Do you remember middle school? I do, better than I’d like to admit. Middle school was easily the worst period of my entire life, and I know this continues to be the reality for many kids today. A viral video currently making the rounds has reminded me of just how bad that time really was, and how little things have changed.
In those tweener years, I was teased and bullied and generally humiliated, quite a lot. There always seem to be certain kids that get identified as targets for this -- they draw the hatred and don’t even understand why, as this is also the point in most kids’ lives when they are most desperate to be liked. Possibly this is exactly why bullying in middle school can be so harsh and so vicious; there is little that can hurt us at that age like the withholding of social acceptance, and in its place a liberal administration of loathing and disdain.
For all my profound social problems (which I documented in a precisely detailed miniature novel recounting the most vivid of my seventh and eighth grade horrors -- and weirdly, I was careful to change everyone’s names), I never much talked to anyone about it. My parents both suspected I was having issues, but I never wanted them to intervene, because that would have been worse. That would have been weakness, and showing weakness was like waving a flag: “Increase the torment over here, please.”
I never cried. I never responded. I was cold and unyielding, like a stone. Like an iceberg. I would dissociate, and it was just as if it was all happening to someone else. Nothing touched me, after a while.
Though the worst of my social problems came at the hands of my so-called friends, a good deal of my harrassment and bullying happened on the bus. My bus ride in middle school was absurdly long, taking an impossibly circuitous route through what was at the time unincorporated sections of western Broward County in South Florida, where I grew up. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in the eighth grade my bus was extraordinarily crowded, requiring at least two and often three kids to a bench seat by the end of the journey.
This wouldn’t be too much of a big deal, if you weren’t the fat kid. But of course, I was.
This made me a natural outlet on which the other kids could act out their newfound social power, and I spent nearly every morning of the seventh and eighth grades hearing about how profoundly fat and ugly I was. I kept thinking at some point my peers would just accept that I was fat and ugly, and that I had been made thoroughly aware of these irrefutable truths, and thus there was no longer a need to have it re-explained to me every day.
Apparently not. And in the lawless environment of the bus -- we didn’t have “bus monitors” back then, just a driver who would occasionally yell meaningless threats at us via the long mirror over her seat -- there was no protection to be had. I sucked it up. I dealt. I pretended not to hear. I got really good at pretending not to hear anything.
The stuff middle school kids say is a thousand times worse than the worst things I hear adults utter even in the darkest rage. Kids of that age seem to have a unique imagination for language and its ability to cause misery.
As a result, I was completely unsurprised by this newly viral video, showing the appalling harassment of a 68-year-old bus monitor in upstate New York. Her harrassers? Middle school students. This video is 10 solid minutes of the very worst evil kids can do, when they get the bit between their teeth.
I couldn’t even get through the whole thing, as curiously, so much of what is said (Example: “If I stabbed you in the stomach, my knife would fucking go through like butter, because it’s all fucking lard.”) was chillingly familiar.
The woman in question is elderly widow and grandmother of eight Karen Klein, a former bus driver who now makes $15,000 a year working as a bus monitor, her task to keep the kids on the bus in line. (On the up side, subsequent fundraising efforts have brought in $60,000 for Klein to spend on a richly deserved vacation.) People are enraged by this video evidence, and rightly so, and the school district has promised to discipline the children responsible. It is unacceptable for kids to feel comfortable harrassing an adult to this degree, no question.
But all I keep thinking about is all the kids who face similar torment every day, who probably won’t wind up on YouTube and who won’t get the attention they deserve, because while kids harrassing an adult is unthinkable, too often school officials shrug and assume that kids harrassing other kids is just normal. And it isn’t. It’s abhorrent and wrong.
And middle school kids really are the worst, ever.