Erin Lange has shared her story with us today. I'll even go so far to admit that it brought tears to my eyes. She has also donated a signed copy of BUTTER! So grab a tissue, read on and enter!
Erin Jade Lange
For someone who, so far, tends to write books about bullying, I sure don’t like to talk about my own experience with it. Even now, in this blog post, I’m not going to tell you about the 7th grade bullying that was my own personal teenage nightmare. Maybe I don’t want to repeat the things they called me; maybe I don’t think I can do my own story justice with words; or maybe – almost 20 years later – I’m just still not ready to talk about it.
Instead, I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened to me as an adult that changed the way I viewed 7th grade and the bullies who made it so miserable.
I was fortunate to have escaped to a new school district after junior high, and my high school experience could not have been better. I was happy and involved at school. I got decent grades and ran around with a great group of people. I spent my weekends at my favorite coffee shop with the people who would become my best friends for life.
It was at that coffee shop, on a trip home from college years later, when my past popped up to say hello… literally. The coffee shop was packed with people, and across the room, I saw a familiar face – one of the girls who had tormented me in 7th grade. We made eye contact, and to my horror, she started pushing through the crowd of people to get to me. I froze on the spot, not knowing what to expect. But I didn’t expect this:
As soon as she reached me, she told me her name and asked if I remembered her. When I said yes, she didn’t waste any time with small talk. She got straight to the point.
“I’m sorry for the way we all treated you back then.”
Paralyzed. Speechless. FURIOUS.
Her apology went on a bit longer, but I couldn’t hear it, because I was still stuck on that first “I’m sorry.” And I was mad about it. See, all I had had since 7th grade was my righteous anger. But if this girl could show remorse, then maybe she wasn’t 100% evil, which meant that my anger wasn’t 100% righteous. I felt, in that moment, that she was taking something away from me, and I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that the villains in my story might be more complicated than I’d made them out to be.
So I gave her a terse “okay” and walked away to hide in the bathroom until I could get myself together. I never saw her again.
Later, much later, I realized what a one-in-a-million moment that was. And I squandered it by not accepting her apology – especially because this was a girl who, if they hadn’t all been pointing at me, would have been pointing at her, and she was just trying to survive 7th grade herself. I wonder sometimes if she became the target after I left. I may never know, because despite this age of technology, I have not been able to track her down – on the internet or anywhere else.
I can’t find her to forgive her in person, so I think some part of me has tried to show forgiveness in my books. I try very hard to paint my bullies in shades of gray. I’d go so far as to say I’m somewhat obsessed with bullies and their back stories. In fact, next year’s book is told from the point of view of a bully! And maybe I have finally purged this demon with that new book. Time will tell.
All of this isn’t to say I expect kids or teens who are being bullied to go around forgiving their tormenters. For one thing, some of those bullies will never be sorry, and for another, some cruelty may just be unforgivable. That’s up to the bullied to decide for themselves.
What I want to share is that letting go of some of my anger helped me heal. Most likely, none of your tormenters will ever find you and apologize. But maybe – just maybe – one of them will regret the way they treated you for the rest of their lives. If you can believe that, it might help you shed some of the anger and the hurt – feelings that can be damaging if you hold on to them for too long. What I went through in 7th grade changed me – made me a better person. But forgiving the people who put me through it changed me too.
There is life after bullying. It does get better. And sometimes the bullies get better too.
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