I received this story from Linda, a woman who wanted to share her story of being invited back for a reunion at her school where the memories of being bullied haunt her years later. She brings up a great topic of the school reunion and how it feels to get notification to go to a place where you know many of the people you might see were the same ones that taunted and bullied you as a kid. My 25th High School reunion was recently held. I did not think about this, but do recall how many of the people there wouldn’t even have known me. Now I can see them chatting on FaceBook in the High School group area, but I rarely if ever engage them. I had my group and the ones who go to the reunion for the most part were not the group that I hung out with. Linda chose to respond to the school, letting them know that she wouldn’t attend and why. The school responded back and Linda wanted to share both of these correspondence, which you can read below. Did you not go to your reunion for the same reasons? Did you go just to show everyone what you have become? I’m curious to see how you would respond to this. Names of school and school officials are withheld to respect their privacy. I’m interested and I’m sure Linda is also interested in how you feel about this as well. ~Alan Eisenberg
The School Reunion
Dear Mr. (name withheld):
I graduated from (name of school withheld) Academy in the Class of 1968. When I returned home last evening, there was a message on my answering machine regarding an event on October 12 headlined by (name withheld) family members. The message came from a member of your Board of Trustees requesting a response. I do not express myself well in the spoken word, so I resort here to the written word to explain my response.
So here is my response: The six years I spent at (name of school withheld) Academy (1962-1968) were by far and away the worst years of my life. Many things weren’t spoken about in public in those days, including what happened to the Jews of Europe between 1933 and 1945 (we didn’t even coin the word “Holocaust” to describe those events until later than 1968). My parents came to the US in 1940 having escaped Nazi-occupied France with nothing but the clothes on their back. They were trained physicians in Europe and had to recertify themselves to practice here in the US. Three generations grew up together in our home. My world at home, a completely French-speaking world, and the world outside, were so different that the culture shock when I began at (name of school withheld) Academy in 1962 was more than any 12-year old should have to bear. Prior to that time, I had gone to a private elementary school in Queens which had many children in it like me. My parents believed that the best way to a future in this country was through a good education. They didn’t have a lot of money, but saved every penny so that we could get what they believed would be a superior education to what was offered in NYC public schools. We resided in Queens, my brother (10 years older than me and born on the ship my parents took to the US as refugees) attended a private school in Jackson Heights. By the time I was ready to go to school, that school no longer existed. So they found (name of school withheld) Academy. I began at the age of 12. I was taunted every day and bullied, not physically, but emotionally. What I remember most was being asked by the girls where I got my clothes and how much they cost. Since they were all hand-me-downs from older cousins and they never fit very well, I was the source of a great deal of ridicule. I was teased relentlessly. When I complained to the Middle School Head, I was told that was part of growing up and I should deal with it. By the time I was in the 9th grade I really wanted to get out of there so badly that I wilfully cheated on an English assignment hoping I would be expelled. Little did I understand at the time that a private school wants and needs money above all else to survive and that was the last thing they were about to do. My father, having talked his way out of a Nazi POW camp, was one tough guy and certainly wasn’t about to have his children influence his decisions. He wouldn’t allow me to leave. So I stayed. About a year later, the one history teacher I really adored (from middle school) had twins and, within a year of their birth, committed suicide, no doubt from post-partum depression. I realized she wanted out, too and I hoped that I would see her soon in the next world. My best memory at school was the death of JFK, because we got to stay home for AN ENTIRE WEEK and I escaped the bullying for that much time.
By the spring of 1968, the country was imploding and my brain was imploding as well. In April, after the RFK and MLK assasinations, I went into every medicine chest in our house (full of good stuff) and took everyting I could find. I woke up in the recovery room at Long Island Jewish Hospital, with the chief of psychiatry caring for me.
Boys who are bullying victims often turn to violence against others. Every day of my life I feel for the boys who perpetrated the Columbine violence. I know their pain. I know what they did is horrendous, but I also understand them very well. Girls (and, as we well know now, gay boys) who are bullying victims turn inward and either attempt or succeed at suicide. I never went back to school at (name of school withheld) , but I received my diploma nonetheless. I spent most of that summer in upstate NY at a wonderful place for troubled teens taking care of farm animals. In the fall I began school at (name of school withheld) College. Then began the best four years of my life. The contrast with high school was overwhelming. At (name of school withheld) I found plenty of girls just like me; I no longer thought I was weird. For certain, I continued my mental health care and the school was quite aware and watchful. But after (name of school withheld), I resolved two very important things for my future: one was never, ever, ever to live in a suburb and the second was never, ever, ever to have children. I love children and it breaks my heart to know how painful childhood can be.
I have lasting scars of my pain from (name of school withheld). While I speak five languages fluentlly and have a masters degree in international affairs, I was never able to get through a professional job interview successfully. Adolescence is the time kids learn to deal with their peers and how to interact in society. I never learned that. I learned to stay away from EVERYONE, except for my family. I never married until I was 39; and that only because I had a subscription to a concert series at Carnegie Hall and the person next to me slowly, slowly, very slowly began to invite me for a drink after the concert. He himself was an immigrant to this country, an Iraqi Jew, and we finally married. He was willing to honor my desire not to have children.
For the past 15 years, I have worked at one of New York’s most prominent law firms, as a researcher and admisitrative assistant, hardly reaching my full potential, but leaving me in a very pleasant environment with plenty of smart people on a daily basis.
So, after reading this, why would I ever attend an event sponsored by you? I assume that since a member of your Board of Trustees called, this must be a shakedown for cash. I will never forget my father screaming at the top of his lungs to Mr. (name withheld), the President of the Board of Trustees while I was a student, refusing to donate money to the building fund. It really was a shakedown and my father was having none of it.
I am a very active alumna of (name of school withheld). I have even endowed a scholarship in my name and my aunt’s (she attended (name of school withheld) after getting off the boat) for an immigrant or child of immigrants. You lost out as an institution from my largesse, but you certainly don’t deserve my money from me.
I am sorry to have to write you all of this, but I thought someone ought to know. I am impressed, after seeing your website, that you refer to an article on bullying. I hope you take this problem more seriously today. I also hope you try and have a diverse student body (by that I don’t mean one kid from Africa on an AFS semester abroad). There was no diversity at that place in the 1960s; it was a bunch of snobbish, superficial, naïve, nouveau-riche Jewish kids who had no concept of the real world. That’s not a place where any kid should be educated.
I wish you luck in finding funds from others, but you are wasting your time and energy with me; it wouldn’t even be financially worth it for me to show up, have a drink and eat the hors-d’oevres. I don’t do that sort of thing anyhow; even today I purposely avoid places where I have to interact with people I don’t know.
Respectfully yours, Linda
THE RESPONSE FROM THE SCHOOL TO THE ABOVE LETTER FROM LINDA FOLLOWS BELOW
Thank you for your e-mail.
I expect never to hear from you again, and so will take this opportunity to congratulate on your work with (name of school withheld)–an endowed scholarship is truly a wonderful gift (the average Academy student today receives 20% scholarship/financial aid).
I ask only that you watch the brief video I will produce next week and show at our October 12th event, a copy of which I would like to mail to you at (address withheld). I recommend watching it on “mute” (you need pay little attention to the words) so that you may more easily see that this is not the Academy of “one kid from Africa on an AFS semester abroad.”
I believe this may offer you some peace.
I wish you a very happy New Year, and an easy fast.