Part I: The Recollection
Kids can be cruel.
My middle school experience was nothing short of a nightmare, plagued by relentless bullying.
Leaving that chapter of my life behind brought an immense sense of relief. It wasn’t the excitement of starting high school; it was the sweet relief of escaping a school that stripped away my confidence and dignity year after year.
If someone were to ask me what made it so unbearable, I wouldn’t be able to recall most of the details. All I remember is the immense relief of getting away and my bitterness toward that school.
Though the precise details of the countless incidents that fueled my resentment elude me, fragments of memories resurface:
At eight, I was subjected to a teacher who seemed to revel in belittling her students. Every move I made was met with harsh criticism, leaving me feeling perpetually inadequate. To make matters worse, she derived pleasure from inflicting pain, even going as far as pulling our hair.
How did such a callous educator find a place in that school?
Back then, tears came all too easily, making me an easy target for the label “crybaby.” I vaguely recall a moment in sixth or perhaps seventh grade when I stumbled upon a classmate’s slam book and read the word crybaby written across my page.
I can’t recall how I felt then, but it must have hurt.
One day, while standing in line for the bus, I found myself at the receiving end of a harsh comment from a junior. With a smug expression, they remarked, “Aren’t you too old to be carrying a princess bag?”
It seemed like even the most trivial things I did or had invited mockery.
Whenever I dared to play with paper dolls or own anything pink, it became an open invitation for ridicule. I can still recall the smirking face of a particular girl who relished taunting me as if the dolls and color themselves were symbols of weakness. Both were deemed girly and juvenile, a characteristic they were too eager to exploit.
Today, I know logically that pink is just one of the many colors, but I still tend to avoid anything of that shade.
Two classmates locked me out of the classroom after the lunch bell rang. I frantically tried to open the door, panic rising within me. I was a stickler for rules and dreaded the consequences of being caught in such a situation. To my dismay, the sternest teacher stumbled upon the scene. His booming voice reverberated as he berated me before the entire class. I cried and cried, my tears a testament to the weight of humiliation.
Looking back, that might have been the beginning of my crying days.
In sixth grade, a pair of classmates seized one of my shoes and sprinted away. I clumsily chased after them, hopping on one foot in pursuit. When I finally caught up and retrieved my shoe, a physical confrontation ensued, leaving me in tears again. What made it all the more unbearable was that we ended up right in front of my younger brother’s classroom. My brother, barely eight years old, watched awkwardly. I was mortified and embarrassed to have made a scene before his classmates.
I had transformed from an older sister to a bawling spectacle in that instant.
During seventh grade, I had a falling out with my closest friend. We had been classmates, neighbors, and inseparable friends — or so I thought. She made fun of my brother one lunchtime, to which I took offense. I chased her around the classroom in a rage while she laughed like a maniac.
After that incident, we stopped talking altogether.
In sixth grade, a duo of mean-spirited girls took delight in spewing hurtful words about everyone. Curiously, the specifics of their torment toward me escape my memory. What endured is the seething hatred I harbored, to the point that I once confessed to my high school best friend that if I ever crossed paths with them again, I would gladly confront them and resort to violence. I can’t recall the reasons behind my fury, but I remember the burning hatred and the unwavering certainty that I’d confront them if I ever saw them around.
Thankfully, I never had to.
A group of classmates incessantly linked my name with that of an older student, teasing me without reason. It didn’t matter that I had no connection to that student or any interest in their antics. One particular classmate always saw fit to call out my name whenever she was in the presence of the “popular” guys. Looking back, I can now make sense of the underlying motives behind her actions, although it hardly justifies her behavior.
At the time, however, to the me who was desperately seeking reasons, it simply made no sense and was a nuisance.
Why was I the target? Was it because I appeared weak? Perhaps that was it. Convinced, I resolved to change upon leaving for high school. I told myself I would never shed another tear, for I was stronger than that. And so, I became incapable of crying, not only within the confines of school but even when alone at home.
On the rare instances when tears did well up, I berated myself mercilessly.
These are just fragments of the memories I have and barely scratch the surface of what unfolded within those school walls. I nurtured a deep loathing for that institution for years, carrying my resentment into high school and beyond.
Though more than a decade has passed since I walked away from that place, and my recollections have grown faint, a part of me remains trapped within those walls — a version of myself consumed by disgust and self-loathing with every tear shed and every pink I avoid.
It’s a version of myself that hides behind a wall, afraid to let others see my vulnerability.
Even though I never perceive others who shed tears or wear pink as weak, I can’t extend the same kindness to myself.
While the crybaby no longer cries, the crybaby remains.
Part II here