When I was in fifth grade, there was a boy in my class named Jesse Lee (last name withheld). He was obnoxious, loud and had all the qualities I didn't like in people at that time. I thought his hygiene was poor, I thought he had a disgusting snot nose, I hated how he bragged about being in a military family and I hated that he clung to teachers a lot. He would be in school with me from fifth grade onward.
Once, he was overheard teasing me a little. He called me Cyndi Windy. I guess other kids took that as an excuse to pile on the bullying--on HIM! His nickname became Jesse Flea, and EVERYBODY started using it. Jesse HATED it! It made him cry, which made the other boys laugh more. It got so bad that his mom came to the school over the issue, and that made it even worse. Nobody liked the "mama's boy" in school, after all, right?
Kids started getting really nasty towards Jesse. Here's where I was a total jerk. I look back on all of this with so much regret. I'm sure he remembers this just as painfully as I do.
I saw that I wasn't the one at the bottom of the food chain. I wasn't the one being stepped on and humiliated by my peers. I finally had the power to make somebody else feel as bad as I was made to feel in fourth grade. So, being the brat that I was, I started participating in making fun of Jesse. I used to say he was just like Pigpen from Peanuts because he was always dirty-looking.
There was a time in school where Jesse got physically ill and tried to hide it. I saw it happen. Being the b*tch that I was, I made sure the whole class knew, and everyone harassed him about it for the rest of the year. He went home in tears that day because of me.
We rode the same short bus since we were full time RSP students. I never let him sit next to me. I didn't want his "germs." He had to sit in the back with the other kids nobody liked. I felt so good to not be the loser of the group. I had friends, and Jesse didn't. I was moving up the school totem pole.
Once, Jesse said something about my dad. I don't even remember what exactly it was, but I didn't like it. I punched him in the stomach as hard as I could and slapped him in the face. I was a tiny girl, and Jesse stood way taller than me. My fist doubled him over, my slap made him cry, and kids mocked him for getting beat up by a girl. He didn't fight back and I never got in trouble. I guess he didn't want the tattletale label added to everything else.
In junior high, I insulted him every chance I got. We didn't share any classes. The name calling always took place in the halls or out on the field if I saw him with his class during gym. Since I was again being bullied at the time, my insults to him were some of the same things I heard from my own bullies. I wasn't the only person to bully Jesse. He got it from other kids. My stupid logic told me if I kept bullying Jesse, then it meant I wasn't the lowest person on the totem pole.
Jesse was an early developer for a boy. He was taller than most kids in elementary school. He bragged about that a lot. Then everybody caught up in junior high. He got a LOT of crap because of that.
Jesse was the reason I met Charles, the boy I would date until the end of high school. I managed to turn Charles against Jesse by telling him what Jesse was like in elementary school. I made up stories about things Jesse did to me. Charles soon alienated Jesse and I had him all to myself. I was such a winner, wasn't I? (Sarcasm intended).
High school meant I shared some of the smaller RSP help classes with Jesse. Puberty wasn't being kind to him--he had some pretty obvious acne and extremely greasy skin. Then again, so did I, but his was worse. I made fun of it a lot. He liked to kiss up to teachers and I made sure the other kids in the class knew it. A few didn't participate. Some turned on me, however more of them joined in giving Jesse a hard time. It had the effect I wanted--it made him shut up. Class was GREAT when I didn't have to hear his loud, obnoxious voice. Did it ever occur to me that some people have loud voices and he was one of them? Nope.
I tried to get Jesse in trouble. Constantly. Once, I stole a pocket knife out of somebody's unlocked gym locker and tried to convince the principal that Jesse threw it at me. I thought my plan was airtight, and that getting him expelled would make me one of the cool kids. I was that desperate to stop getting bullied. My plan failed miserably because I was too stupid to keep my story straight. All I got for it was detention and two referrals for having a knife on campus and making false accusations. Jesse never got in trouble at all, but he did find out about what I did. He laughed at my epic fail, and that time I deserved it.
I remember once hearing Jesse tell a dirty joke in class. I won't repeat it since it's vulgar. While everybody else laughed, I looked at Jesse and said, "Haha, no, YOU are the joke. You're always the joke!" The other kids agreed. Jesse stared down at his textbook like I slapped the fun out of him. The teacher of the class overheard me and made me apologize. I did, pouring in as much drama as possible to make it look genuine. Then I walked away and made a face so the other students knew I didn't mean it. Jesse knew too. He didn't say another word for the rest of that class period.
That's about the time my own bullying experiences accelerated. I started getting quieter, and I began to connect how bad I felt from it with how bad Jesse must have felt because of me. I still said nasty things to him when I was angry, but this happened less and less.
Senior year was probably the worst for me. It won't surprise me if it was Jesse's worst year too. Senior year was also the year my ability to sympathize turned on like a light. It happened in the space of a heartbeat.
I remember that moment so clearly. It was the seniors' last week at school before the senior trips and adventures started. I sat down in my third period math class. I made sure I got to math class early so I wasn't the one stuck sitting next to Jesse. Jesse was doodling on a piece of notebook paper. He didn't acknowledge me.
I took out my yearbook and looked at the sparse signatures and notes. I was taking stock of all my years in high school. Jesse looked sad in his senior portrait. As sad as he looked sitting at his desk. As sad as I looked in my sophomore portrait two years previous. Somewhere down the line it came out that Jesse called me Cyndi Windy in fifth grade because he actually had a crush on me. Jesse vehemently denied this of course. Who wanted to admit to having a crush on "that gross toothpick b*tch"? I felt like the most hated person in the whole school and undeserving of Charles, yet Charles dated me anyway. Hearing even a hint that Jesse had a crush on me...well, I was grossed out at first.
I didn't want the slimy boy--the boy who probably washed daily and just had really oily skin. I didn't want the germ boy--the boy who probably had nasal allergies he couldn't control.
I still don't know if the whole crush thing was true or not. I remember sitting there, watching Jesse's pencil move. He was slouched down in his chair, looking sad. I felt sad myself as I just endured a flurry of insults from a group of girls in the hall. Jesse's skin was greasy, but his clothes were clean--just kind of old. Maybe his family didn't have money and that's why his clothes were dingy. Jesse stopped doodling when he noticed me staring. He closed his notebook and got out his English textbook.
"Get it over with." That's what he said to me. He must have thought I was staring to pick out another way to insult him.
I shook my head and shut my yearbook. I glanced at Jesse. He was bent over his English book.
The bell rang. The door of the classroom was open. Somebody walking by hurled a wadded up paper towel at Jesse and called him a fag. I picked up the paper towel, spat on it to make it more gross and threw it back at that kid. I said something to the effect that his mom was a two dollar hooker. Then I turned to Jesse and said, "Jesse, I'm sorry."
Jesse kept staring down at his book. He wasn't reading. He mouthed his words when he read and he wasn't moving his mouth at all. I leaned on his desk and said it again. "Jesse, I'm sorry."
He turned a page in his book and used his hand to slap it down flat. He asked me, "What do you want?"
I put my hands on his desk. "Look, we're about to graduate here. This whole thing was stupid. We shouldn't walk away from school as enemies. I'm sorry about everything I said to you."
"Why?" He asked me point blank.
I started tearing up. "Because I know how it feels and I don't want to graduate hating each other. Can we bury the hatchet here?"
People started walking into class. I wondered if I would regret making nice with Jesse when other people could see it.
Jesse slammed his book shut. "Okay. Fine."
We shook hands on it. I let him hug me to show him I was serious. Funny, he didn't smell bad at all. One of the merciless ways I bullied him was to comment that he smelled like the garbage. I know I made him feel like garbage. I was no better than the kids who harassed me.
I used to think it was great to not be alone. I used to think it was funny to take what made me feel bad and use it to make somebody else feel worse. I was a JERK. It didn't feel that great at all to bully Jesse around. I thought it did at the time. Looking back, it makes me sick. Stepping on somebody to not feel low doesn't raise you up at all, it just drags you down.
It's amazing how truly good it felt to say I was sorry. Yeah, the people who saw Jesse hug me gave me grief about it. They called us lovebirds and some made kissy-kissy noises at us. I told them to shove it where the sun doesn't shine.
I think the apology was the last time I ever really talked to Jesse. I haven't seen him since graduation over ten years ago. I wonder if he still remembers me owning up to how stupid I was towards him. I wonder if he really believed my apology--and it won't surprise me if he didn't.
None of my bullies ever apologized to me. I don't expect them to now. I was awful to Jesse for so many years. He got bullied himself, and I added to his pain. I was the salt in and already painful wound.
I regret the bullying I did.
I don't regret apologizing for it.
Jesse, if you see this, I meant what I said. I really am sorry for how I acted around you.