I met Adam in middle school. More often than not, we didn’t associate. I was shy and reserved, and he was outspoken and had many opinions about many things.
As fate would have it, I was stuck at a table with six boys I didn’t know. Adam was one of them, and all my girl friends were on the other side of the room. I was shy around new people and it took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to start talking to the boy sitting next to me—Jason. I let him copy my math homework and he encouraged me to open up about myself. We bonded over our mutual love of the Loch Ness monster and the show Firefly.
“Shut the fuck up. Just stop talking,” Adam told me one day, while me and Jason were discussing the topics for our English assignment, “no one wants to hear you.”
I could only manage a stupid “Um—” before he cut me off.
“J-J-Just shut up,” he told me, with a little mock-stutter, “this is why you have no friends. You should just stop talking from now on ‘til forever. No one wants to hear your ugly voice. You sound like a man.”
My classmates were quiet—even Jason. I didn’t blame them. I guess they were just scared. So I kind of stared dumbly into space, not sure what I should’ve said back. I didn’t know what I did to incite this kind of anger, but I didn’t have time to figure it out before a bunch of fat tears started to well up in my eyes.
“Are you crying—holy shit. You’re such a girl. A girl with a man’s voice. Ewww,” Adam said, unable to avoid laughing at his own joke; but the smile on his face didn’t last long because suddenly, he had this look of desperation and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Rachel. Stop crying. Hey. Rachel. Stop. Fucking. Crying. Kay? Ms. Panaro is going to hear you.”
But the tears kept welling up and I couldn’t breathe from my nose. I stood up, and he must’ve thought I was going to tell the teacher because he had this look of utter contempt on his face; he said, “Ugh. Go fuck yourself, tattle-tale.”
I walked to the teacher’s desk and asked to go to the bathroom with my head down so she wouldn’t see my red face. When I left the classroom, I fell on my knees broke down in the middle of the hallway. The truth is I wasn’t even remotely sad. I was just angry. Angry I couldn’t stand up for myself. Angry that all I could manage was a stupid Um— before Adam completely shut me down. But most of all, I was angry because I let him see me cry.
Our one-way confrontations continued for a few weeks. Adam wasn’t very creative so I was generally able to expect what insult he’d throw: you have no friends, no one likes you, you’re too sensitive, you’re a man, where’s your dick? And occasionally he’d throw in a curse word in a new place, but he never strayed too far from the norm.
It was only a matter of memorizing algorithms before I understood the beat of his bullying. He was a hackneyed broken recording, and at some point, I stopped crying because of him.
“Why are you ignoring me? Are you deaf? I think this bitch is deaf,” he would tell the boys at the table, “I mean man. You can’t be a bitch if you’re a man. Can you hear me? Earth to—”
“Why don’t you worry more about yourself,” I interrupted him “you wouldn’t be failing your tests if you put more time into studying instead of being an uneducated asshole.”
I wasn’t sure where it came from, but it managed to turn his face red and he clamped his mouth shut for the day. He resumed his bullying the next day and for a couple weeks following, but it became sparse, until he finally stopped.
In hindsight, I should’ve let go of the ego and told a teacher before I insulted him back. The bullying might’ve stopped much earlier on, without me having to lash out at him. But you know what they say about hindsight—-it’s 20/20.
Most stories tell us at the heart every bully is just some deep well of insecurity and self-loathing. They also tell us that the best revenge is to live well.
My girl Mindy Kaling tells us it’s acid to the face. While I want to lean towards Mindy’s line of thinking, I’m in no shape to handle the lawsuit or emotional baggage attached to that beaker of acid. In the grand scheme of things, Adam was insignificant and trivial. The best I could do is live and let the scars of the small things go.