How Being Bullied Helped me Become a Writer

Turning to writing helped this woman escape her childhood trauma.



Illustration by Sarah Ferone

In the early ’90s, bullying wasn’t such a hot-button topic. It was just “kids being kids.” But the memory of my experience burns as bright as those flickering school-bus lights at the top of the hill, signaling that, in a half-minute, I’d begin the short trip to my personal seventh-grade prison.

The barrage of bullying started as soon as I stepped on the bus. Each morning, I confidently boarded and put on the best version of the face God gave me, with a big smile that almost made my upper-lip hair unnoticeable.

My uniform stain free, I walked up the aisle. After a few steps, an ankle struck my shin. I fell flat on my face. I knew that if I stayed down too long, the seventh- and eighth-grade boys would throw random objects. I sprang up and raised both fists to shield myself from any incoming debris.

The bus exploded with laughter. I did what they tell Catholics to do—I turned the other cheek. After hopscotching a few more rubber-soled loafers, I wedged myself in a seat against two fourth-graders. The bullies chanted, “Big Bambi’s mad! Boom, boom, boom,” as they rocked back and forth in their seats, mimicking an earthquake.

I took out my notebook and began writing. It always transported me to my happy place—where I have long, straight hair, a closet full of clothes, shelves stuffed with books, and a constantly buzzing phone with friends ready to do something fabulous.

Dropped off at the cracked-asphalt schoolyard filled with more crafty bullies and insult-spewing girls, I weighed my options. The school was located a few blocks from Main Street in a not-so-great part of town. Should I take my chances outside the chain-link fence?

Whoosh. A juice box flew by my head.

“I don’t know how he could’ve missed. She’s a big enough target,” said Rachel, unofficial head of the eighth-graders.

My eyes narrowed on her. I bit my lip. Grace, my best friend, didn’t fare much better.

“Hi!” I greeted her.

“Patrick grabbed my wrists and made me smack myself and say, ‘Stupid, fat, ugly,’” she told me, simultaneously hitting the welt on her forehead.

A stealth attempt to slip into the teachers’ lounge before the first bell and pinpoint the perpetrators would only make matters worse on the bus the next day. After all, freshly reprimanded bullies are always looking to settle the score. The teachers, meanwhile, would be driving their Toyotas to school, enjoying their last few minutes of peace while sipping coffee and perhaps contemplating a new career path.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

Katie Kohler took all of her childhood fear and doubt and poured it into her writing. Visit www.katiekohler.com and www.stopbullying.gov.

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