The second day I rode the school bus…I was bullied. The first day, I fell asleep, they didn’t see me and I missed my stop.
This entire story is true and it happened to me when I was in the third grade. I was absolutely terrified of the school bus and never had a desire to ride it, but with the inconsistency in our lives at that time, I had to. My grandmother was dying and my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four cancer and now I had to ride the bus? Safe to say my world was crashing down on me.
In preschool we took a “Field trip” of the school bus or what I should say is that my classmates took a field trip of the school bus. I had a snack in our classroom under a kidney shaped table with another friend who also opted out of the field trip.
The second day I rode the bus, all of the seats in the front were taken, so off to the back I went! The only available seat was with a kindergartener who was absolutely adorable. His brother was one year older than me and just moved to the upper elementary. Taking on kinder alone, he was also taking on a bus bully on a daily basis and too afraid to speak up to tell someone.
As expected, the bully made their way to the back of the bus and to our seat. At the time, I didn’t see what was coming and the girl tried to push me out of the way to get to the little boy. I could tell how afraid he was. She was my age and in my class. I kindly asked her to leave him alone and relentlessly she fought to make her way to him.
She gave me a few scratches on my arm with her long nails, but I wasn’t afraid of her, I was just very confused why she chose him.
The bus was OUT of control. Honestly, our bus driver could truly care less. He had headphones in his ears and totally zoned out the moment he got off of school property.
In my opinion he created this problem. From the first day those kids got on the bus, they knew they were in control and could get away with anything- including causing physical harm to other kids.
I asked Elizabeth (we will call the bully Elizabeth) what she was going to do to the little boy and she replied with, “You’ll see.” Bravely, I mustered up the courage and told her to do whatever she had to do to me rather than him. I was eight years old, unafraid and felt like I had to put an end to this. If I had to ride the damn school bus, I wasn’t going to ride it like this.
For the first time in my life, I took a slap to the cheek. Elizabeth slapped me square across the face and I sat in my seat stunned in disbelief.
With tears welling in my eyes, Elizabeth lifted her hand again and I firmly grabbed her wrist before she could strike me again, I said, “You will never hit me again, got it?” The heat rose in Elizabeth’s face and I could see the anger building in her, but she was confused. Did no one ever stand up to her before?
I learned something from Elizabeth that day. Actually, I think about that day often and have talked about it more often than you can imagine.
Elizabeth grew up in a home where violence was tolerated. Passing another person a slap came so EASY to her and she did it without batting an eye. It was clear she had seen this action before. Elizabeth was also malnourished. I had just gone through a growths spurt and was double her size…I could have poked her and she would have fallen back.
Reality, I was the privileged child and the truth Is I thought I was too good for the bus and I see the privilege now that I am older. I was brought to school and picked up every day in parent pickup line, something Elizabeth likely never experienced. As I grew older, I watched Elizabeth come in and out of school. She was constantly moving, getting in trouble and took on worst habits as she got older.
We all know an Elizabeth. We all went to school with an Elizabeth who was a product of her environment.
I’m sure you are all wondering how my experience on the bus ended that day. Well, the little kindergartener had never been more relieved that he got a day off from his daily slap (or worst).
When I got off the bus, my entire family was waiting for me. The moment I saw all of them, I began to cry and told them what happened. We made our way back to my house and I explained the story to them. Moments after I finished telling the story, my mom called the school to report what had happened and my dad took me outside and taught me how to give a proper punch (his stomach was my punching bag).
The next day, I was prepared to defend myself to Elizabeth if she came for us again. When I got on the bus, Elizabeth was sitting alone and appeared to be crying. I asked her if the seat next to her was taken and she told me no, so I sat with her. After-all, we were in the same class and we sat a few desks away from one another.
In typical Jessica fashion, I asked her why she hits people and she shrugged her shoulders unable to answer. I asked her if she hurt the little boy every day and she said yes. I asked her why.
The next words she spoke to me have stuck with me for over 20 years. She told me she was hit everyday when she got home from school and she showed me the marks on her body. I told her how sorry I was and I asked her if it hurt when she was hit. She told me that it did. I told her, “Don’t you think it hurts Collin when you hit him?”
She agreed. I asked her if she would continue being my bus buddy for the rest of the year and she did. We never spoke of the incident again.
I know this story sounds very “And the bully was never heard from again,” but for the rest of my time on bus 79, Elizabeth never left our seat. She never raised a hand to another kid, including me.
I gave her the window (that way I knew she wasn’t able to get out of the seat and hurt anyone). We talked about things typical third graders do for the rest of the year and Collin, the little kindergartener, often napped in the last row.
I often wonder where Elizabeth is now in life. I actually came across her on social media recently and these memories rushed back to my mind.
What I learned from my bus bully was that she wasn’t a bully at all. She was an eight year old girl in a home where she was a victim of domestic violence. She also witnessed domestic violence on a daily basis and her way of coping was lashing out at a kid who went home to a white picket fence and parents who waited for her at the bus stop.
Elizabeth was envious of the kindergartener’s life and mine and the only way she knew how to express her anger was through violence because when violence is the only emotion you experience..what else is there to know?
If I grew up in a house where Spanish was the only language that was spoken, how am I expected to know Portuguese? Violence was Elizabeth’s language so how was she expected to communicate kindness? How was she expected to communicate kindness to the kids who were living the life she wish she had.
The lesson I learned that day? Befriend the bully. Befriend the Elizabeth.