Silent Rage
The Latent Effects of School Bullying

by Bill Rose 

Iím 58 now, two college degrees and in the physical health of a teenager, due to my years of discipline in diet and exercise. My IQ is approximately 115 and I am very well organized, neat, clean and passionate about my two dogs. I am artistic, passionate about music, very attracted to the opposite sex in the most positive way. Love sailing, collecting pictures of old ships from the steam era, still run a few miles a day and lift weights. I canít stand human or animal cruelty and have actually saved a few lives by intervening in a crisis. I have recurring flashbacks of an experience when I was about 2 years old, a friend and I found a frog in his back yard. We squatted down to study it, and then my friend stood up and stomped on it with his foot. Its entrails came out itís mouth. It still compresses my tear ducts to this day. "Why did he do that?", I ask myself. I will never be able to reconcile it. I still remember vividly, holding my motherís hand and trying to comfort her when my stillborn baby sister was buried at the cemetery as she cried. I was 3. My mother was a Sunday school teacher and I served as her Master of Arms, keeping everyone quiet and focused. I actually hauled a kid outside one Sunday morning because he kept disrupting my momís class and shook him until he cried. I was 5. . Two years ago, I volunteered for a year at the VA hospital and discovered a passion for the infirm and downtrodden.

I was one of three children, each a year apart and we had the archetypal mid-western small town family. Dad and his two brothers worked in Grandfather'í store and Mom made sure we had everything we needed. We lived in a nice large house with a large yard and huge trees with our dog, Skippy. I took piano lessons, won the statewide spelling bee one year and got to ride on a train in a parade. I was so far ahead of the other students in all subjects in elementary school, I spent most of my days reading to other classes. Iíve had numerous hobbies throughout my lifetime, from building models to pottery to computers, to Bluegrass music (played in a band for years) to raising houseplants. Very mechanically inclined, I used to take my cars apart and put them back together, just to see if I could do it (took the rocker arms off my dadís Buick one afternoon when I was about 12, and couldnít put em back on. When I told him about it he made me stay out in the garage all night until I figured out how to do itÖ..but I never did because you needed a special tool).

I am now unemployed, having been terminated from at least 20 professional positions over my career, on partial disability from the V.A., living on $824 per month, receiving USDA Commodities, and housing assistance from the local housing commission living the life I never understood and feared horribly. I run out of food every month.

Iíve purchased a new home and lost it, failed at marriage and never tried again because after 25 years I still love her, had and lost just about everything anyone could want including flying on the corporate jet and my own 40 foot sailboat. I had to file bankruptcy 3 years ago (something I had always regarded as an unforgivable sin and only for deadbeats). All relationships are gone. Most of the family has died, and those who are still living I had arguments with and weíve never spoken again. Social Security has denied my disability, and is so difficult to deal with, itís not worth the fight. I have to be 62 to receive early retirement. I have, literally no self-image at all, even though others regard me in high esteem. I thrive on novelty and change and get bored easily. I toy frequently with canceling life early and hoping for a better one next time. Like a spider in a porcelain sink, climbing out of such a deep chasm is not likely.

The first question my psychiatrist asked me was: "Did you commit a crime?". The answer, of course is no. "Do you have a drug or alcohol problem". "No, donít touch either one". I get extremely depressed, even on medication, when I see college students going to prestigious colleges, nice homes in the suburbs, families living together, people playing sports, and shopping at stores. Especially, the wealthy, because I have the intelligence and knowledge to be one of them. But I canít. My low self-esteem and inner anger anchor me to a base plate which only allows me to go so far, before Iím yanked back with drastic consequences.

Root Cause Analysis
No Psychiatrist, Psychologist or best friend has found the root cause. The reason is that I have never told anyone, because Iím still too embarrassed. Until on the news one afternoon I saw a nice young 15-year old take a gun to school one day and shoot some students. He was from another state and probably considered square to the cool guys at school, and so they bullied him until he could take no more. I felt so sorry for the boy, very nice looking, even ivy-league in appearance, standing in the courtroom receiving his life sentence, tried as an adult. "That kid is no criminal", I said to myself over and over again. The true criminals are the kids that drove him to it. Where are they now? Everyone is a criminal for letting him fall into a crevasse without helping. I know this, because the same thing happened to me in High School. I grieve for that boy all the time, and thank god I stopped short of the same thing. 

They say our character is molded mostly in the first three to four years of life. Mine was excellent. I believe his was too. But character can be altered by external events beyond our control. This is not to say that the values instilled in us in those early years can be lost or diluted over time. But the ability to employ them can be mitigated by circumstances which cause us to violate them without perceivable option. Lack of information and/or lack of support are the primary causes. Of course, we are all victims of our own ignorance. The degree is determined by these two primary factors. Many who are oppressed for one reason or another feel at fault, experience guilt and fear ridicule if they disclose their weaknesses. When one cannot express their anger externally, obviously, it only has one way to go. This type of anger does not dissolve in the recesses of the mind. It eats other parts. Thus, anger takes on a new face in the form of depression and the metamorphosis creates a great distance from the basic core values instilled during early childhood. 

Why are they treating me this way? Don't they know Iím a good person? They donít even know me. Why donít they like me? Youíd think theyíd get to know me first. They must be very ignorant or just plain mean. Either way, I hate them.

Social skills donít come naturally. They are learned from a variety of sources. An oppressed individual, especially early in life, withdraws if not encouraged to express their feelings an/or donít know how. For many, a full set of social skills may never be developed. The predominant skill a bullied kid learns is how to hate. Sarcasm, cynicism and revenge pervade the thoughts, replacing education, sports, relationships, entertainment and other normal interests. Containing that hate is a full time job. Hatred, unlike dirt, doesnít wash off. Itís very tough to shake. No one else wants it, you canít just throw it in the trash can, you canít convert it to food and you canít exchange it for money. The demon doesnít really want to leave, either. The demon thrives on weaknesses and feeds well on oppressed.

We all remember our years growing up. We even remember specific events that happened on a certain day 25 years ago, maybe even the time of day. Exact words spoken, the color of the paint on the walls, who else was there, what they were wearing.

Thatís great, if itís a positive memory. But when one can only remember the negative memories, one becomes negative. The damage is done. This damage must be prevented through intervention at the earliest stages. The fork in the road is just ahead. One of the most difficult jobs a developing child has is carving out his/her place in society and they canít do it along.

As a teacher for the city schools, I worked in class rooms where kids were either one step away from full confinement or already there. Violent, agitated, rebellious youth of all ages with little to no self-control. For many, maturity will probably neutralize some of the childish behavior. For a lucky few, a role model may appear like magic and capture their attention. To see these kids obtaining higher education, obtaining meaningful employment and a family of their own is out of the question. Their medication keeps them at bay. They are, sadly, just a drain on society.

They are the result of a deadly combination of lack of support at home and lack of support away from home. They get nothing but rejection from both sides. Thereís nothing in between but aberrant behavior to try to get attention. Unfortunately, they are usually rewarded for it. In remedial ways. Or they shoot someone. I came to this point in High School.

Case Study
Living in a middle-class, new community in a nice home, I had nice friends throughout my school years. Four were especially close as they lived within a block or two. When we didnít like the dinner menu at one home, we invited ourselves to one or the otherís house, depending on what they were having. Especially on liver and onion or salmon croquette night. The refrigerator was always the first stop when entering a friendís home to take inventory. One was killed in Vietnam, one became a dentist, another had a debilitating auto accident and now lives with his parents in a trailer east of the city and another became a housepainter, shunning the structured work environment. All went directly to college from high school.

Late one night, they knocked on my window, waking me up. I went to the window and on said, "Hey, weíve got Paulís dadís car. Letís go for a ride". They had sneaked the new Pontiac Bonneville out of the garage and were going joyriding. They were persistent, but in the end my declines worked. I went back to bed with my dog Jacques.

A few days later, I came home one evening from a neighborís house to find my parents and Paulís parents sitting in chairs in the middle of the room, all facing an empty chair.

"Sit down!" ordered my Dad. He looked at me after I sat down and said, "We know you know about the joyriding. Youíre going to sit here until you tell us all the details". I balked. He slapped me. I tried to tell them I didnít know much, just that someone came to the window. "Liar!" my Dad shouted and slapped me again. We sat there for hours until I told them who took the car and whom I thought was with them. My Dad was never satisfied with the truth anyway, so it was a no win situation.

A few days later at school, Paul approaches me and says, "Hey, did you snitch on us, because I got in a helluva lot of trouble". I denied it, but we both knew that I was the only one who knew about it that didnít take part. He never talked to me again. But a guy named Fritz, whom I didnít know had been with them. He looked me up between classes, called me a"fink" and the fists started swinging. Not mine, his. I came from a small town in Kansas and didnít know anything about fist-fighting, nor did it make any sense to me. For approximately two years, until the end of my senior year, he would come out of nowhere, say nothing and knock me to the ground. Sometimes several times. At school, in the neighborhood, at the library, at the beach, walking down the sidewalk. Others tried to get him to stop, but he made it a regular event to impress his friends. 

Word got around school that I was a pansy and wouldnít fight back and eventually I became a disease that nobody wanted. I spent the remainder of that year completely isolated, with all self-esteem gone. I never went anywhere. My Dad would shout at me, "Get off that couch and do something Ė Ya wanna be a bum all your life?!!". The depression was overwhelming and lasted decades. The attacks stopped one day, when walking across campus in an isolated hallway, who should appear but Fritz. The obnoxious grin I had come to know over the years because it preceded a fist in the face began to develop as he approached me. I told him point blank that the next time I saw him I would have a gun and I would kill him. That was the last time he ever bothered me again. For several years after I contemplated killing him, but common sense told me that if I did, he would have succeeded in completely destroying me.

The only time I wasnít depressed was when I was working, so I became a workaholic. It was the only way I could mitigate the pain of self-hate. Eventually the repressed melancholia manifested into stress and created ulcers. I went home every night and held my stomach until I would fall into a fitful sleep. The stomach pain was horrible. Lasting for hours. For years. I became preoccupied with my stomach pain. Finally, Prilosec appeared on the scene and I found relief. The major problems I have carried all my life are rejection of authority, a high sensitivity to condemnation and criticism, a cynical and sarcastic view of most everything, which all have been mitigated to a large extent by a medication regimen and not working. Every time I try to return to work, the first time I feel humiliated or under-appreciated, taken advantage of or not respected, I respond angrily. My tolerance for domination is near zero and my hostility still rears its ugly head at the worst times. Nobody knows but me.

After all these years, chance encounters with those who scoffed at me in high school find them looking old, distressed and half-alive, while I am still in great condition and light on my feet. "Wow!!", they say; "you look great!". "Looks like lifeís been good to you"! But it means nothing to me. That pain/anguish which pervaded my life for so many years will never go away. To go through your entire life never establishing your identity or having any self-respect is 24-hour, seven day a week, 365 day a year torture. You try to make yourself happy with material things, constant image alterations, new relationships, more educationÖÖÖall to no permanent avail.

The Bubble Bursts
A plethora of drugs were everywhere when I was in my hippie college student stage. Cocaine was the best because you could stay up 24 hours. I would talk for 24 hours straight. But eventually, common sense told me it was artificial and an escape from reality. I lost interest and never touched it again. Alcohol was also everywhere in my military stint and I drank myself into oblivion more than once at parties, but never alone. As I got older, the hangovers got worse and my tolerance decreased. Finally, one night at a party I got drunk, tried to start a fight with a group of guys, got lost driving home ending up in a construction site, scared and sick, finally finding my way home, only to be couch-ridden for the next 24 hours. I never did like the taste of alcohol anyway, so that did it. That was 20 years ago and Iíve never touched alcohol again. Alcohol killed my parents and both sisters became alcoholics, ruining their lives.

Still, the pain and feelings of inferiority felt like a sack of cement tied to my feet. No matter what I did, I could never feel good about myself. Then the fragile bubble burst. My inability to control my anger peaked. A classic case. Bought my daughter a car and skipped a house payment. Mortgage company seized the opportunity to foreclose on my house by double-billing me (this is a common predatory lending scheme). Anger over this situation caused me to bark at the wrong person at work and I lost my $10k a month job. I sued the mortgage company, was torn to pieces by the judge, ruling "Itís your own damned fault" and judged against me for $75k, so I had to file bankruptcy. Within a month, all funds were depleted and I was homeless, living in a van. I froze in disbelief and was unable to function. For approximately two years, I was catatonic. I saw nothing but paradoxes, hopelessness and a silent rage. This was absurd. There was no concrete justification. Never, in my entire life had homelessness crossed my mind. I always knew that education, hard work and avoidance of foul habits were my ace in the hole. Not so.

Without the proper social skills and adequate temperance, none of the other forms of development matter. I would wonder why I sometimes have no food, and that guy across the street has his own business, a beautiful home, family, new cars, a boat, takes vacations and more. And he never went to college. Answer: Self-love that is coated in armor.

The Message
The effect of school-age bullying is permanent to one degree or another. It may manifest itself early in the life cycle or later. It may rear itís head in a subtle form, such as inhibited development, or result in suicide or murder. At the age of 58, I still wonder if I can find a way to get even with Fritz. School-age people typically wonít report bullying for fear it will only get worse. More often than not, it will worsen anyway. The bully will learn to thrive on the misery of another, confusing it with power. Awareness and new methods for identifying a crisis at itís embryonic stage are essential.

The problem of school bullying will never go away. The first step is for adults to stop turning their heads, when they are aware of it and understand the effects it produces. There are laws against assault and battery, and bullying laws need to be established to suit this type of crippling crime, with appropriate corrective actions. 

Lawsuits for sexual abuse 30 years prior are now commonplace. I know of no legal actions against former bullies. The boy who exploded at Santana High has a strong case against those who abused him. 

As a schoolteacher, I found with great chagrin that a few bad kids drag the good ones down and the good ones struggle twice as hard to achieve. This serious imbalance is quite prevalent in public schools today. Domination by the unprincipled is a war being fought not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the public school system as well.

Bill Rose lives in San Diego, CA

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