To my childhood bully,

You changed my life. You were my first bully. I’m ashamed of how weak I was to be changed so much, but I’m also flooded with tender affection and pride for how vulnerable I was in my innocence.

In fifth grade, I was a total success. I was pretty, popular, and confident. I was the smartest kid in my class. My heroes were Shirley Temple and Anne of Green Gables. I played the violin and danced ballet, tap, and jazz. I wanted to be a professional dancer and actress.

In sixth grade, I started middle school, where four elementary schools came together. I was SO EXCITED! This meant new friends, new teachers, sports, boys, and who knew what else! I bought two cool pairs of jeans. One pair was bell bottoms with happy face flowers on the bells. The other pair had fake writing scrawled over the thighs. My T-shirts had flowers, happy faces, or cartoon characters on them. My socks were all different bright colors with flowers. I cut off my long hair for a cute bob. I couldn’t wait to start living my new, fun life as a middle schooler. I felt pretty and confident. I felt unique and proud of it.

Then I met you and you made me ugly. You made me put away my confidence. You made me hide it from everyone so that no one could ever again hurt me like you did.

You were in eighth grade. It was you, together with several other eighth grade girls. The first time we crossed paths was at 7-Eleven. You began teasing me, saying I was stupid and my bright-colored socks were “gay”. I stood up to you. I called you a nasty word. That was the only time I ever stood up to you. After that, you taunted me incessantly. You called me names and teased me about my clothes. The group of you followed me at recess so that I hid in the bathrooms until you found me and taunted me there too. You girls followed me as I walked home after school, yelling insults at my face. I stared ahead, pretending you weren’t there. I started finding side exits in our school and different routes home so that I could use so that maybe you wouldn’t find me. I stayed home sick many, many days that year.

The next year I bought only trendy clothes. I was careful not to say anything too smart, that might isolate me from the norm. I spoke cruel and taunting words to unpopular girls. I no longer wanted to be an actress but a model instead. See the difference is models don’t talk. You even took the voice out of my dreams.

I was well-received by my peers. I was liked. I smiled and giggled a lot, and some people called me a ditz. It never hurt, because it wasn’t my real smile. You terrified me into hiding my real smile away.

I haven’t thought about you until very recently, 17 years later. I didn’t want to think of you. I didn’t want to admit that I had been weak once. I buried thoughts of my embarrassing clothes and stupid dreams. I didn’t want those things to exist in my past.

Early on, when I told adults, they would say you were jealous of me. After they said this, I quit turning to adults altogether. They were wrong. I saw nothing but strength in you.

Now I know you were jealous of me. You were jealous that I smiled and spoke without fear. You didn’t have my bravery. You were insecure, so you put me down until I became like you.

I am supposed to forgive and forget these things. I’m working on it . . . but I’m not there yet.


Elisa Cinelli

Elisa is a loving wife and mother in San Francisco. A housewife by day and a writer by night, she somehow finds time for her dual passions of vinyasa yoga and reading Hans Christian Andersen in a bubble bath.