Bullying and Being given the chance to apologize 25 years later

So this picture. This encounter. Was very emotional.

When I started my current job, 5 years ago, working with youth with complex severe obesity, i found myself regularly listening to heart breaking stories of bullying. Relentless bullying. In the school yard, in their neighbourhoods, on the bus. And it made me reflect on my own childhood. I had always had lots of friends and don’t remember ever being bullied…but had I bullied anyone…or, equally as bad, had I stood by as someone else was bullied and did nothing to stop it?

Yes. The answer was yes. Probably more than once. But the memory that stuck out the most was this boy named Thomas who, in grade 7, new to the school that year and starting 2 weeks late, was bullied daily. He was your classic nerd. Thick glasses, greasy hair, much smarter than any of us, and had absolutely no idea how to socialize with kids his age. And I know my male friends bullied him while I stood by and did nothing and I, more than likely, laughed as they did it. Mostly because I didn’t want to make myself a target of their teasing.

I felt an incredible sense of guilt. And felt compelled to reach out to Thomas and attempt to make amends for what I didn’t do almost 25 years ago. But I hadn’t seen Thomas since grade 8 – he had gone to a different high school and I had no idea where he had gone after that. Through the power of social media, I found him and last year, sent him a note. Here is part of what I said to him:

I wasn’t even sure I would hear back from him. Perhaps he remembered me as horrible. Perhaps he wanted nothing to do with the past. Perhaps he didn’t even remember me. But, 3 weeks later, I heard back from him. Here’s an excerpt of his message:

You can see how he was likely different from us in grade 7 and 8 and could be an easy target…he’s still different now than most of us. He’s probably the closest thing I know to a genius.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I heard from him again…letting me know his father had passed away and he was returning from Australia (where he now lives) to pack up his father’s belongings, etc…he still remained touched by my message and did I want to meet up for a drink or meal? And that’s how Sunday brunch came about this past weekend. After not seeing him for almost 25 years, I was able to apologize in person and I was able to get to know Tom, something I had missed out on so many years ago.

As a sad twist to the story, I learned that he had transferred to my school in grade 7 because he was being horrifically bullied at another school…and he said that what the kids in my school put him through was nothing compared to what he had come from. And, it was him who had orchestrated the school transfer because his parents were relatively new immigrants to Canada, didn’t speak the language well and had no idea how to advocate for their child. I teared up listening to him tell me this. It was a reminder that you really often have no idea what someone else is going through.

The upside to the story is that he has been incredibly successful in his career, has a good core group of friends and is happy. It was just a bumpy road to get there. And for me, I feel at least like I made some kind of amends for my role in the bumpy road.

The sunset last night.

Happy Tuesday!

12 thoughts on “Bullying and Being given the chance to apologize 25 years later

  1. Chris

    I have to ask if after exchanging correspondence and meeting him do you still feel guilty about this situation from your past? I have to give you a lot of ton of kudos for reaching out to him in the way that you did.

    Many of us wrestle with these types of memories due to the emphasis on bullying in the world today. Were we the bullies or the bullied when we growing up?

    I know I was teased in school because I was a fat kid (but I wouldn’t consider myself bullied), as I got older and started lifting weights did I become a bully?

    I’ve always thought that dealing with teasing and bullies as a kid helped shape who I am today. Most likely you see and hear the extreme cases of this from your work so you probably think about it more often than most people.

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    1. 50statecanuck Post author

      I do still feel guilty. But I am also a very sensitive person.

      For some people, they can turn challenging times like that into strengths…but others are crippled forever by it.

      I should have told my guy friends to shut it. It may not have stopped them, but I still should have done it.

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  2. Tai Fung (@tai_fung)

    I was absolutely tormented in middle school by the “popular” crowd (Izod shirts, topsider shoes, and all their parents money behind them). Even in part of high school. It didn’t help that I was having to raise myself for much of that time, as my dad had taken off, and my mom was more than just eccentric (nuts). I’m not sure how I’d react to someone who engaged in the torment contacting me on FB/etc (even though some sure as hell have — I don’t really even look at my friend requests there). For the most part, there was a sure “flip” of things — the dorky kids grew up and became moderately successful, while the Cletus-types just stayed in their hometown. I almost have universal disdain for them at this point. Maybe pity. I’m not sure. But for what it’s worth, what you did was incredibly brave, incredibly caring, and I’m sure your role was way way less than you think it was. You’re too self-aware to lie to yourself. Plus, his memories of you kind of confirm that! So brave, and very well done. Cheers.

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    1. 50statecanuck Post author

      Thanks, Tai. As I said, I did have some fear that maybe he wouldn’t even respond because he felt the same as you do about your tormentors. Thanks for your words.

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  3. Pingback: First day back on the road, My Halloweiner, and lunch with my friend. | 50statecanuck

  4. Movin' it with Michelle

    You are an amazing woman. I think a lot of us suffered from being bullied/being the person bullying. I was bullied, teased, treated so very meanly by so many kids in my high school that it really damaged my self esteem. To this day, I remember those girls and how mean they were to me. I continually try and teach my daughters to be kind…it’s so so so important.

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    1. 50statecanuck Post author

      It really is. Just because someone is different, does not mean we treat them differently or with any less respect. We should take the opportunity to learn from them. The world is so amazing with all the different people out there – embrace it, don’t be afraid of it!
      I’m sorry you went through that when you were younger…those mean girls missed out on getting to know you and your awesomeness! THEIR LOSS.

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