I was picked on as a child.
It started when I befriended a runny-nosed kid named David in elementary school. The school bullies quickly pegged him as under-confident, and they ran with it. Once word got out that he was an easy target, nothing could save him. His mother signed up to be a playground monitor; they teased him behind her back. She invited the whole class to a themed birthday party for him; they ate his cake on Sunday and resumed their cruelty on Monday. My overtures of kindness to this unfortunate boy became fodder for speculation that I liked him. I went down right along with him.
Joy, a minister’s daughter who was aptly named, reached out and refused to join in with the others’ harassment of me. She wasn’t brave enough, as a second grader, to launch a campaign or anything, but she quietly made it known that she didn’t share in the prevailing opinion. She was, quite simply, a Godsend.
My social troubles remained throughout the elementary years. I coped by taking frequent “vacations” from school, conjuring up sore throats and nebulous symptoms which my lenient mother let me get away with. Towards the end of those lonely years, God sent Jean into my life. I later learned she stood up for me one day while I was absent and the kids decided to hold a Thea-bashing session. Jean was socially everything I was not – involved, outgoing, and most importantly, well-liked. Her voice held sway. If I didn’t gain in popularity, at least the bullies began to leave me alone.
In middle school (or “junior high,” as it was known back in the Dark Ages when I went to school), I still struggled to be accepted. My biggest problem, I now realize, was I didn’t believe in myself. I trusted that the sneerers and mockers knew what they were talking about. Also, I hadn’t yet learned the liberating secret of acting as if. I didn’t know that the one with the poker face wins the hand, that I could pretend to be confident, even as I was withering on the inside.
As I struggled with these growing pains, God provided yet another angel, Lisa, who candidly admitted she liked me, but simply couldn’t take the risk of letting it be known, lest she become the next victim. I grasped her invisible help like one in quicksand grabs hold of a life preserver. Rescue is not an option; sinking’s inevitable, but there’s an illusion of hope that allows the drowning person to carry on. Lisa’s whispered words comforted and strengthened my flickering self-esteem. I held on for dear life.
So on the eve of a new school year, I offer thanks to these dear souls. Their varying levels of courage did not in any way diminish the gift that each gave me in my darkest hours: the gift of a hand outstretched, however trembling, to one that needed to be held.
“‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.'”
Thea Williams’s short story, “Phoenix,” appears in 50 Over Fifty: A Celebration of Established and Emerging Women Writers. Her work appears in Focus on the Family Magazine and Al Anon’s The Rap. Subscribe to Thea’s blog at www.reflectionsbythea.blogspot.com By day, Thea educates and prays for young minds at a local school district. Contact Thea at https://www.facebook.com/thea.williams.16 or https://www.youtube.com/user/theabwilliams.