When It Was Enough
This essay was workshopped in The Layers Writing & Publishing Workshop.
They would say something hateful.
I was so young, I couldn’t comprehend why they were hurting me for no reason.
I had so much love to give and they would bat it away. I was drowning in rejection.
No matter how I reacted to the bullying they would roll their eyes and say, “Wow. OK, Perry…don’t make such a big deal about it.”
My feelings were too big for them, my pain too great. I made myself smaller and smaller so I could disappear.
I started wearing zip-ups to hide my body in school every day. Then I started wearing black. More black. All black. I never wore my hair down- it made me feel too exposed, too embodied.
I was a big beating heart and I was bleeding.
I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to speak. I didn’t want anyone to notice me.
I felt as if everything I would say would definitely be held against me in some way.
I felt awkward and humongous in comparison and unbearably self-conscious.
I was picking my skin, which led to deepened shame, which simply intensified this cycle.
All I had wanted was friendship. Instead, I found myself hiding away so they couldn’t find me.
I endured this for far too many years.
At a certain point whatever friends I had stopped talking to me.
They passed me by in the halls as if they didn’t see me. It broke my heart.
I lost my uncle and my grandfather within two months of each other and my family was deep in grief.
I was cast adrift with little hope for a rescue.
I was barely making it through the year.
Every day I would try to smile, to stay positive, and raise myself up. Underneath all my suffering, my natural state is joyful and I was desperately trying to channel that. What my school saw was someone who was faking her pain.
Near the end of the year, one of my classmates was harassing another student, and I had the audacity to tell him to knock it off. He brazenly stood up in front of the entire class and it felt like he proceeded to projectile vomit every insecurity I ever had at me. He yelled across that classroom that no one liked me, that if I never came back to school no one would notice, and that I should just kill myself already.
I stood there frozen and flushed.
The room was silent, my classmates had nothing to say.
I had no words.
I looked over at the teacher and I stuttered in astonishment. The teacher responded, “Perry, you need to calm down.”
No one was going to help me.
I stormed out of the classroom, turned on the water in the bathroom sink.
I decided then, right then, that I was done. That I refuse. I looked at my flushed face. My desperate, devastated, desolate soul, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My bloodshot, fed-up, tear-filled eyes.
I made the decision that I was outta here. I was going to leave my school.
Any last bit of hope of things getting better was over. It felt like there was nothing I could do to improve the situation at school.
I decided to give up in order to have a new start.
From then on, things started to shift. In 11th grade we were encouraged to begin looking at colleges. I connected with an amazing advisor in the admissions office of a photography school in Santa Barbara, California. She told me I was an excellent candidate for the school and she was impressed with my talent.
Then she paused for a moment, understanding the magnitude of her next words, and said I could be accepted into the program as early as August if I passed my CHSPE (High School Diploma Equivalent) and interview.
Right there in my lap landed a radically new option. An opportunity of my dreams, wrapped in purple paper and gold ribbons, that I didn’t even imagine an hour before. Within weeks, I put my portfolio together, passed the exam, toured the campus, interviewed in Santa Barbara, had the best advocate in admissions ever, and got some funding and a grant.
I had been touring with a local rock band as a photographer and a few days before my 17th birthday I got accepted into the program. My devastated, broken-hearted tears now evolved to overwhelming gratitude.
Out of the Heavens came an unexpected option. I deferred the program and went to Israel for the year. I made new friends and was in the literal and metaphorical mosh pit with exactly the right people. I had incredible teachers and mentors that changed my life.
I can draw fields of sunflowers carefully in a perfect line representing the people and experiences I had that first year that aligned to connect me to my husband four years later. We got married and created a beautiful life and family together.
My children are the same ages now as I was when I experienced bullying in school. I was once just as young and sweet and innocent.
I look at them and I know that no one deserves to be hurt the way that I was hurt. That we are so vulnerable when we are young, and we deserve to feel safe and seen in our environments.
Now as a parent, I see that I can teach my children how to interact with others. To be careful with our words. To be inclusive. To be kind.
I am always discussing this with my children. Educating them about what it means to be a friend. How our words and actions matter. That we impact the people around us.
I had a special teacher who taught me that writing could be used as a tool for self-expression. When I was in my darkest moments he taught me that putting my feelings and thoughts down on paper could help me get in touch with what was going on inside of me. I encourage my children to write; to journal and write for a couple of minutes a day to express what they need to say.
I tell them that there are people who will read. People who care. People who will listen.
For years I pulled myself out of my pain by putting pen to paper. I have written my stories through the years, processing and gaining perspective.
Now, I am finally ready to share them.