My fight for respect
In middle school, Carlos, 14, was surrounded by bullies and jerks.
Being tall, chunky and pretty smart, I stand out in a crowd, so I’ve always been picked on. In elementary school, some of the kids called me the "sucker from Mars."
That was hard enough. But middle school was a nightmare. When I started going to Belvedere Middle School in Los Angeles, the bullying and mockery reached a whole new level. Some of my new classmates were just evil, and it was even worse because my dad was a counselor at the school. Everyone assumed I was the perfect little student.
No matter what I did, many of the students teased me. Because I raised my hand to answer the teacher’s questions, or because I didn’t know the answer. Because I didn’t sag my pants (I don’t want my butt crack showing—that’s nasty!) Because my hair was long, not bald in the thug style.
If they were mad at my dad, they took it out on me. They’d say, "Why’d your father suspend me? HUH!?" and "Tell your dad to give me back my skateboard or I’ll kick your ass!" They never followed through on their threats, but I hated being the punching bag for their insults.
The atmosphere was thuggish. In the P.E. locker room, they’d piss on the floor. It stunk! They threw papers at my teachers, wrote on the desks, put gum on the walls. In band, one guy dropped his trumpet and once even threw it on the floor. A lot of the teachers ignored it or looked the other way, or they’d try to do something, but these kids were hard to control.
I soon had enemies
I was shocked and appalled by their wild behavior, and that made me a lot of enemies. Who would want to be friends with those punks? They thought it was fun to vandalize cars, smoke pot and fight. My dad being a counselor and my mom being an elementary school teacher, they had taught me those things were wrong. I guess I can blame my parents for teaching me values and destroying my social life. Sadly, that made it hard for me to fit in.
In sixth grade, my dad arranged for me and a friend to raise the flag in the morning and take it down each afternoon. We’d get laughed at a lot for that. My classmates called us "goody-two shoes." It was hard for me to understand why they made fun of me for that. I don’t think it’s stupid to be patriotic but they did. I guess the flag represents the government, the police and the law—all the things that kept them from doing whatever they wanted to do.
I did the best I could to find something positive in the school. I played clarinet in the band. I met some nice teachers, and I had some friends, but they were smaller than I was, and they couldn’t really back me up.
One kid, Jerry, used to yell in class, steal stuff and make fun of people. He loved to sock me in the arm really hard and then laugh at me.
Another kid, Adrian, used to pick on me too. One day I started teasing him and he spit in my eye. I went and washed my eye out. I thought to myself that some day I would be a doctor and he would be a street whore and drug user. It helped a little bit to think of him that way.
I got hit again
Another day in P.E., while the teacher was in another room, one kid was messing with this other kid, putting him down. He was swinging at the kid, who was dodging his punches. I told him to lay off and he came at me. He socked me in the stomach. I wanted to hit him back, but then I’d get in trouble. His punch hurt so bad it brought tears to my eyes, but I walked over to a pole and hung on so I wouldn’t fall down. I didn’t want to be laughed at.
When I got home I told my mom I had a crappy day and she asked what happened. I said nothing. I figured that snitching would make me even more hated. But finally I told my dad what happened, and a few days later, my dad pulled the kid out of the lunchroom and escorted him to the office—I guess he was going to get it.
In seventh grade, things got a little worse. Most kids were fine with me, but a new batch of kids developed this almost surreal hatred of me. The whole year, a kid called Frederick constantly called me gay, or called my dad gay. Any chance he’d get, he’d try to make my day worse. I just ignored him.
My most dark and demonic class was history. Almost everyone I hated was in that class, and they made me their target. They’d put me down, swear at me and jack stuff from my backpack—my pens, pencils and once my folder. They called me "fairy," "gaylord" and "faggot." I’d just sit in the back and keep my head down. Looking back, I don’t know how I withstood such treatment. When they stole the Pokemon cards that I spent $50 on, I finally told my dad, even though I didn’t like to ask him for help. He got them back for me by the end of the day.
In seventh grade I got in my first fight. There was this rotten kid Michael who went to get a drink of water without asking. The bell rang and the teacher closed the door, locking him and his friends out in the hall. My classmates and I saw him through a window. We laughed at how dumb he was. I flipped him off and stuff. I was tired of always being a good kid.
When class ended, I went to pre-algebra. On the way to class, I suddenly heard footsteps behind me. It was Michael running at me. He attacked me, and I blocked him, tore his shirt and ran to class. It scared the hell out of me. Then the counselor summoned me to her office. Oh man—I was busted!
She asked us both to explain what happened. He said I jumped him. I told the truth. She told us that we would both get a mark in our records that we had assaulted each other. I was relieved that I didn’t get suspended.
But of course, she told my dad, and I got a lecture when I got home. He was really stern. He told me not to fight and I shouldn’t be flipping people off, that’s just asking for trouble.
I was like, "Whatever you say, Dad." (He was not the one getting teased every day!)
In eighth grade, some of those punks got opportunity transfers or moved, but there were still plenty of jerks around to mess with me. They’d tease me because I had my shirt tucked in. They said my hair was untidy. And I got beat up, too, but I just took their blows. I didn’t tell my dad because everyone would think I was a coward, plus it would start a cycle of revenge. I really didn’t want trouble and tried to avoid it the best I could. As I think about it, I wish I had stood up for myself more so I wouldn’t have been targeted as much.
A terrible moment on stage
In May of eighth grade, I had one of my worst experiences. There was an honors assembly. I had heard a rumor that I was going to get an award, so I sat in the back. But they sent a custodian to find me, and they dragged me up there on the stage. I was like, oh no. I knew I’d be singled out for more teasing. They gave me an award for doing volunteer work around the school. I got free tickets to Knotts Berry Farm. They shook my hand and tried to take my picture. The camera ran out of film, and I had to wait while they reloaded the camera. My classmates clapped weakly, and it was so embarrassing, I turned all red. It was worse than being in a fight.
Afterward my classmates told me it was "gay" that I got those awards, that it was rigged by my dad. I tried to ignore them. No matter what happened, I tried to block it out, looking forward to seeing my friends, playing in the band or going on a field trip. But some days all the teasing and bullshit really got to me.
By the end of May, I felt pretty bad. My life was shit. I wanted to beat somebody up or something. What was there to look forward to? On my computer, I tried writing down all my thoughts and feelings of the past few years. I wrote, "I despise bullying and antagonistic remarks. They just bring people down. I know how it feels because I am a target for mockery and finger-pointing. I am at a breaking point currently. I have been picked at too long and I fear that I will explode." I typed for two pages, describing the fights and harassment I had endured. Writing helped, but I still felt awful.
One night I was crying on my bed. My dad heard me and came in to talk to me. I showed him what I wrote, and he was shocked. He just hugged me and tried to comfort me. In the morning, he showed it to my mom. They cried when they read about everything I had been going through, and they said they wished I had come to them sooner for help.
After that, things were better. Telling my parents about it lifted it off my shoulders. They knew about it—OK, cool.
Of course, graduation was really embarrassing. Walking up there and getting my diploma was terrible—hardly anyone clapped when my name was called. But I thanked God it was the end of the year. I tried to focus on some of the good things about junior high—like making some really good friends, having nice teachers and learning to play the clarinet.
I was sad for a while, but I’ve been able to put that behind me. Now my parents are sending me to Cathedral, a Catholic boys school. I feel safer there. It’s smaller, the teachers are always around, and there are more guys who are studious and care about school. I am on the marching band and the golf team.
Being bullied has made it hard to trust people. You’ve got to be wary. I don’t share stuff with friends for the first year so I can see what’s up.
But this whole experience also has made me stronger and bolder. I’ve taken self-defense classes, and I’m more confident that I can defend myself. I’ll fight back now—if someone socks me, I’ll sock them back. Maybe I shouldn’t put that in this article. I don’t like violence. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a bad person, but I won’t let anyone push me around anymore.