience with domestic violence, I am, however, responsible for having been bullied. Interesting dichotomy here. Why? Because I was the one who eavesdropped on the bus. Because I was different. Because I was weak. Because. I am far from perfect. I picked on people. I am opinionated. I can be judgmental. But I will always teach my children not to bully – and perhaps more importantly, to see the bullying around them.
Bullying is a systematic way of keeping someone down. There is still a little girl inside me who is a victim, who is still “kept down” by the memories, the pain, the shame – this time, by herself. I spent a lot of years trying to make myself smaller through starving myself. If I was small, then no one could find me; no one could hurt me. If I was small, I was better. Everyone likes small. Everyone likes better. But I am starting to believe this for myself: nothing happened to me because I wasn’t that better version of myself. Sometimes things just happen. The bullying left scars. Now I’m leaving the scars behind.
-By Robin Marino