The Early Years (Grade 3-5)
I was mostly off by myself for my early years of school. I probably could have skipped a grade ahead academically, but I was already young for my grade, and I was not socially ready to be bumped, even though I was always considered to be "mature". For most of my primary years, I isolated myself and was happy enough being with my own company, and I remember actually using books and easels to physically separate myself from my classmates in Grade 3; of course, I am now incredulous that the teacher allowed me to do so, and it is no surprise that we collectively sent her to a nervous breakdown by mid-November (poor Mrs. Murdock - or Mrs. "Murder-on-the-dock", as we so "eloquently" mocked her). I made it through that year (along with my admittedly terrible class), as well as the following year of Grade 4, in which I still just mostly kept to myself. But things started to change when I was nine-and-a-half years old.
As I entered Grade 5, I was placed in a program called "Actal" for "academically talented" students (arguably the worst name for such a program ever); it was located in the same building, but I was grouped with 29 other new students who were finally going to be at my academic level - or so I thought. It soon became clear that I was still at the top of this exceptional group academically, even though socially I was not aware or adept at all. I did not make friends with most of my new classmates in Grade 5; I did, however, make two really good friends, so I was happy enough. By the time the end of the year hit, the social pecking order was well-established, and me and my crewmates (we were really into Star Trek: The Next Generation, which tells you something of our social acumen) were having enough fun playing by ourselves.
Something changed the next year in Grade 6, and I don't know what it was to this day. Maybe it was just the onset of puberty, or the developmental need for acceptance from peers changing the social dynamics, or just that we had gotten used to our group and the social roles were set, but whatever it was, it wasn't good. There were fourteen or fifteen boys in the class, and there were about eight of them who were "in" as friends, leaving the other half-dozen of us to scramble for acceptance, often putting the others down to climb higher in the social strata. It probably would have worked for us just to become friends, but we kept putting each other down in hopes of climbing. It was a miserable couple of years for me socially, as I did not have friends at school; for some reason, I had turned my back on my Grade 5 friends at school, even though we were still friends on our own time.
I was not really happy with this whole situation, which is probably why I started intellectually bullying my classmates. I was an imperious ass most of the time, correcting people's spelling and not playing sports on principle (I'm not sure which one) and generally being unbearable to others. It didn't help that I had a nasty temper, and that my classmates were able to provoke me into bellowing at them, flipping desks, and even a jump kicking fit that left the others in hysterics. I think that I lashed out even more because I was pushed myself, even if it was mostly my own doing. Of course, I was also cagey enough not to act out when the teacher was in the room, so I mostly got away with it. I remember one incident in particular in which I hit another kid across the forehead with one of those yellow library chairs that had the front and back feet connected by a metal rod on each side; the teacher walked in within minutes, and I think everyone was so stunned (my victim included) that no one said a word, and I never got in trouble for it. Of course, I cannot fathom now having those kinds of situations occur in a classroom, or what I would do with a kid like I was who is too clever for his own good.
But school was not the only place in which I was a bully. Starting in the summer between Grade 5 and Grade 6, I started going to AWANA Scholarship Camp, which is just as nerdy as it sounds: a program for kids who completed their memory books in the AWANA program during the year. It took all of ten minutes for me to earn the moniker "Professor", but it took a couple of years before I was able to fully realize my place at the top of the social pyramid; not only did I have good friends at camp, but somehow, I was the centre of the social world there. And believe me, I recognize the ridiculous nature of a camp in which I could be socially embraced as a brainiac; for those middle years, that became part of my identity and part of what I liked about myself, to the point that my default name for video games was "Prof". I lived for that one week in the summer when I was king, and I now realize what I had to do to keep my throne, whether it was on purpose or just in not needing to care about the "little" people.
There were kids that I was downright mean to: fat kids we called "blimp" and another kid we called "Roberto" because of his Blue Jays hat who we provoked to mudslinging (the actual kind, not the overused political metaphor). I was in my element, but I can only imagine that there were several other kids who grew to dislike camp because of my antics. They mellowed out by my last year or two at camp (which, not coincidentally, occurred around the same time I matured in my school life after Grade 10), but I cringe at the way I acted when I had popularity and power for that one week each summer. I realize that I'm probably overexaggerating and only remembering the negative aspects, and that I was probably also really nice to some kids, but I still can't shake the feeling that there are a few people out there who were miserable because of me.
Into High School
I made a change in Grade 8. I don't remember exactly what prompted it, but I decided to start playing sports and to stop spazzing out and to be a nicer person. Lo and behold, I gained social capital. I didn't have friends, exactly, but I was included more socially at school, and I wasn't miserable. Over the next couple of years, as I transitioned into high school in Grade 9, I made friends, including with classmates who had previously shunned me. But I still wasn't exactly happy, and I still had a temper sometimes. I'm still a little ashamed of some of the ways that I treated schoolmates in Grade 8 to 10 - particularly a couple of my female classmates and one guy who I enthusiastically proclaimed should be listed as "most likely to be gay" in our Grade 8 graduation (with no acknowledgement that this was inappropriate). It took a couple of years for me to work this toxicity out of my system, but I feel like I was mostly able to do so by the time I was halfway through Grade 10.
I started to really grow into my own person at age fifteen, and I wasn't mean or bullying to anyone, at least on purpose. I still had some personal conflicts with my classmates - particularly females - but I wasn't a bully in the same way anymore. I think the change came largely because I got to be more confident in myself, I made some meaningful friends, and I got involved positively at school. I mostly stayed out of the popular scene and just did my own thing, so I didn't have the opportunity to be a part of the social divisions of high school; I mostly just worked around them and intersected with people of all groups as a "neutral" party with the school paper. I actually loved my years of high school - the only one in my family who can make that claim - and I flourished for those last couple of years with no need to belittle others because I finally liked myself and found ways to feel valued.
I'll be honest that most of the ways that I did bully were subtle or barely noticeable, and maybe I am the only one who continues to notice my particular offenses, but I bet that most of us have something like this in our pasts. Part of this post was inspired by an old friend whom I have known for over two decades, as we went to school together from Grade 5 through 12. He sent me a message yesterday apologizing for the way he treated me for years and trying to reconnect after not talking for probably a decade or so. I really appreciated his message, because I have sent out that message to others in the past, and he indirectly inspired me to finally admit my wrongs and to officially apologize publicly.
So this is my apology, to all those who I have hurt over the years: I am sorry for being a bully and for hurting you and making you feel lesser so that I could feel good about myself. I hope that if there is any lingering hurt or resentment that you can forgive me. And I forgive my bullies, like JL (who may still be in prison), and I hope that you feel that forgiveness somehow. If you are someone that I hurt as a bully, I would love to have a conversation with you sometime to work things out.
It feels really good to have shared this now after two years of having it linger below the surface. I feel a lot lighter, and I think that Pink Shirt Day may no longer bring those same feelings of shame and guilt. As you may be able to tell, even now, I am still sensitive about having been a bully. Any time someone accuses me of being too aggressive or of being too insensitive, it hits me hard because I know what it's like to be that person, and I don't ever want to be like that again. So if you are someone who right now is feeling hurt because of my words or actions, I am sorry. I can only hope that you can find it in yourself to make yourself vulnerable with me and that we can talk sometime. Thanks for listening to my confession.