Fighting words

Alex McNab

Dan* ’14 never meant to be a bully. He first started making jokes at other people’s expense as a way to get friends. Bathroom Wall, a now disabled anonymous posting function on Facebook, was most fun when he was around other people.

“You’ll be with friends hanging out at your house on a Friday or Saturday, and it’s just funny to do with your friends,” Dan said. “I didn’t think about [hurting anyone’s feelings].”

So it was unexpected when, last week, a girl in his English class approached him, and told him she had been hurt by comments he had made about her in the seventh grade. He apologized.

“Some of the things that I’ve been told I did I can’t imagine doing at all,” he said. “The only thing on my mind [in seventh grade] was thinking of the funniest thing I could possibly say.”

“I wasn’t outgoing enough to make friends that I thought mattered,” he said. “And I was very good at making fun of people. It was Darwinistic. I had to survive, and I did it by putting other people down. I had no regard for anyone’s feelings at all. The biggest attraction to bullying somebody is to attract your friends. It’s to make them laugh. Your intent isn’t to hurt that person. It’s to be funny. In the process, you may hurt that person.”

Dan said he has matured since seventh grade. He said that he is now able to determine what is an appropriate level of meanness to use when making a comment about someone.

“If you call someone a faggot on Yik Yak [an anonymous posting application often used for bullying], they’re not going to kill themselves,” his friend Nate* ’14 clarified. “It’s just an insult. I would tell the person that it was me because I want to take credit for the funny joke. If it’s funny, it’s not mean. If they were like visibly hurt by it, I’d take it down. If it gets a lot of down votes, you want to delete [it] because it’ll ruin your rep [on Yik Yak].”

“I don’t think bullying’s that much of a problem anymore in high school,” Dan said.

Carl* ’16 was afraid to be interviewed for this story. He thought that his friends would find out who he was, even with a pseudonym.

When the bullying was really bad, sometimes he didn’t come to school.

His grades dropped from A’s to F’s because he could not stop thinking about the hurtful, anonymous comments that someone had written about him.

“I couldn’t focus in class,” he said. “I was trying to think who was writing these things and why they had written it. I thought it was just a joke. Then, more posts started popping up. They weren’t that offensive. It’s just the fact that they were doing it in general. I got tired of seeing these things. People would come up to me and repeat these jokes or try and make jokes off of these jokes.”

Carl had no clue who was writing about him, but his friends did. They would rat each other out, but when Carl would confront a friend whom he had been told was writing about him, the friend would always deny it. Carl realized no one was going to tell him the truth.

“I couldn’t really trust my friends,” he said.

Carl, although hurt and angry, tries not to let people’s comments affect him. He has learned how to cope with the taunts better than when he was first bullied.

“I used to try and be more like the people who were treating me badly so that they’d stop,” he said, “I feel like ‘Oh, they’re just joking around with me,’ but that’s not the case.”

Now, he just tries to ignore it. In the heat of the moment however, Carl usually fights back, meeting people’s taunts with insults of his own, but they never make him feel any better.

It was Friday, May 16, and Jane* ’16 was on her way to a party. She checked her phone. There was a message from Chuck* ’16.

“F*** u you c***,” he texted.

She remembered when they were close, but that was back when he called her by her name.

“I f****** hate you. Don’t ever f*** with me again you b****.”

The black words kept coming, arranging themselves into a large, white bubble on her iPhone screen.

“I hate your f****** face.”

“I’m on my way,” she replied.

“Come I’m going to f****** s*** on u for two hours.”

She didn’t believe him and continued driving towards the party.

When Chuck confronted Jane in the middle of the party, he called her again using that word that made her “feel like a bad person…feel like a lost cause,” this time in front of her friends.

He was screaming before he grabbed her. She started crying.

“It hurt so much,” she said. “‘How can you say all this stuff to me?’” she asked. He ignored her, and she phoned a taxi to take her home.

She was stuck outside the party crying as the lost driver made his way. Chuck came back again and again “periodically throughout the night [to] like rip on me.”

As her younger sister deleted Chuck’s messages from her phone, Jane felt surprised by the tears flowing down her face. It’s not like this hadn’t happened before. It wasn’t even a month ago when her best friend, Livia* ’16, egged her house before posting a nude picture of her on Facebook. She remembered that well. The photo had been on her wall for almost half an hour before her friend Gloria* ’16 phoned her.

“Check your Facebook,” she said.

Jane cried then too.

“I try not to let it get to me,” she said, but that doesn’t always work.

After the Facebook incident, Jane lost 10 pounds. Her A’s turned into B+’s, and she felt alone, very alone.

“I felt like I had no friends anymore because no one would talk to me,” she said. “I was feeling like I was the friend that everybody secretly hated.”

She didn’t tell her parents, “[but they] knew something was wrong,” she said. “Because I would come home crying every day.”

That was when she decided to get a therapist. She goes there to talk, not to hear what the therapist has to say.

It’s good, she thought, to have someone to talk to who isn’t one of the out-of-school friends she would call during passing periods because there was no one at school she felt she could trust.

She’s never confronted Livia or Chuck or told them how they’ve made her feel, but she believes she’s just as responsible as they are for stopping their actions towards her. That’s why she apologizes.

“I wanted things to go back to the way they were,” she said. “I feel like me and [Livia] are going to be friends in the long run, but it’s going to take some time. If I be the bigger person… if I just apologize to her for posting the picture on Facebook and egging my house, then, maybe they’ll stop bullying me.”

*Names have been changed