MY FIFTH GRADE BULLY Kathryn Malnight
When I was in the fifth grade, there was a boy in my class named Kyle. At the time, he was the meanest person I had ever met. For the first couple days of school, Kyle and I sat across from each other. He would stealthily reach his legs across the table and slam his shoe down on mine, causing a rapid rush of pain. Eventually, I told a teacher, and my seat was moved. But Kyle's abuse didn't stop. He continued to call me names, such as "stupid" and "freak." His words were quite distressing to an 11-year-old girl. He also continued to physically hurt me. In "morning meeting" he once stepped on my foot so hard that I burst into tears. This continued for most of the school year.
Kyle also bullied my friend Megan. At one point she ran out of the classroom because he mimicked her nonstop. Both of us were absolutely miserable. And despite meetings with teachers and guidance counselors, nothing changed. We had a large class of rowdy boys, and the teacher had a hard time keeping order.
The climax of the Kyle saga occurred in mid-May. Kyle had elbowed me into a wall and insulted my brother (who has special needs), calling him a "retarded freak." I lost it. With my teacher standing behind me, I told Kyle exactly how much he had hurt Megan and me -- both physically and emotionally. I had tears streaming down my face and probably looked ridiculous, but I didn't care. I had been waiting for the opportunity to tell Kyle how much I hated him for months. At the end of our confrontation, I glowed inside as Kyle quietly apologized. I felt as if I had conquered Mount Everest, I was that happy.
Kyle's teasing didn't completely end, but it definitely subsided. He never physically hurt me again, and the final month of school went by fairly smoothly. Kyle was going to a private school the next year; I wouldn't have to worry about him. Summer came and went, as did sixth grade, and seventh grade. I had only seen Kyle once, at a movie theater. We did not speak, instead preferring to look at the floor and pretend we didn't see each other.
It was only in eighth grade that I really thought about fifth grade again. It was late at night as I remembered the abuse Kyle had put me through. I waited for the pang of anger I'd always felt when thinking or talking about Kyle. But no anger came. I tried again, thinking about the marks he'd left so many times on the tops of my feet, the words, the pain ... but I felt no hate for him. Instead, I felt a small beating of pity inside my heart. This boy, who had ruined a great portion of my fifth-grade experience, had probably been going through his own issues back then. He was obviously mad at the world, and maybe, I reasoned, he was simply taking that anger out on my friend and me. It was no excuse for what he did, but it was a reason.
I felt as if I'd had an epiphany. Being angry with Kyle for what he had done was -- as Buddha puts it -- like drinking poison and expecting him to die. By holding my hatred for Kyle inside of me, I was only hurting myself. That night, I chose to let old wounds heal, and I forgave my fifth-grade bully.
In letting go of that pain, I felt free. I wasn't letting a three-year-old incident bother me. In that way, I guess forgiveness is the most important tool humans have been blessed with. Because, with it, we can let go of unnecessary burdens and truly own our lives.
Who knew an 11-year-old boy could teach me that?
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