By Natalie Merante | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was raised in a house where no matter who the adult was, no matter what you thought of them, they were still your superior and were to be respected. To some members of my swim team, the fact that I blindly did whatever my coach asked me to do was seen as a form of brown-nosing and I was doomed the moment he made me a captain.
My junior year of high school was my second year on the school’s swim team. We had a new coach and every swimmer hated him, myself included. He weighed about 300 pounds, drove an old military jeep with a “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker on the back and had a deep southern drawl that still haunts my nightmares.
One night, after returning from the regional swim meet at the University of Florida, I was sitting in my friend’s parents’ car who had chaperoned the trip, waiting for my sister to pick me up, who was late, as usual. I was with my best friend and the chaperone’s daughter when my coach walked up to the car and asked if I was ticklish. I replied a very cold, tired “no.” He ignored my “no” and grabbed me around my waist in an attempt to “tickle” me.
As I squirmed to get away from him, I looked at the people in the car with me. The chaperone’s daughter sat with her hand over her mouth, and my best friend was in total shock. It wasn’t until she told him to stop that he took his hands off of me. My weak requests had all been ignored. As if on queue my sister pulled up and I sprinted to her car.
That was the night I became the world’s doormat.
Since that point, I have struggled with standing up for myself. I will run from any problem or spread myself way too thin, simply because I can’t tell people ‘no.’ I can’t tell people when I’m upset with them, either. It is something that people hate about me and also something I hate about myself. I’ve let myself get used for everything from sex to a personal self-esteem boost by people that I trusted.
I’ve let myself be brought to a level of self-hatred that I can only hope I never am brought to again – all because I couldn’t stand up to my swim coach, or the people that bullied me after what happened in that truck that night.
I’ve never considered myself a victim of bullying. I always thought bullying only happened like it did on television, to a kid who is different from everybody else, but recently I’ve pulled something from the back of my mind that I cannot see as anything other than bullying.
I told my sister what had happened on the way home, but she assumed I was overtired and being dramatic. I went to school the next day, and after school told my parents what had happened.
My coach was fired, but, even after he was gone, others would not let me forget about what happened. Every guy on the swim team would imitate his voice when I walked into a room.
“Naaaatay. You ticklish?” They followed me into every classroom I walked in, down every hall. I couldn’t escape it because it was everywhere. They were everywhere. It seemed like nobody took it seriously or stopped to consider that they were hurting me.
So I did nothing. I smirked and laughed it off and let it roll off my back until I was alone and could cry in peace. I would pray that something else would happen to distract them, but that wouldn’t come until graduation. It was like being stuck with the worst nickname in the world.
Instead of standing up for myself, I ran away – literally. I quit the swim team and joined the cross-country team, and made sure to stay out of almost everyone’s way that I knew from the swim team, which was difficult since I had classes with them everyday. I never talked about it with anyone, and worst of all I never, ever stood up for myself.
I remain an extremely passive person. I will let just about everyone walk all over me, and not say a word. Whenever I feel like confronting somebody or something, I go immediately back to that truck, back to the halls and I see no use trying to stop something once it has already been set in motion. I cope. I tell people that you can’t laugh at other people until you are able to laugh at yourself- a bulletproof defense. Also a magnificent cover up for how weak I really am.
I’m outgoing enough to cover up my true meekness, the only people who really see me angry are people that think it’s cute to tickle me. It’s not cute, it’s not fun. I’m not ticklish, and I never will be.
It’s easy to think that you’re not a victim of bullying. After all, I was never thrown in a dumpster or given a swirly. I wasn’t excluded from social groups and I got along with most everyone in my grade.
The thing that is hard to remember is that there is an entirely different breed of bullying victims: the actors. I could win an Academy Award for the act I put on in high school. The boys mimicking my coach or the girls giggling at them had no idea what they were doing to me and none had any idea it would impact me in the long run.
I’d love to be able to say that I am a better, stronger person now, but that’s not the case.
Although it feels like I can’t escape this version of myself, I know that there’s hope for me. I can recognize that what happened to me was wrong and I know that I will never let that sort of thing happen to anyone else, and that is an excellent start. The hardest part will be to stop people from walking all over me, to stand up for myself, sometimes to myself, which is something we all struggle with on occasion.
For the first time in five years, I’m ready to start healing. Not so much from the incident with my coach, but from the person I let that turn me into. I’m ready to stop blindly following the directions from people that I describe as having “strong personalities,” but really, I’m ready to let myself be myself.
People don’t respect me since I’m so passive, and sometimes, it’s hard to respect myself for that same reason. But I will try to change. I’ll try to be a little more outspoken. I’ll try not to let myself get pushed around, and most of all, I’ll try to never let anyone or any stupid little statement make me feel like I’m anything less than the person that I want to be.