[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. ]
By Michelle Ealey
I have been overweight since I was a kid. During elementary school, I was the target of a lot of teasing and bullying. Other kids would tell me they didn’t want to play with me. Even my sixth grade teacher made snide comments about my weight. Starting in first grade, I was called names like The Pillsbury Dough Girl and laughed at whenever possible. My attendance suffered because school was the last place I wanted to be.
The torment didn’t stop in middle school. Seventh grade was more of the same except there were more people to make fun of me. I dealt with the issue the same way I had from first to sixth grade -- I cried in private and stayed home a lot.
However, in eighth grade something inside me changed. The teasing and bullying bothered me, but I did more than cry; I started to get angry. My grandfather died while I was in seventh grade, and he was more of a father to me than my own. I missed him. Perhaps my grief transformed my anguish into anger.
Most of the teasing came from a core group of three boys. These boys would torment me daily by shouting insults, singing songs they made up about my weight, and throwing paper at me. I had friends, but nothing they said would make the pain go away.
Adding to my misery was my math teacher. He ignored me, made comments, and graded me differently. I know about the grading because I compared exams with other students; we would have missed the same amount of questions, but I would get a C while the other student got a C+.
The most irritating moment with him was when he hit me in the back with a ruler during class. He hit me while he was talking; I think the ruler slipped out his hand, but the strike hurt as did not getting an apology right after it happened. I went to the Dean. The Dean didn’t call my mom. I got ushered into a room, and the Dean and my math teacher told me the incident wasn’t serious, I had nothing to complain about, and I should keep the matter to myself. My math teacher did apologize, but I felt so small and worthless after the meeting.
One day while standing in the lunch line, the boys who enjoyed tormenting me were behind me. A few boys separated us. They liked to encourage others to tease me as well. They convinced one to pinch my ass. They expected me to do nothing. They were wrong.
I quickly turned and hit the pincher in the chest. My strike knocked the boy back, and I heard from the others that he ended up in the nurse’s office. I didn’t get in trouble because no boy wanted to admit he gotten beaten up by the fat girl. The boys left me alone for the rest of the week, but they resumed the teasing and bullying the next week. The short reprieve planted an idea in my mind; if a punch brought me peace for a few days, then a more violent action would possibly end my anguish once and for all.
I hadn’t shot a gun before, but my grandfather showed me the basics. I grew up in the country. My grandfather hunted, and I was expected to learn from him how to shoot. He died before he could teach me, but I understood how guns worked: load, aim, and pull the trigger.
Out of all of the components to my plan, getting a gun was the easiest part. I knew where the key was to my grandfather’s gun cabinet, and my father left his gun out. The ammo was stored apart from the guns, but I knew where the ammo was.
My main issue was getting the gun to school. I knew if anyone saw the gun before I could act the gun would be taken away, ruining my plan. I finally figured out how to get the gun to school undetected, a method I was 90% sure would work. I don’t want to be accused of putting ideas in young minds, so I will not reveal the details. I remember feeling proud that I had solved this problem. The pieces had come together. All I had to do was decide when to put my plan into motion.
I know now that what I was planning was wrong, but then I thought I was right. My mother was encouraging me to stand up for myself. When I told her about hitting the boy, she approved because she viewed it as a defensive act.
My grandmother had taught me that if I’m being attacked, I need to shoot first and ask questions later. My grandparents had a “shoot trespassers on sight” policy, a policy they taught me at an early age. If I didn’t have a gun, my mother taught me how to kick, punch, and scratch my attacker; I learned from my mother two things about fighting: how to avoid a fight and how to take out the other person my any means necessary.
I wasn’t worried about going to prison. This was the late 1980s, and trying minors as adults wasn’t common. A few years in juvenile detention didn’t sound bad to me at the time. I understand this sounds contradictory, shooting people to make my life easier at school but knowing I could be locked up for it, but I didn’t care. I was a confused mess; I was angry, and I wanted people to pay.
My plan was to convince people my victims deserved what I did to them. If I failed to be convincing, then I understood I would go away. I had heard that juvenile records were sealed and couldn’t be used against you as an adult. The possibility of being able to start fresh as adult appealed to me.
Those that wronged me would be dead; I could finish school, and then enter adulthood without worries. This is what I believed at that time.
I wasn’t under the influence of any media. Nintendo was still a new thing, cable wasn’t in almost every home, and the Internet wasn’t around. I was angry, hurt, and frustrated, and I felt I was running out of options. It was easier for me to get my hands on a gun than it was to get help from any adult at school.
Internalizing my pain was what I had been doing, and I thought taking action by hurting others was the answer, but I didn’t go through with it. I don’t know what stopped me. I had access to guns, I had a list of my victims, and I had a plan. Maybe disappointing and upsetting my mother was a factor, but I really don’t know. I ended up staying stuck in the cycle of internalizing my pain and attempting suicide to deal with life.
I really wish I knew what stopped me. If I knew I would tell everyone so no one thinks picking up a gun and shooting people is the answer.
The force that prevented me from taking a gun and shooting people may be unknown to me, but I’m glad it stopped me because it saved the lives of a math teacher and three boys.