Trigger Warning: bullying, sibling bullying, victim blaming, sexual harassment, assault, etc.
By the time we hit middle school, any semblance of “normal” sibling rivalry had long since passed. Avoiding conflicts with my sister dominated my day.
I’d have to wake up early, sneak into the bathroom before my sister woke (since the moment she woke, she’d monopolize it or throw a tantrum if I was in it when she wanted to be until my parents threatened to haul me out mid-shower just to shut her up, even if I’d only been in for ten minutes) to shower. If you’re wondering why I never showered at night, thank my parents for that – showering was a morning-only thing by their nonsensical rules. Then I’d wait with my bedroom light off until she was in the shower before I got changed, hoping she’d think I was still asleep and that she would be content with “just” monopolizing the bathroom all morning then spreading it around school that I was dirty and didn’t shower. If I made the mistake of trying to change before she started her shower, she’d see my bedroom light was on and throw the door open so she could humiliate me in a state of undress.
You may ask why I didn’t get changed in the bathroom. The answer to that is that, thanks to my coordination problems, it would’ve required getting up an extra half hour early, and I was already getting up at 5AM to get a shower before her. Since she wouldn’t let me sleep until 10PM, getting up any earlier would’ve meant even more sleep deprivation, which I have never tolerated well. As for why I never told my parents about this, see the part of the previous post in this series re: punishment for being the victim. Also, my parents refused to give me the ability to lock my door, refused to respect my privacy (they would barge into my room at any hour without so much as a knock and then yell at me as if it was my fault when they found me changing), and routinely humiliated me in public for their own enjoyment (I’m not talking “give me a hug, teenager who doesn’t want to be seen with me,” I’m talking “loudly relay in graphic detail stories of me getting horrendously ill to anyone who would listen as retaliation for who-the-hell-knows-what” and “Threaten to strip me and spank me loudly in public well into my teen years on the rare occasions I stood up for myself at all”). I didn’t exactly feel confident that they were my allies in the fight for dignity and privacy.
In addition to the bullying I was receiving at home, my bullying at school was worsening during this time, too, and given the way my sister and the school bullies played into each other, I can’t talk about one without talking about the other. A kid at school, one of the popular crowd “befriended” me so that she could steal my diary and read it to the class. My sister, for her part, told this kid that I kept a diary and where I kept it. I’d been a regular journaler until then, but I stopped thereafter because I didn’t feel safe that my diary wouldn’t be stolen.
Shortly thereafter, another kid “befriended” me, and my parents started noticing expensive stuff missing whenever she came over to visit. My parents eventually caught her red-handed stealing something from us, and that was the end of that. My sister, for her part, painted the kid stealing stuff from them as if I was complicit and ensured I got punished for essentially not having the social skills to realize my “friend” was a thief. This was also when my parents started to view me as a liar: given my rage at a false accusation vs my sister’s charm and charisma, most adults sided with my sister’s charm and charisma. We couldn’t both be telling the truth in such a situation, so they assumed I was lying and my rage was just me putting on a show of innocence.
A third situation that happened was that a high school boy started sexually harassing and groping me on the schoolbus. The school refused to do anything except punish me for being a “tattletale” when I complained until a teacher hitched a ride on the bus to her place when her car was broken one day. She saw him harassing me and the school bus driver ignoring it and raised hell to the school over it. He was banned from the bus for a year.
My sister, who rode the same bus as me, tried to paint it as if I was leading the older kid on, but since the teacher made it very clear I told him to leave me alone repeatedly, she didn’t manage to get me in trouble for that. My parents did, however, lecture me about the importance of coming to them for stuff like that, which given their past conduct and my experiences with adults in general just came off to me as so much bullshit. From my point of view, they wanted to feel as if I could trust them with anything, without actually putting in the effort of making sure they were in fact that trustworthy. By this point, I viewed my parents as beings fundamentally uninterested in my welfare, who only cared about how good or bad I was making them look (since a lot of their lectures focused on reputation and appearances – I wasn’t supposed to “look like an [ableist slur]” or be embarrassing or what have you).
Kids on the bus retaliated by beating me up every day and his cousins at my school likewise would hit me, slam my head in a locker or otherwise hurt me whenever they passed me in the hall, as if it was my fault he’d been harassing and growing me. Even when the bullying happened right in front of a teacher looking right at me, the school did nothing, and the one time I complained about that, I was threatened with a suspension for “fighting” because having my head slammed in a locker and having other students pummel me as I lay dazed on the ground was fighting, apparently.
Being the at-face-value person I am, I entertained the notion that my parents were sincere about coming to them when people were hurting me, so I told them about the bullying. They responded by lecturing me about how to be less weird, how to fit in better, and that I should fight back and defend myself physically. I was still very small for my age at this point, and the other kids usually outnumbered me 5 to 1 or more, but my father responded to me pointing that out by telling me to quit making excuses and that I shouldn’t “let” anyone bully me.
That year, I started refusing to take the bus and instead walked the six kilometers to and from school. I spun it to my parents as wanting more exercise, since they were berating me for being overweight. This had the added benefit, for me, of getting me away from my sister for two hours a day. I would never ride the bus again. Nor, for that matter, would I ever tell an adult about anything bad going on in my life after that year. I’d received the message loud and clear: I was on my own, and I’d better make damn sure nothing came back to them in a way that they felt it would make them look bad.
The second resolution would come back to bite me in high school.