Let me set up a scenario for you.
Imagine first that you’re a kid, maybe eleven or twelve, possibly thirteen. You have Asperger’s syndrome, which means that your social skills are impaired already; plus you’re a preteen/young teen, which means that the rules for your social world are constantly in flux. But as of yet, you’re not diagnosed; nor has anyone in your life ever heard the word "Asperger's," nor would they know what it means. As if that weren’t bad enough, you’re a girl who is more of a tomboy, who doesn’t see the point in following the social rules or norms, either because it seems like a waste of time, or you’re just mostly oblivious to their existence in the first place.
Most kids don’t like you very much. You don’t know why. Vaguely, you understand that there is something about your being that offends or bothers these kids. You don’t know exactly what it is. You think that if you smile at them, if you laugh at their jokes (their very unfunny jokes), if you make a point to be really nice to them, then they’ll see your effort and be friends with you. You think that if you can find a topic that you both can talk about, that you both like, then maybe you can have something in common and that’ll help the situation.
They laugh at you a lot, these other kids; sometimes you know why, sometimes you don’t. They seem to be speaking a language other than the one you know. They use slang that’s unfamiliar to you, because no one in your world speaks it. Your world consists of what you’ve learned from books (specifically fantasy and fiction and children’s literature), games, adults, and perhaps a few highly specialized interests that you really think are cool, that no one else ever seems to get quite as well. You start thinking that maybe you shouldn’t mention these interests, since they aren’t very well received; but sometimes you just can’t help it, because it’s something that’s important to you; and after all, other kids talk about what’s important to them all the time, so why can’t you?
Other kids bump into you in the hall. You try to be more careful not bump into them, thinking it was your fault to begin with. You slowly start to realize that they are purposely trying to hit you. Maybe it’s a new kind of joke. Maybe not. Just to be safe, you always try to smile at them and say “excuse me.” They laugh, like you’ve said a joke, even though you’re pretty sure you haven’t.
Sometimes they trip you and you fall. When they laugh then, you think maybe you had a stupid expression on your face as you fell or maybe someone said something funny that you missed. Sometimes you laugh with them, because after all, someone falling flat on their face is kinda funny, right? Sure.
Sometimes when you fall, you bruise your knee or cut open your lip on someone’s foot that got in the way of your fall. You try to smile, even though it really hurts, because maybe if you show that it doesn’t really hurt they can still be your friend. Maybe you can show you’re one of them, because you’re laughing and having fun, even though you are bleeding on the hallway floor.
Eventually, you might figure out that they are doing these things to you because they like seeing you hurt. Somewhere between them putting a bee down the front of your shirt, setting fire to your backpack, stealing your backpack, flushing your inhaler in the middle of your asthma attack, pushing/throwing you down the stairs, spitting on/at you, giving you "Indian rope burns," drawing on your shirt in permanent ink, giving you the silent treatment at lunchtime (or just getting up en masse whenever you sit down), grading your homework wrong, threatening your life by showing you a knife that they brought from home just to cut your throat with, you start to realize that maybe they really might not like you.
Slowly, you start to realize that those videos your class watched a few months ago on bullying and bullies were demonstrating things that could really happen in your life. Who would have thunk it? So, you think to yourself, like anyone would after having seen those videos, that maybe you should tell someone about it.
Say you decide to talk to the principal about it. You ride a bus to school filled with these kids that don’t like you. In fact, as you think about it, you’ve started getting diarrhea every morning before you get on the bus, just from worrying about what might happen that day. Most of the time your bus gets to school late, and your bus driver tells you to go straight onto class as fast as you can. Thus, you can’t talk to your principal then, because the bus driver told you get to class as soon as possible.
All of the breaks in the day, when the kids push you and hit you going through the hall, are only about five minutes long. The halls are crowded enough, without kids purposely trying to run into you; so what should take two minutes to get down the hall now takes four minutes. Plus, you have to go the bathroom on your breaks, because as is slowly revealed to you, none of your teachers like you either, and rarely allow you bathroom breaks. Apparently you are considered a difficult student, because you have to ask a lot of questions just to consistently know what’s going on during class. Your teacher gives you instructions, but you aren’t sure who they pertain to. Is she talking to all the students in the class or just the ones who think that particular way? You don’t know, so you ask.
You can’t talk to the principal on any of your breaks. So you think, well, maybe I can talk to him at lunchtime. At lunchtime, in between the food fights that seem to be directed only at you, you go over to your teacher, who is far off at their table, and try to ask to go to the principal. The teacher, thinking you’re onto some new ploy to be allowed to go the bathroom, or just because she doesn’t feel like it at the time, says no, go back to your seat, and quit bothering her. When you leave the table, you hear the other students all start laughing and wonder to yourself who told the joke and what was it, to make everyone laugh so hard? Boy, if you had that joke, people would fall at your feet to be your friend.
You ride the bus at the end of the day. You have to get a seat fast, because otherwise, you’ll end up standing/sitting in the aisle since no one thinks you deserve to sit down. Plus, you have a French horn and even though you might be a little slow socially, you can tell for sure that no one likes trying to accommodate that thing in their seat. You have no time to talk to the principal because if you miss your bus, you’re stuck at the school even longer, and school isn’t really that great, so why be stuck longer?
Eventually, either you realize that if you go to the principal, the other kids will see and really will follow through on those threats to come to your house at night and hang you from your tree; or else you do manage to see the principal and he:
- Doesn’t do anything
- Doesn’t believe you
- Calls you overly sensitive
- Does something, but tells everyone who got them in trouble, resulting in your getting beat up by an entire crowd of kids, instead of just one or two
Now the kids who aren’t actively trying to hurt you/embarrass you don’t do anything to you, but sometimes they sit back and laugh while some other kid fills an entire wall with spitballs while you crouch on the floor during the lesson.
There isn’t anyone you can talk to, because either they’re like the principal and don’t believe you, or they call you overly sensitive/compare you to their days of woe and explain that what you’re really doing is building character, because, you see, you really don’t know how it feels to be bullied and they do.
Every time you walk down the hall, either someone trips you, laughs at you, hits you, or whispers behind your back about how shitty a human being you are. In fact, sometimes everyone whispers and laughs at you as you walk down the hall. They say things like, “Hey what is that? Is that an it? Naw, it’s a Shit. Hey Shit! Wanna blow me? No,” another one answers, “you wouldn’t want that to blow you; think about what kind of diseases you’d get if that touched you. Bleah.”
In the meantime, you start writing essays that are centered on themes portraying your violent death, which your teacher awards with A’s, saying things like, “wow, creative, but make sure you work on your handwriting next time.”
One day, you decide that someone has just pushed too far, that throwing your inhaler in the toilet was bad enough, but throwing it in the toilet that was full of shit was just a little too much; so you hit someone back for the months of suffering they’ve inflicted on you. Instantly, the principal is called or the teacher sees it, and you find yourself on lunch detention for a week or better yet, you’re suspended and have to see the school counselor for a month, in order that you might work out your more violent feelings and the ways in which it might be better to handle yourself, should a situation ever arise again.
Or, say you try to hit someone and you don’t get caught, but everyone laughs it off and starts calling you a freak, or rather a nervous and crazy freak ... and hey, you remember that one time when the nervous freak tried to hit me? Yeah, that was a laugh riot, wasn’t it.
Imagine that everyone you tell laughs you off or gets you in deeper shit when they try to do something about it. Imagine that you have teachers who purposely give you bad grades so that they can call you up in front of the class and show the class how “stupid” you really are. These same teachers also find great pleasure in not letting you go to the bathroom, even when you’re really sick, because it’s obvious to them that you just need a little toughening up.
Imagine that during PE, when you’re not losing the game and people aren’t throwing basketballs directly at your head just for the hell of it, you’re instead sitting on the floor drawing your name in your arm with a sharpened pencil. Imagine that no one sees or if they do, they don’t say anything.
Imagine that this goes on, day after day after day. Imagine that every 20 to 30 minutes someone either hits you, kicks you, calls you shit, laughs at you or does all four. Imagine that you still think that agreeing with them will make them just suddenly like you. Imagine there are good Christian kids who go to church with you and either stand back and let it happen, or are the ones doing the worst actions against you.
Imagine that every time you try to fight back, either someone overpowers you, or you are caught and get in trouble. Imagine that every time you tell someone about it, they just tell you to grow up and get over it. Imagine that you tell the cop at your school and he tells you to quit bugging him and get out of his hair. Imagine that when you’re at home, you start cutting or burning your arms just for the sake of feeling something, since it seems that unless people can see physical evidence, then it didn’t really happen. Imagine that you ask trusted people for help and they ignore you and laugh.
Imagine that you start sleeping in a box on top of your bed for, say, six weeks, because it’s the only time you really feel safe. And your mother just thinks it’s a phase. Imagine that you start sucking your thumb again, as well as coming down with pneumonia. Imagine that you start pulling out your eyelashes and eyebrows, and all your parents do is get mad at you for making yourself look bad. Imagine that you suddenly realize that all there is to life is to hear the laughter of other kids while you hurt and no one helps you, no matter how much you smile or laugh with them.
Imagine that you have sleepovers with your teddy bears because no one would want to come to your house anyway. Imagine that for an exercise in your computer class, you have to make a spreadsheet with the names and ages of your ten best friends, and you have to use the names of your cousins from both sides of your family just to make up the difference.
Imagine that it’s like this every single day. Imagine that you start dreaming of ways to commit suicide. Imagine that this goes on for more than a year; more than two; more than three. Imagine that every day of your teenage life is like this.
What do you do?
A version of this essay was originally published at www.canisitwithyou.org, and in the book Can I Sit With You Too?.