Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Letters to a Bullied Girl

I just bought this book the other day. Letters to a Bullied Girl - Messages of Healing and Hope is written by Olivia Gardner, a little girl who was the target of vicious bullying in school. It all started in middle school after Olivia, who has epilepsy, had a seizure in front of the other children at school. The bullying started with name calling, and progressed to Olivia being tormented online by some kids at school who started a website called "Olivia's Haters." Some of the kids even wore "I Hate Olivia" bracelets!

Imagine how poor Olivia must have felt?! She became depressed and withdrawn. She isolated. Olivia even considered taking her own life! Then something unbelievable happened to make Olivia change her mind, and even hope for happiness again. In March of 2007, the local newspaper wrote a story about Olivia's suffering. Two girls who read the story felt Olivia's pain and began a letter-writing campaign called "Olivia's Letters." These letters let Olivia know that she was not alone. They gave her hope and little by little, one day at a time, one letter at a time, Olivia began to heal. Word spread about "Olivia's Letters" and people from all over began to write to Olivia! Some letters were from children and adults who had been bullied, but the bullies themselves also wrote letters to Olivia. Letters to a Bullied Girl - Messages of Healing and Hope contains a selection from over 4,000 letters that Olivia received. Will "Olivia's Letters" become a worldwide movement? The authors of the book and those who support putting an end to bullying hope so! And I agree. So, I'd like to make a contribution to the "movement". I'd like to contribute my letter. Yes. I was a bully when I was a young girl. My bullying also started with name calling. But, it escalated to bullying of the worst kind: violence.

Dear Janet:

Remember me? Sharon, who used to live next door to you when we were children? I think you do remember me, Janet. I don't see how you could ever forget me. Because I was one of the kids who made your life miserable when you were younger.

I know that you were hurt and confused about me being one of the kids in the group who tormented you. After all, we were friendly, and we did play together. That is, until we both went to high school. That's when I started hanging around with a different crowd, a bad crowd, one that included kids who your mother wouldn't let you or your brother hang around. Your mom also wouldn't let you hang around with me.

I remember how we both used to leave our houses at the same time and walk down the same street to wait for the same bus. But we never walked together.

I remember how we used to wait for the bus, me standing with the "crowd" and you standing by yourself.

I remember joining the chorus when they taunted you with, "Janet Hess. You're a mess. Janet Hess. You're a mess. Janet Hess. You're a mess."

But you ignored us. And that made some of us mad. And we decided that we were going to "get" you. We made a plan to jump you the next morning before we all boarded the bus. We decided that one of us would grab you and knock you to the ground right as the bus door opened. We all laughed and patted each other on the back, satisfied with our plan. I was elected to be the one who would grab you when the bus door opened. Then the others would pull you to the ground.

The fateful morning came. It was a very foggy morning and my naturally curly hair frizzed up in the humidity despite my best efforts in the bathroom to tame my curls with a heating iron and hair spray. I was feeling particuarly evil as I walked to the bus with my friends, bragging and talking trash all the way down the road, turning every few steps so I could see you when you left your house. Then I saw you. It was on!

As usual, my friends and I got to the bus stop first. When you arrived about five minutes later, I decided that I wasn't going to wait for the bus to come as originally planned. To the total surprise of my friends, I grabbed you by your coat and smacked you in your face. I then pushed you down and jumped on top of you, pulling your hair, scratching your face, kicking you, and punching you. I remember the feeling of triumph that I felt. My friends were yelling and encouraging me.

When I stopped you were all dirty and you had started to bleed. As you cried and tried to get yourself together, me and my friends were laughing and jumping around, singing, "Janet Hess. She's a mess. Janet Hess. What a mess." ha ha ha ha ha

You ran home.

Janet. I am soooooooo sorry! You didn't deserve any of the abuse I heaped on you when we were kids.

How could I have done such things?

You see, Janet, I had so much anger in me. But that wasn't your fault. I had no right to take it out on you.

I was jealous of you, Janet. Your life seemed so perfect compared to mine. You didn't have a rageful alcoholic mother. I did.

Was it because I thought that you were a witness? I know that your heard all the yelling and screaming coming from my house all those summer evenings through your open bedroom window.

I felt ashamed every time I saw you.

Is that why your mother wouldn't let you come over to our house? Did she think that I wasn't good enough to be friends with you?

I know I'm babbling, Janet, and I know that you probably aren't interested in any apologies from me. But I just had to write this letter. And I hope that you will forgive me.



Who knows? Maybe Janet will see this blog. One never knows. But the book made me realize that it is never too late to heal or to resolve my memories of bullying. How about you? Were you bullied? Did you bully?

May Allah (swt) forgive me for what I did/Ameen.


Saaleha said...

Salaams Sis

Read Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eyes. It deals with bullying and is an extremely chilling read.


Big Sis said...

Salam wa alaykum sis

I've read a few Margaret Atwood's books especially cat's eyes. A Good read. Thank you for the informative blog!

Sonya said...

Is this true? Did you Really bully that girl? If you did and wrote that letter, then well done for writing it sis :)

Safiyyah said...

@ Sonya:

Welcome! Yes, Allah (swt) forgive me, I did exactly what I wrote in my letter to her. After reading the book, it was cathartic and healing for me to write a letter to the girl who I bullied. Insha Allah she will see this letter someday. One never knows! If she "googles" her name, she will come across it.

Hidden Sage said...

Wow, your letter to Janet was a shocker. When/how did you move on from the bully mentality?

Check this out:

Safiyyah said...

Hello Hidden Sage:


Wow, I really agree with that article. Being a substance abuse counselor, I understand the concept of the "reward center" in the brain.

Bullying can give the person a sense of power which is very exhilirating and additive. It also gives the person the illusion of being in control.

When did I move from bullying? Well, as a recovering addict, I moved from the bullying of childhood to victimizing people when I became an adult and when I started to use drugs. When I committed criminal acts to obtain drugs or money for drugs, it served two purposes: to give the ways and means to get high, and also a sense of empowerment - like the feeling that the people I was victimizing were suckers and weak people. Why? Because in reality, it was ME who was weak and strung out. It was ME who was the sucker. In my recovery group, I learned that "hurt people hurt people." That insight was an epifany (spelling/yuk) for me! Being in recovery gives the addict a new level of spirituality and imaan. Alhamdulillah! Insha Allah what I have written makes sense!