To This Day

by Nate St. Pierre on February 20, 2013

I was only bullied for one week as a kid.

Just one short week, the week of Super Sports Camp, a daytime program run in Milwaukee each summer. That’s all it took to leave scars on my heart for the rest of my life.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

My mom signed me and my brother and sister up for the camp, and we were all pretty athletic, so no one made fun of us for being clumsy or overweight. But we didn’t have any money when I was growing up, and there were five kids in the family, so everything was stretched pretty thin, up to and including our clothes.

We all wore hand-me-downs . . . even I did, as the oldest. I would get them from friends, or cousins, or sometimes rummage sales, and the younger siblings would get them from me. And not only were we in hand-me-downs, but we didn’t have many to choose from either, so we would always wear the same clothes for three days in a row before throwing them in the wash.

On Day Two of the sports camp, one of the kids started calling us The Unchangeables. I was embarrassed. That night I said “Mom, I want to wear different clothes tomorrow.” She said I still had one more day to go.

On Day Three of the sports camp, other kids joined in mocking as the three of us ate our lunch together, still wearing the same clothes from Monday and Tuesday. I wanted to hide, but couldn’t.

Thursday finally came, and we were able to change into different clothes. The kids were quiet, maybe thinking we had finally given in.

On Friday they realized that we had not given in, but were just on our second set of clothes for the week. The taunting and laughing started again, even more hurtful than before. I prayed for the day to end.

On Saturday, the last day of the camp, I felt like I was going to throw up. I was so scared to go back. I tried not to cry in front of my brother and sister, but I think I did. The jeers came again that day, all day, until it was time to go home. I was counting down the minutes. When I got home, I wept. I can still remember the feeling of shame and fear and pain even now as I write this.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

But I’ll tell you one thing: to this day I HATE being judged by the clothes I wear. I didn’t take that pain from childhood and go in the direction you would think – always trying to be the best-dressed person in the group. I went in the opposite direction, dressing down and daring you to judge me by my clothes. To this day I still do that. It’s foolish, I know. And yet there it is, that chip still on my shoulder after all these years. Usually I wish it wasn’t.

Watch this. All of it. And think about the ones back then who were not so lucky. Or the kids you know who are not so lucky today.

Maybe this was you. Maybe it’s one of your own children right now. These are the real casualties of bullying: the woman with the loving husband who still can’t believe she’s beautiful . . . the teenager who attempts to kill himself rather than keep facing the pain. These stories and millions more pass by our lives every day, largely unnoticed by the majority of parents who will offer a quick “kids can be mean,” and then resume their hectic lives.

Please don’t be one of those parents.

Talk to your kids. Make sure they’re okay at school, at day care, with their friends, and wherever else they live and play and grow. Make sure they know that you deeply care about their lives, and that they can talk to you about anything and everything, and you will always take the time to listen and love.

And please, model good behavior for your children. Show them that you love and accept others, and defend those weaker or more vulnerable than you. They will do the same in their own small lives. Instead of a legacy of pain and suffering, they can give those unlucky ones the gift of hope and love.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to change a life.

— Nate (one of the Unchangeables)

  • Someone on Facebook said this: “Anyone who ever even slightly lived in this gets it … sincerely, ski feet highwaters”

    Feel free to leave a comment with your own scar from childhood…

  • Nate, thank you so much for sharing this. I hate that you went through this. I hate bullying. Let’s do something about it. I love you.

    • I know you do a lot about it, Amanda, and I’ll help where and when I can. Love you too.

  • Ginny Frey

    I know this must have been painful to write about and even more painful to live through. I was shielded from most bullying thanks to an older brother literally clearing the way for me (he was a big guy). But there was one girl intent on making my life miserable for one year and I had to ride the bus with her every evening. Our family was comfortable, but we lived in a small house. She took great pleasure in always saying good bye to me as I got off the bus, telling me to enjoy living in the cracker box. To this day I don’t know why I was targeted. She was a year ahead of me and we never saw each other except on the bus. Maybe because I was quiet and kept to myself I was a target for her big mouth. Just typing that brought back all the embarrassment and anger and shame and it happened thirty-one years ago.

  • Catt

    Nate,

    Thank you for sharing. My husband and I were both bullied growing up. You wouldn’t know it or even hardly believe it if you met us as we are both very outspoken, friendly, and a little intimidating looking- but it did happen. I fought back. The whole time, and it means to this day I am far too quick to jump to the defense/protection mode. Sorry to hear that you too are still affected by what kids did when you were young. I don’t know if its more prevalent or we just hear about it more, but it’s terribly sad to me – especially when I know that it affects people who were bullied, all the way into adulthood.

    Recently, my son – who is 3 years old was faced with bullying too. Yes I said 3 years old. This was not playground, kids will be kids behavior. It took a bit to figure out what was occurring, as they can’t communicate their feelings or what occurred during their day very well, and are prone to imaginary incidents, however this was real. When I found out, I *immediately* notified his daycare that I would not tolerate or stand for it and if they did not take corrective action, I would. They did and I am grateful they saw reason to react and correct it that day. Some people said I should have let them work it out. To them I say Hell NO. My son is 3, the other kid was 5 and mentally disabled. There was no working it out. And maybe if someone had stepped in for me, or any of the other kids experiencing bullying, they would not have killed themselves, or I wouldn’t have had my nose broken so many times that to this day I can barely breathe. Now I have to look at paying $5k and be out of work, in order to fix where bullies landed a good blow at my nose. And for what? Because I was different. SO wrong on so many levels.

    Just glad you and others say something and can help those of us who went through it or who are going through it realize you are not alone.

    Thank you Nate.

  • Brianna

    Nate, what truly is unchanging about you is your ability to inspire people. In that sense, I’m glad you are one of the “Unchangeables.” Thank you so much for sharing your story. Love you!

    I’m not sure I can say that I was bullied but my story is similar in the fact that we didn’t have a lot of material wealth growing up either. Being one of four kids, money was always tight for us too. We typically got some new clothes in September for the new school year but brand name clothes were never in the budget. Like many, I always wanted to be like the cool kids and dress like them too. I wouldn’t have minded second-hand clothes either. In fact, one day I saw my chance to fit in and I took it. Literally, I took it: in the lost and found there was a white Guess sweatshirt. I picked it up and put it on as if it were my own. But sure enough, not long after, the rightful owner called me out. I don’t blame her for doing so, the sweatshirt was hers. But the shame still stung and left a stain. Everyone wants to fit in, everyone wants to be cool.

    I wish there were a way to erase the desire to fit in and replace it with the reality that I have come to know as an adult—> It’s so much cooler to be be your beautiful self. I wish there were a way to give that sense of security to our son and future children.

    On a side note, I’ve heard the argument that my parents should not have had so many kids. But each of my siblings are a blessing, as are yours Nate. Truly amazing people. The answer isn’t to have fewer children or make more money so that you can afford brand name clothes. The answer, in my humble opinion, is to learn to love and celebrate each other for who we are as individuals. Love will prevail.

    I know that bullying is different than what happened to me but your story conjured up some hidden pain too. My heart breaks for anyone who has experienced such ruthless behavior and I would do anything in my power to stop it. Hugs!

    • Love you too, Bri, and thank you for sharing your story here as well. It’s amazing how we bury those thoughts and feelings from so long ago, but they’re right below the surface, waiting to come back up if called.

      And now that you have your little guy, I know you’ll have all this in mind as you love and raise him. Looking forward to seeing him grow up. 🙂

  • Matt Peters

    Through junior high and high school, I had a bully. It was worse in jr high. I was the fat kid. One of two. My bully was the other fat kid. I had one parent who taught me to turn the other cheek, while the other tried to get me to stand up and put the bully into his place.

    It was so bad that, as I had learned years later, even other teachers and the school principal had confided in my father that if I were to – and I quote – “beat him down with a ball bat” that they’d look the other way.

    I did react one day. I broke my hand against his temple in a fight. The bully’s father said to my dad that I, “should have used a wrench and beat some respect into him.”

    Can you imagine being such a shitty human being that even your own parent secretly wants you to be bludgeoned? I mean, really, think about that.

    The bullying eventually stopped in high school when I learned his father had cancer and needed almost half his intestine removed. I knew he and his father never got along. We were on the school bus, my bully and me, and he was doing something, I don’t remember, to piss me off. I turned, and was ready to launch into him. I wanted to say something about his dad’s poor health, and that it must suck knowing his dad didn’t love him and would likely die.

    Oh, did I want to just cut him off at the knees like that.

    Instead, I moved and sat closer to him, and quietly said, “Hey, my dad told me about your dad needing surgery. Let me know if my family can do anything.”

    We were never close friends, but the teasing stopped.

    With years comes wisdom, and the forgiveness and clarity of hindsight. All of the people who secretly wished I’d have planted the son of a bitch were too weak to mold him into a decent human being, or even attempt to. Instead of hoping a weak soul would have caved in another child’s skull, they could have intervened.

    I also learned that people get away with the things we let them get away with.

    And to be honest, there are times when I’m grateful for having gone through so much shit. When I see on the news where teens shoot up a school because they were bullied, I see that horror not as a choice by destructive kids with poor coping skills, but as an act of violence against a monolithic thing-in-itself that systematically failed the weakest of the people it was supposed to take care of. I see it as a cascade of people who did nothing until rage and irrational response become the obvious conclusion in the mind of someone who wants, just for a second, for someone else or something else to hurt as badly as they do; which in itself is what bullying is. I would never have that sense of humanity for both the victims and the perpetrators, if I hadn’t gone through it.

    I don’t with my bully ill. I hope that if he has a wife and kids, that he treats them well. I hope he protects them. I hope he grew up. I hope the lonely and wretched path he was going to head down because of his broken personality was somehow changed, and that he does good in the world.

  • Hey Nate – Great post. Kids can be so mean…because we’re all so fragile, and it makes them feel stronger to think if they make fun of someone else, the distracted attention will keep eyes off of their own insecurities. We didn’t have a lot of money either, and my parents sacrificed a lot to send me to a private school. I remember for my birthday my parents got me a really cool pair of boots from Sears, and I was so proud of them. I remember wearing them to school one day and a teacher complimenting me on them and being so proud…and then hearing, from a particularly jerky kid who came from a lot of money, in a condescending and judgmental tone, “Where did you get those, Sears?” As if that was the most pathetically sad place to get a pair of shoes. And really I’m so blessed – it was no big deal, but it’s funny what you remember to this day. When you run into things like that you lose a little innocence. Thanks for sharing.

  • Josh Dissmore

    I was bullied incessantly from about 3rd grade all the way through junior high. Being a short, freckle-faced kid with a large head, a bad stutter, dressed in hand-me-downs, and an outspoken christian, I was a perfect target for multiple bullies. But I was also one of the lucky ones. Although I do still bear the scars from my childhood, I was able to become a confident and well-adjusted adult. That in itself is a miracle, considering the amount of ridicule I endured on a daily basis. Not all are that lucky. Maybe I was just able to suppress it long enough until it finally suffocated and died. Or maybe it will always be lying right underneath the surface. All I know is that I am truly thankful that what I went through didn’t become a weight too heavy to carry.

  • This post literally gave me chills. I was very lucky not to be bullied as a kid. I got light-hearted teasing but that’s about all. I was also the girl who was friendly to everybody. As an adult I really am frustrated by people’s inability or unwillingness to stand up for what is right! Thank you so much for this post.

  • Tabitha B

    I was bullied in primary school from 2nd to 6th class (between the ages of 8 and 12), on account of a stutter, a nervous twitch, a wardrobe of hand-me-downs and an English accent, which is not a safe characteristic growing up in Ireland. I should probably be over it by now, seeing as this year it will have been 10 years since I started, but it messed me up. I was only 10 when I first started cutting, and 11 for my first unsuccessful suicide attempt.
    My parents just thought I was really into sport because I was always coming home with cuts and bruises all over me, and the teachers saw but didn’t help, something I’m still bitter about.
    I’m 17 now, probably too old to still be torn up about something that happened so long ago, but the more I try to push it down the more it comes back up to the surface in the looks my new teachers give me when I sit alone at lunch and in the accusation of my peers when they ask me why I refuse to wear shorts or t-shirts. It’s inescapable.

  • whatsername

    I was picked on as a child, but never badly. I was my own harshest critic, and those are the scars I bear. The only positive I can find is that it is our scars which make us who we are – and in your case that is a great person who is doing good things. I also think it is important to emphasise that kids learn what they live. Bullies are usually miserable and project that misery onto others.

  • Kylie Ofiu

    I was bullied a couple of times as a kid. It is incredible how cruel kids can be. That wife who can’t believe she is beautiful, that’s me. I don’t want to sound up myself, but I get told all the time by different people I am beautiful and yet cannot see it because of my childhood. I still see myself as an overweight, freckly, chubby kid with glasses and crappy teeth.

    I’m also supremely conscious of not letting my kids be the targets for bullying. Clothing, hairstyles, backpacks etc. I never want them to feel like they come from a poor family or like they are ugly/fat etc. I let them know their good points all the time and build their confidence. I also teach them to be nice to everyone, defend others and be friendly. So far it seems to be working. I dread the high school years though.

  • i wasn’t bullied. but i regret that when i look back, i can’t remember anyone being bullied. i was completely unaware and living in the bubble of my own existence. i wish i had been paying more attention, so that i could have helped.

  • Celia

    Thanks for that Nate I found it really powerful. I shared some one’s blog post about bullying on facebook a couple of years ago, with the words, “being bullied between the age of 9 and 11 continued to ruin my life for at least 10 years afterwards even though I never saw those kids again”. It was only after I wrote that that I dwelt on my own words a little deeper and finally realised why I hated myself all through my teen years and beyond and felt like I was weird and ugly and everyone hated me even though those around me actually treated me ok. I don’t have my own children but I work with children and teens and I do everything I can to make them feel accepted, supported and worthy. And to this day I too wear clothes that I know some people will judge me negatively for because it defies those who thought they could change the person I was and want to be.

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  • Danielle Smith

    I know this wasn’t easy for you to share. It resonates with me so deeply on so many levels… your story, the video. I have so many memories from this time in my childhood that I choose to keep buried, but am hyper-vigilant about my small people lest they begin to experience an ounce of what I felt or witnessed as I child. I won’t let it happen – not to my children – not to any under my watch. It isn’t ok…

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s remarkable.

  • Jeannie

    Nate, thanks for sharing this. I had a bully named Scott, we went to school my whole life, I came from a very small town. He made it his mission to torment me, tease me, trip me. His words stung then, to this day, still do. I have zero self esteem. I cannot take a compliment from anyone without making a joke about it because to be told, I am sweet, I am pretty, I matter makes me feel SO uncomfortable. I have forgiven Scott, I had to. However, the damage Scott did will be with me till the day I die…….Shared with my friends…..thanks for being one 🙂

  • Buddy

    In school I was on one of the fortunate ones… Noone ever bullied me. I was the friendliest person you could find and it was hard to bully someone who would smile at you anyway. I always made a point of standing up for the weaker ones that I saw being picked on. If someone was trying to be tough on the bus I was in the middle of it telling them to go sit down.

    Unfortunately while I wasnt bullied at school I would go home everyday to hear how lazy I am or how I wasnt good enough at something. My dad and stepdad spent years tearing me down and in spite of a lifetime worth of good friends some of whom idolize me for what I do and how I treat others I still struggle to find the good in myself some days. It doesnt matter the source. Words hurt far longer than a broken bone. Especially when they come from someone who is supposed to love you.

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