What does it take to be the first to speak up when bullying happens. It is hard to do and to stand up and be the first. Kat takes a moment to thank someone who did this and for that I think we should all say thank you to those that stand up to bullies first. ~Alan Eisenberg
Thank You, Karina
Even after all these years, I still remember the afternoon Karina spoke up. We were all already seventeen then; most of us were bored in our classes and everyone was counting down the days till graduation and college. I was counting down to these, as well as my liberation from years of being bullied, taunted, and just made to feel miserable five days a week. My good friends were pretty much in the same boat; we just wanted out of an all-girls school that, despite having an impeccable academic reputation, had some way to go when it came to being vigilant about how the students could be inordinately cruel to each other.
For some reason, the discussion that period somehow turned to the topic of discrimination based on whatever reasons. In the middle of it all, I heard Karina say from her seat in the middle of the room, “Admit it you guys, you discriminate people based on economics, you discriminate against those who have less.”
Finally, someone had broken the code of silence, all on her own.
There were so many reasons for one to be bullied at my school: having weird interests, refusing to conform with the popular lifestyle, not being physically attractive, having too many boyfriends, having no boyfriends, not keeping up with the latest fashions, choosing to hang out with the misfits of the batch, or simply not being rich enough. My friends and I fit more than one of these categories, but one of the things we had in common was that we’d come from humble beginnings; we did not have any ‘old money’ or political clout that would impress the other girls and intimidate some of the teachers. We weren’t exactly the struggling poor; we could afford to pay the tuition fee, but we weren’t rich enough to keep going to parties, to brag of holidays abroad, or flaunt the latest dresses and gadgets. Our pleasures were simpler: drawing, watching anime and movies, afternoons playing trivia games at an arcade, and in my case I had my volunteer work. For some reason a number of the popular girls thought that there was something wrong with that, and they were pretty cruel in letting us know about it.
There were some though who made the difference, and Karina was one of them. No, she was not beyond reproach, but she did her best to be kind when a lot of people would either just gawk or join in the nastiness. I used to chafe at her, wondering how she could still be friends with my tormentors. I always wondered why she couldn’t just tell them to stop what they were doing. Perhaps I was hurting too much to notice that beyond the pain that just a select few people were intent on inflicting on me, there were more girls who wanted to look out for me, who would help me out if I just asked. Perhaps in her own way, she was also trying to deal with that silence, that unspoken ban that prevented us from confiding in the guidance counselor, our teachers, or own parents. That was all before that afternoon, when everyone had to just shut up and listen.
Of course some people didn’t pay attention. A few just gave her looks of quiet relief. The majority sat in stunned silence. But I believe that was the beginning of some of us beginning to think. For me, it was the beginning of gratefulness.
Eventually the years would prove who was really friends with who. We all graduated from that high school and went our own ways. Many of us kept in touch, first with everybody, then more selectively. Some of us still snubbed each other, a few still fled, but I’m sure we all remembered. As for Karina, I didn’t run into her or her friends till nearly four years later. By this time I was applying to medical school. While wandering on a strange campus, looking for the admissions office, I caught sight of three young women resting after a game of soccer. One of them called my name; I realized it was an old neighbor of mine, along with a former classmate, and Karina.
After a little small talk, during which I mentioned that I was applying to that campus, Karina held out her phone. “Hey, if you get lost, you can just call me. I can help you.”
I was dumbfounded. Was this really the same girl who’d spoken up after standing in silence all these years? Or maybe she was just standing all along, waiting to help?
I told her ‘thank you’, saved her number, and went on my way. To this day I’m grateful.