How Childhood Bullying Affected Author Eric Kahn Gale
From third to fifth grade, I was insulted, shunned, and tormented by nearly every member of my class. How and why this behavior caught on, I’ll never know, but I was called Eric Gay, told I had a giant head, and relentlessly picked on for three years.
It is telling that when my fifth-grade teacher was absent for five successive Mondays and we had a substitute lead us through our weekly vocab word exercise, every kid in my class spelled their word, defined it, and then used it in a sentence to make fun of me.
The first one I remember was “I see Eric Gale’s big head over yonder field.” The last one, five weeks later, was “I will not mourn at Eric Gale’s funeral.” The substitute teachers did nothing to stop this. I believe I had internalized my bullying and come to accept that there was something essentially wrong with me that precluded normal relationships. I stopped talking in school and walked around all of recess with my hands in my pockets.
I was too embarrassed to tell my parents what was going on and convinced that they could do nothing to change my circumstances. I remember telling only one person about the troubles in my young life, my golden retriever, Pazi.
Then, miraculously, the summer before I started middle school, my family moved and was placed in a new school district. There was new life for me in middle school, I wasn’t Eric Gay anymore and no one thought to ritually abuse me. It was like receiving a pardon from hell.
With no one forcing the identity of class pariah on me, I was free to explore myself and discover my love for theater and creating stories. But the mystery of my elementary experience still baffled and embarrassed me. I told no one what I’d been through for fear of summoning up that terrible social structure again, instead I watched other omega kids get teased and tormented for seemingly no reason.
I still don’t know why children gang up on each other, and I don’t know how to stop it. Parents should absolutely be asking their kids as often as possible what their lives are like in school, and teachers should make it clear that bullying won’t be tolerated. But the real interactions that take place between children aren’t governed by adults, and the only real solution is inner strength.
I wrote my novel, “The Bully Book,” as an exploration of my past and the intractable problem of being young and surrounded by equally young children. The novel is organized as alternating journal entries from a bullying victim and pages from “The Bully Book,” a manual written by kids and passed down through the years that describes ways to climb the social ladder, including putting one kid, the Grunt, on the bottom. I organized the book in this way to add to the mystery of the novel and create a tension between the main character’s search for meaning in his experience and the cruel domination of the bully characters.
Whenever I receive positive mail from early readers, it delights me, but especially so when the reader themselves has had problems with bullying and writes me that the book has helped them in someway. I hope the reading experience can give them strength and the courage to share their story.
Because through all my searching, I believe that kids can only save themselves from bullying by knowing strongly who they are and what they love and allowing no one else to tell them otherwise.
It’s a lot to ask from our kids, but when you think about it, that’s the biggest part of growing up.