By Daniel Scharpenburg
I was bullied as a kid.
I was short and nerdy and I really didn’t know how to talk to other kids.
And that’s okay. I’m at peace with that now.
A lot of kids suffer a whole lot more than I did. Honestly it was a whole lot more “I don’t want to be your friend,” than it was other kids beating me up or anything. But I had to mention it because if I didn’t provide context this story wouldn’t make much sense.
As I got older it became worse. Eighth grade was particularly bad, as we stood on the precipice of teenage-hood—bullies got more creative. It was mainly really dumb stuff like knocking books out of my hands. Again, nothing really serious but it was upsetting at the time.
This context is only important because I didn’t enter high school as a kid who had never been bullied.
So, enter the ninth grade.
I was bullied as a high school freshman until I wasn’t. I’m not going to tell you a bunch of stories about being bullied, though. I’m only going to tell you one.
His name was Ed and he was in my biology class. I knew he was older than me, but I didn’t know how old. He looked like an adult, as some high school students do (I grew an entire foot during the four years of high school, so at this time I looked like a kid). I think he was a senior, but I can’t say that for sure.
Ed was a football player and I heard he bullied a lot of other kids too. He was just a general jerk.
He would call me names, knock books out of my hands, steal my textbook and run around the room with it (Why do we care when bullies steal our textbooks? I don’t know). All silly things that bullies do that we feel powerless against.
I guess he was showing off to the other kids, but I don’t know what his motivation was.
And he was persistent. A lot of bullies get bored after a while and stop. He showed no signs of this. He bullied me the most, but once in a while other kids did too. I don’t think it’s that rare for freshmen to get bullied by the older students. It happens and it happened to me.
Until it didn’t happen anymore.
It was February and the school year was half over, when my dad died after a year-long battle with fighting cancer. We had known it was coming for a year. I was, as a 15 year old kid, as prepared as I could have been.
A lot is fuzzy. I can remember being excited that day.
We were about to start swimming in gym class. Not that swimming is fun, but I was thinking about seeing girls in swimsuits. I didn’t know how to talk to girls, but I definitely spent a lot of time thinking about them at that age (well, really, always…).
I was sitting in Biology class on a Monday thinking about how I would be swimming in a couple hours when our class was interrupted. A counselor who I did not know came and talked to my teacher for a minute and then took me out of the room. But this guy I didn’t know didn’t tell me what was going on. He just told me someone was coming to get me and take me home.
But I knew.
I waited in the school office and a guy I knew from the church we went to a few times— Pastor Mark—came to get me. We didn’t go to church a lot, but we went just enough to get the community to reach out to us when my dad died, I think.
Pastor Mark drove me home and on the way there he told me my father had died. When we got home, I said goodbye. He was gone, but I said goodbye anyway.
Another part that really sticks out in my memory is my brother’s arrival. He’s eight years older than me and he didn’t live with us. He arrived after I did, parked his car and ran across the lawn saying, “Is he still alive?” And I gave him the news.
I told him our father was dead.
It was all a blur after that—a whirlwind of people telling me how sorry they felt for me and asking if they could do anything. I stood by his coffin with my brother at the funeral and I took care of my mom and I did everything I was supposed to do.
Our mother was devastated (she would follow him three years later, but that’s another story) and I had to do a lot to pick up the pieces. But I did what I had to do. On that day I knew I wouldn’t be able to have the same kind of teenage years that others kids have. And that was okay. That was the way it had to be.
I returned to school that Friday.
I could have taken as much time as I wanted—no one would have cared. But after only three days I had really had enough time at home. And I wanted to get back for swimming in gym class. We only had two weeks of it and I really wanted to be there.
I think all the kids in the school knew. But I don’t know how they found out. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that after my father’s death I was never bullied again.
Not once. Not ever. I don’t know if I would have noticed. I might have just assumed everyone was growing up and bullying wasn’t a thing anymore.
But Ed told me.
The day I returned to school Ed—the one who bullied me the most—told me he wasn’t going to do it anymore. Because I had lost my dad and that was serious.
And he really didn’t.
And that was the most compassion anyone has ever shown me.
It might seem weird, but that incident gives me a lot of hope for humanity.
Editor: Dana Gornall