I haven’t searched out a lot of people from past on Facebook, but one name I did look up a while back is one that is ingrained in my memory forever. It is the name of a girl who bullied me in the eighth and some of the ninth grade. She and her friend, whom I didn’t find, made life miserable for me as a new student in a southern California junior high school. I was chubby and an Army brat, transferred there when my father became an Army advisor to the National Guard in San Diego. I wore glasses and had long black hair when it seemed like everyone else there was thin, long-legged, tan, with the long, blonde hair of the 60s.
The two made fun of me in our small orchestra class, talked behind my back, called me names and laughed at me at that most awful of all junior high experiences of those days—the common gym locker room where self-conscious girls of all sizes and shapes had to change into ridiculous-looking gym clothes.
I was first chair out of two first violinists and they were first- and second-chair out of the second violinists. One skinny boy sat between us as my buffer zone. When he decided to challenge me for my seat, I was terrified I would lose and have to sit beside my bullies. I practiced and prayed and cried and dreaded the day I would play from the next room anonymously and fight for my seat. No one else but I knew I wasn’t just playing for my position, but my emotional strength and self-esteem. Thank goodness I won the challenge and kept my buffer.
The abuse continued for a year-and-a-half, as I recall, with every minute I spent in their presence agony. Finally, one day in gym class I decided I had had enough and from the opposite side of a volleyball net, when they tossed out their taunts, I summoned up courage from the depths of my soul and yelled back for them to “just shut up and leave me alone.” It worked. They stopped their bullying, and I have no memories of them after that day.
So I searched on Facebook for the name of the head bully, the girl who has affected so much of my life since that time. After those junior high days, I determined I would never be called “fat” again, I became anorexic, back before anorexia was even a diagnosis for teenage girls. Once in a Relief Society “get acquainted” game, I put the fact of my anorexia out as a truth or a lie and shocked everyone that it was true! Trust me, seven pregnancies cured me and knocked me back in the other direction.
But I still have never put a mouthful of food in my mouth without wondering about the calories and worrying that I will be that chubby adolescent being made fun of again. I still hate to walk in front of a crowd of people, wondering what they are thinking about me. I’m super-sensitive to being teased, even if it comes from people I know love me. And I suppose it’s good that my heart aches for the child that is being bullied or taunted. I know what it feels like to dread to go to school.
I looked at my bully’s picture on Facebook, almost afraid that she would see me or that I would accidently ask her to be my friend and she would respond with insults. That didn’t happen, but I seriously considered sending her a message telling her how she had made my life miserable for so many months. I decided not to and realized I have truly forgiven her, and I hope she found happiness through being kinder. (I hope it’s OK in the eternal scheme of things that I also took comfort in the fact that it looks like she’s gained more weight over the years than I have).
I thought about her a while later when I was doing my work as a reporter and went to interview our local Habitat for Humanity chapter about their upcoming 20th anniversary. My father, Delbert Dean, who died in 1996 after a brave fight with cancer, was one of two men here in our city, who got tired of seeing TV reports of families getting new homes in a city near to us and decided to start a chapter in our city. Since that time, 34 families have found hope and new lives through home ownership. My interview with the executive director of our Habitat was reversed as he began interviewing me about my father and his life and why he decided to start a Habitat chapter. I told him of Daddy’s impoverished childhood, his escape from that through military service, his 21-year Army career, his honesty, his integrity and his devotion to his family.
I’ve wondered if anyone has tried to look Daddy up on Facebook. An old Army buddy maybe. Someone from his hometown. A long-lost cousin perhaps. Of course, they can’t find him because he died long before that social phenomenon came into being.
But they would be looking him up for all the right reasons—for the goodness he had brought into the world and the legacy of service and love he had left.
And that is how I came to wonder in the years to come who would be searching for me on Facebook.