This article was first published in our April 2010 e-newsletter and now, three years later, continues to be one of the most popular pages on our site. We hope you find this powerful "Letter to a Bully" to be a useful resource in your work with kids.
In some of my education classes at Augustana College, I ask my students to "write a letter to a teacher or student that made such an impression but you never had a reason to write him or her before. Consider this your opportunity." One of my students submitted this powerful letter to a classmate that bullied her. It might be something that some of you may want to read to your students with follow-up conversation and discussion. ~ Steve Van Bockern
Letter to a Bully
I’m not sure that you remember me; it was for only a short time that we knew each other. But it was in that brief span of life that you had made my existence painful and nearly unendurable. My name is Audrey. In that land of preteen hierarchy called middle school, I was made the victim by your cruel words and actions.
It must take some sort of genius to do as you did; to turn away those I had been friends with, and those I would never know. To spread rumors with no foundations in reality; to plant their seeds and reap the withered fruits they produced. To tear me apart with a surgical precision that left me breathless and alone. But perhaps I grow too poetic in my nostalgia, too gracious in my words of praise. Your intelligence was no more than that of a pouting child with power; perfect skin and hair, the magic combination of popularity.
It had all started out when you moved to our school. You had sat alone at lunch, and I wanted to make you feel welcomed; like you belonged right here with all of us. Now, it feels like that was my first mistake - compassion. Had I never felt it, perhaps I would have never known you. My second mistake was a family vacation. In the one week I was gone, you had managed to turn my friends away from me. I realize I was not the most attractive girl in our grade. I suffered acne and greasy hair, glasses and of course the social-murder of braces. And it was tinder to the fire you started. I was a lesbian, you told them. A pervert, something less than human, and a slew of words that would make a sailor blush. For a middle schooler, such words are gold, though. Most of us didn’t even know the words, much less what they meant. And so, their violent connotations equated to hatred turned against me. It meant no one to sit with at lunch, no friends at recess, no partners on class projects - only laughing taunts and unsure, nervous stares. I was made a pariah, the leper of school, exiled to the fringes of social life.
I had never, nor have I since, been that depressed in my life. I was unable to focus on school work and instead buried myself in books, words far away from my own. I went to worlds that kept me from crying, from feeling lonely. As long as I was surrounded by words, I didn’t need anything else. I hardly ate during this time, and so more fodder was added to the abuse. I had hit a growth spurt, and weighed about 100 pounds. Of course I looked awkward and felt worse than that; I was hitting puberty less gracefully than most, and suffering for it. My temperament became volatile and angry towards family. They couldn’t help me, and I couldn’t tell them what was happening. I was too embarrassed. Finally, a teacher took notice of my depression, and with my parents, confronted me. And all I could do was cry. I was so relieved that someone knew that things were going to change. I didn’t need to be afraid of going to school every day.
Most likely, you will never know the pain you caused me, KC. I can’t help but believe that anyone with that sort of knowledge would even start that sort of harassment. But then, I am often wrong. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable around people again. I still feel as if, at any time, strangers could twist my words into something monstrous. I now tend to come off as cold and stand-offish, and up until about four years ago, making friends was a difficult process.
I am older now, and a little wiser. I can take care of myself these days, and surround myself with people who care about me. I understand that humans are capable of major and absolute destruction. But they are also capable of wonderful miracles; of kindness and moments of profound beauty. I understand that now. I know that in each person is some sort of goodness.
I see how miserable people are when they put others down. There is no real joy in their actions, only more pain; they were torturing that flame of good nature, dousing it in water and drowning. I think that might have been you, KC. You were lonely and hurting. So you wanted someone to comprehend that pain. And I did. And I feel sorry for you. No one should ever have to experience those feelings.
I still may have difficulties forgiving you, but strangely, you have truly given me a great gift - the capacity for empathy. I hope that you some day can feel the same way and finally love and respect yourself.