I Think I Was A Bully

I’ve been struggling with whether or not to even write about this topic, to even put it out here, in my blogging space. But, from back in my sports media days — you talk when it’s good; you talk when it’s bad. So, here it is.

I think I was a bully.

Not in the overt way that one thinks of bullies, but in the more subtle, texturized, intentional way of a teenaged girl.

There was this girl in school. She was sort of weird, but not in any harmful sort of way. She was always one laugh behind, one snort too many when the rest of us at the ‘cool kids’ table thought something was funny. It wasn’t JUST me — we all thought this way about her. In our silent, nose-turned-up kind of way, we ganged up on her.

She’d grown up in our circle of friends, she ought to have moved around it effortlessly. But it seemed as though fitting in took tons of effort for her. It was never natural. Never easy.

It’s like those girls who sometimes grow too fast, they hunch their shoulders in, and suddenly, one day, they realize they are confident and fearless and capable, beautiful and they stand tall.

Except, this girl wasn’t like that. Her shoulders hunched in, as though she were insecure about every step, and she never stood tall, never seemed confident in who or what she was or was about to become. And in high school, that was all that was needed for ostracization.

We graduated from high school 14 years ago this June. We have all gone on to become adults — in one way or another. I knew that the girl had moved out of state, away from the hometown I’d returned to live in. I knew that she was a teacher. That was all I knew.

We weren’t the sort of friends who kept in touch, and she wasn’t on facebook, or at least our paths hadn’t crossed out in cyber space.

Maybe if they had…

I’m telling you folks, this girl got shaving creamed at every sleepover. And yet, she was at every sleepover. We gave her an awful, making-fun-of-her-behind-her-back nickname and she had the exact same hair style for as long as I’d ever known her (how that matters I’m not even sure). But, it was all part of the leaving her out, of keeping her at arms length, of ‘allowing’ her to hover around our circle of friends while never totally, unequivocally letting her in.

If you never had someone like this in your social circles, I applaud you and the rest of your circle of friends. You are better than me and mine. We were not the friends we ought to have been.

Wait, stop.

I was not the friend I ought to have been.

Leave the rest out of it. Perhaps I’ve included others in my memory to ease my own burden of guilt.

And why do I bear the burden so heavy right now?

Because just over a week ago, that girl-turned-woman took her own life, apparently after a bad run of luck and timing in the life she had built for herself.

So maybe if I’d been just a bit nicer…just a bit less judgmental. Maybe if I’d been less inclined to laugh when someone else made fun of her; less inclined to lead the charge or remind everyone else why it was (again) that we were making fun of her.

Do I think that I – or any of us – were the reason she made the choice to take her own life?

Absolutely not.

Do I believe that there was a way for me to have made her journey a bit smoother, a little less rough for the going?


It haunts me, that the strongest stand she seemingly ever took for herself was at the end of her life. It haunts me that I couldn’t find common ground with someone who I KNEW needed a friend; with someone who I understood to be less comfortable in every social situation than I was.

I think I was a bully. By today’s definition, I very well may have been.

I’ve spoken with several of the women who moved in the same social circle back in high school, and while we have all navigated our way through losses, this one, of a mutual high school friend, of a girl who grew up across the street/down the road/in the same class is haunting us all. Mainly, we’ve seemingly agreed, because we all feel overwhelmingly like we could have done better by her and maybe – just MAYBE – things would be different today.

We knew that she was more fragile. We knew she needed us more than we probably needed her.

And yet, now that she’s gone; now that there’s no way to include her at the Christmas reunion or the 15 year class reunion or the girls weekend, there’s guilt. And a need for absolution.

Every word I have read or spoken of this woman since finding out about her death references a single common word: ‘kind’.

She was overwhelmingly, unfailingly kind.

She was – and will remain in my memory – smiling, kind and caring.

Someone I came across wanted to refer to her suicide as ‘such a waste’ and I loudly refused to allow that. I will not allow her to be bullied anymore, even though I never stood up for her before.

Not a waste.

Perhaps a crying, sorrowful shame.

But not a waste.

Never a waste.

I am better for having known her, for having had her in my life.

And I will attempt to teach and lead my own daughter — and the social circles she chooses to move within — how to be better than I was, than I still am.


3 thoughts on “I Think I Was A Bully

  1. I wondered if you were going to write about this, Lindsay. I’m glad you did. As I look back on myself in high school, I think in a lot of ways in our social circle, I was a lot like her. I was never part of the inner circle, although I hung around the outer circle a lot. I fit in sometimes, and other times, I didn’t. I think I was much more confident in my own skin, and when provoked, I didn’t hesitate to tell the “bullies” (or who I thought border-lined on bullies for me) off. I was okay being a loner at times. She wasn’t like that–she repressed it all. And now she’s gone, and we’ll never really know what she was thinking.

    Part of the problem with this whole situation is that we have the misfortune of being able to look at our 17-18 year old selves with our 31-32 year old eyes. Would you do some of the things now that you did back then? No, probably not. But don’t go back and beat up on your 17-18 year old. Did you have your bully moments? Sure you did. I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass. We all had our moments. And while we are shocked, hurt, dumbfounded, and deeply sad, I am quite certain there were other factors at play here.

    I want you to know how admirable I think it is that you want Elle to be better. It’s not that I think you were that bad in high school–it’s just awesome that you recognize and admit your weaknesses and want better for your daughter. That’s the mark of a truly mature parent, and one milestone you’ve reached at such a young parenting age (I don’t mean that to sound condescending, by the way). Listen, if there’s one thing I’ve learned being a parent, it’s that compassion is a learned behavior. Kids call each other fat because they model the behavior they’ve learned in their homes from their parents. Kids make fun of “odd” kids because they’ve heard their parents make fun of “odd” adults. I’m not saying the world will ever be a Kumbaya fest, but we CAN do better by our children. It’s never okay to single someone out for their differences and make them feel inferior. And if we truly want to honor her, let’s pledge from here on out to model the behaviors we want our children to emulate. I once heard someone say, “You can’t raise your children up to a level you’re not willing to live at yourself.” That is so profound for me.

    And if I might get religious for a moment, it’s my mission to teach my boys the words of Christ (Matthew 25:40, ESV) “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

    I only wish she could see the number of lives she’s touched in her death. Rest in peace, dear.

  2. Linds I think you are a wonderful person……..from my own experiences you canot beat yourself up with the “what ifs” I have been there, done that. It really makes you feel worse and doesn’t change anything. The situation is really sad and I hurt for the womans family. I don’t think you are a bully though. I think you are one of the most caring people i know. Take care of yourself and that beautiful lil girl of yours!

  3. I didn’t realize her death was a suicide. So sad and heartbreaking for her husband, for her family, for her ‘kids’ and for her friends. Wow.

    If I could go back to my kid self, I’d tell myself to be more confident. To realize that I did have something to offer. Like Carlyn said, it’s easy to look back and say we should have done this or that. I’ve recognized this in myself as being someone who was bullied. It breaks my heart to hear my son tell me of others picking on him or excluding him. I can’t help myself as a child, but I’m trying so hard to teach Jake how to stand up for himself and how to become more comfortable socially. I know I’m off topic, but this struck a chord in me because I don’t want Jake to, one day, be at the point Judy was.

    Elle is going to understand compassion and will extend it… because of you. You have the power to teach her and I’m proud of you. The first step is recognizing it, right? Hugs to you and your beautiful daughter.

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