“I Was A Bully”

Alert “06880” reader Mike Pryor — a former Westporter — sent this along. His powerful words speak for themselves.

I moved to Westport in the summer of 1981. I had just turned 11.

I met the kids in the neighborhood, and for the most part they were pretty cool. We rode dirt bikes together, played tennis on my neighbors’ court.

There were some incidents that were traumatic for a kid trying to fit in. Like when in the middle of a tennis match a neighbor kid would show up with his BB gun, and tell me I had 10 seconds to run before he started shooting.

I ran. I felt like such a loser.

So being a bully it wasn’t something I sought out. It wasn’t a role I would have chosen to play. It wasn’t even something I realized I did — until 20 years after it happened.

I bullied.  I was a bully.

I made someone else feel bad to make myself feel better.

Bullying 1

The person I’m talking about was a sweet girl in my neighborhood, my age. Some idiots made up some horrible, disgusting stories about her. The stories were passed around.

She did nothing to deserve this. Any more than I deserved the BB gun threat.  But I took some cheap shots at her expense that got a laugh, helped me gain ground and be accepted.

But I also saw the pain in her face. And it stayed with me.

I traded her feelings for my security. Making fun of her helped me feel like one of the gang. Like I belonged.

She transferred to a different school. I’m not sure if that was a result of the bullying or not. But it didn’t curb it. Her new school’s bus stop was the same as ours. So there were daily opportunities for us to ridicule her, or just get a quick little jab in. All of these, I’m sure now, chipped at her self-esteem. What kid needs to go through that?

Now I am the father of 2 girls. My youngest is the age of the girl I bullied. It twists my gut to think there could be someone out there who would do something like that to my girls.

bullying 2I understand now what I might not have been able to at that age. I understand now that bullying has an impact far beyond any comprehension I was capable of then. I’m not going to pretend to be a psychologist, but I do know the importance of self-confidence in kids — girls in particular. I know what I did damaged that girl.

This has been sitting with me for some time now. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I can’t make what I did go away. It will not be changed by any passage of time.

I have no reason for it. I have no excuse for it. It doesn’t matter that everyone was doing it. It doesn’t matter that it happened to me too. It matters that I did it. And it matters that I hurt this girl.

She moved away. I moved away. It’s been 30 years. But I wish somehow, some way she can know that I know. I know it was wrong, and I’m truly sorry for it.

And I want her to know that I’m determined to make something positive come out of it.  That I’m using that experience to raise my daughters to be better than I was.

18 responses to ““I Was A Bully”

  1. Mike, this was beautiful to read. I’ve had similar realizations and seen how in my childhood I was not always conscious of what I did or said that may have hurt others. Having children especially helped me develop perspective. I think it’s never too late to make a connection and express apologies. I remember feeling hurt when I moved at age 14 and was new as a freshman in high school. There was a girl who I wanted to be friends with and she crushed my feelings. I was pretty mean to her about it and felt terrible about it as an adult. I found her ( it is easy to find people these days with Facebook and Internet searches) and told her I knew exactly what I had done– it didn’t matter to me if she had hurt my feelings, it only mattered what I chose to do in response. We are now friendly because she accepted my apology. I just wanted to tell you this, maybe you can seek out the girl you’ve written about here and do the same.

  2. Mike — I was bullied as a child, and sometimes it still hurts to think about it. I’m sure your feelings are sincere, but it doesn’t help the girl if she doesn’t know it. If you can, I would advise you to find her and apologize to her. I’m sure it would make a difference in her feelings. It is possible to find someone after many years over the Internet.

  3. Bullies were very common in Westport, when I was there. My parents brought all of us there when I was 6 months old. I soon learned the fact that my parents had brought us to live primarily for the educational system, that, at that time was one of the best in the country. But… I also learned quickly that if you were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth, there would always be someone there to remind me of that fact. From the schools, to when I worked at Wakemans in the summer waiting on all those
    “weekend Westporters” from NYC, I was not one of “them” THANK GOD!. It’s sad to see that all those “weekend Westporters” moved full time to our once sleepy little artists colony of a town that it was once known as. I returned to Westport a few years ago to find mostly “mini mansions” where there once stood very nice New England colonials, smaller capes and such, along with half of the residents of NYC. There is not enough money in this world for me to want to moved back, and for all the people that would like to see a quaint New England town… all that I can say is, head North!

    • I’m sure that many could chime in with Diane’s story — sadly. We moved there when I was almost 3 back in 1960 and I was there into my middle school years — the formative years. My dad was a teacher in Westport and Norwalk schools, and suffice it to say, we weren’t in league with the monied. But we had a lot of rich and artsy people over to our humble little cape cod for dinner, cards, book nights on Richmondville Ave and then Bridge Street including well -known authors and artists. I learned not to give a hoot about who had money and who didn’t — and have remained this way all of my life. I learned to value what was important in people and it never will be money, and also to ignore the ridiculous snobs and hang out with those who have hearts. Kids need to have mentors to help them do this and to learn what’s important. It will serve them to stand up to this in ways other than their fists and hurtful words –that will teach them for the rest of their lives. It will teach them compassion for themselves and others.

      I learned a LOT from being not being rich in a monied town, and took all of the good of Westport and it’s schools because it’s a a great and rich education if you take advantage of it monied or not. I loved school there minus a few teachers (third grade in Saugatuck), and loved our neighborhood with all of the not so rich kids and endless summer nights playing kickball, and Compo bbq’s, Italian meatballs and donuts made by the neighbors– it was great. Yes, I got bullied a few times for no reason in school other than probably we weren’t rich, so I learned to stand tall, be myself, shine and find my talents in the music education of Westport which was amazing — the youth orchestra with the amazing Mr. Ohanion. I once got coerced into a bully situation of another girl as a quiet but complicit bystander in Mrs. Fox’s art class at Saugatuck. I regret it to this day and wonder if I could ever find this girl. I think about her sometimes. It was not me but I was pulled in by smiling with the girl, trying to fit in with her — who was doing the bullying. One of the last times I ever compromised myself to fit in with anyone I viewed as “cool.” NOT cool. Horrible memory to this day, and I feel sorry. Westport was a mixture, and hopefully still is, and still has remnants of the town it was with some great people with a lot of heart and creativity. We found those people and it gave me strength. Screw the kids who bully, let them find out how painful it is later on in life as I did from that one incident, as Mike did here and I give him a lot of credit for what he wrote, and find adults and other friends who will help one stand in the face of cruelty and find themselves. It’s a life lesson and we all have to learn it but kids need help from somewhere to stand.

  4. The narcissism of creeps and bullies is always impressive.

  5. Elisabeth Rose

    Dan,
    I was also bullied as a child, although what happened to me wasn’t as bad as what happened to people I knew (being beat up, stuffed into garbage cans, and the like.) And that was not in Westport but in Western MA.

    As a former teacher I wanted to help with this, and at one point the pubic high school where I worked invited members of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) to present a day-long program for sophmores about bullying and how to deal with it. It was set up to help students understand and be sensitized to identity and marginality issues, and revealed how making someone feel marginal for whatever reason (race, religion, sexual orientation, weight, inability to do sports, whatever…), feels the same for the victim regardless, and is absolutely unacceptable. It also illustrated how being an onlooker is no better than being a bully, and taught kids how to change inaction to action.

    The program facilitators trained a group of (volunteer) teachers, counselors, staff and a few seniors, who then in turn led small sessions of about 12 students, culminating in an assembly. It was not only highly educational and eye-opening for all kids and adults alike, but an amazing, revelatory, therapeutic and wonderfully healing experience. Unfortunately, just as many of us who went through the training feared, there was no follow-up. Something like these types of assemblies, workshops, presentations are so important and so vital, but they absolutely need follow-up.

    Here is some information about anti-bullying education programs:

    ADL “Names Can Hurt” program:
    http://regions.adl.org/connecticut/programs/names-can-really-hurt-us.html
    http://www.adl.org/education-outreach/anti-bias-education/c/names-can-really-hurt-us.html#.UkQtnRZFufQ

    Challenge Day program (Profiled on Oprah, excellent but expensive):
    http://www.challengeday.org/challenge-day-program.php

    Anti-Bullying Programs (Don’t know much about this one but looks good):
    http://antibullyingprograms.org

    There are many more programs out there. The most important thing is dialogue, keeping this in the forefront of people’s minds, just as Mike’s wonderful words did, and educating our chidren. But the most important is setting a standard for our children AS ADULTS, because marginalizing others is something adults do as well, and all the time. We need to set an example.

    Thank you, Mike, for writing about this. And I agree with some of the other people who commented: Try to contact that little girl. It will mean the world to her!

    • My first picture book for children dealt with “bullying”–called PUP IN SCHOOL (Crown Books for Young Readers 1992) http://www.amazon.com/Pup-School-Elaine-Clayton/dp/0517590859 I was teaching at a progressive, independent school in Boston at the time it was published. I didn’t want to use the term “bully” because I felt t just wasn’t really helping when we label each other. A child who hurts another is a hurting child. Today we have such extremes that kids kill each themselves and each other and the severity of the situation is frightening, but hopefully we’re moving toward understanding this to find resolution and new ways to relate as Elizabeth Rose has shown above in her comments.

  6. Terry brannigan

    Dan,

    I don’t think people who know me would say I’m a bully (they have a long list of other adjectives ) and I have a reoccurring dream I can’t shake about my treatment of a classmate. I hope you know that the fact you are aware is come with the forgiveness

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    This is an excellent post. To this day, I feel the guilt of bullying a neighbor girl in Westport. Another neighbour girl, with a very strong personality, convinced me to gang up on Susan. Being very shy, I felt a certain power in doing so and yet I knew it was wrong. Why are so many kids so mean?
    I tried once to find Susan. I must try again. Happily, my own daughter visits schools now to give anti-bullying workshops.

  8. Learning from the past to change the present and impact the future is progress.

  9. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Unbelievable. I’m quite sure that I’ve found the Susan from my previous post. She has the same smile from when we were eight. Now I must find the courage to write her. I will. What a day!

  10. Thank you all for the incredible feedback. It was a real positive just sharing my story with Dan, but even better to get all of your responses. It’s very important to me that I find this girl and let her know directly. I’ve tried unsuccessfully over the past few years but will not stop trying. Thank you all and thank you Dan!!

    • I’m sure she’s be happy to hear from you, and would forgive you. I know if the boys and girls who tormented me in middle school contacted me, I’d be thrilled.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Thank YOU, Mike! Today I received a note from Susan! Although she has no memories of unkindness on our street, she has vague memories of not liking the place (as do I!). She appreciated my concern, though, and wished me well. A new friend, perhaps? Good luck with your own search.

  11. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    I hope you find her.

  12. Pleae let us know what happens.

  13. Dan and Mike,
    I reposted this on the Facebook “If you’re really from New Canaan… page, with the question: Were you a bully or bullied when you lived in New Canaan, I know I was on the receiving end, twice… and I never understood why. Here is a great posting from Westport’s Dan Woog,

    I was surprised by the outpouring of “me too’s”, I suspect this is a swept under the carpet issue that I, like most people thought, it was only me.

    A generation later, my friend’s child was badly bullied by a celebrity’s kid, so much so that they moved out of town rather than confront the parents. Yes. school personnel knew and did little. It seems little has changed except now social media creates more opportunities for the bully (s).

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