I suspect that the reason that the cafeteria at Centennial Junior High was so dimly lit was part of the energy-saving efforts that were so popular in the late nineteen-seventies. It gave me the feeling, at times, of being underwater. It's where I spent three years, waiting to come up for air. I've written before about my self-imposed torture of carrying a lunchbox for the entirety of my junior high career. A lunch box of my own careful design. It was the beacon that shined up out of that relative darkness to say, "I am unique. I am different."
I had no idea at the time just how hard life can be in junior high when you are different. Different in junior high is not good. It tends to get you noticed, and not in a good way. Part of me wanted to wear my specialness as a badge of honor. That part would be the spot on my shoulder that got nearly constant attention from the passing ruffians. Or maybe my ears that soaked in the taunting and verbal abuse. It made me want to shrink away, into a shadowy corner until it was time to return to the relative safety of the classroom.
Why didn't I tell anyone about my torment? These were the words that echoed in my head as I watched "Bully," the documentary that my wife correctly pointed out was mis-titled. It should have been called "Victim." I watched the kids in this movie and heard the grown-ups wondering the same thing about the ones who were subject to the same kinds of treatment I endured, and worse. Teachers and administrators who were well-intentioned but oblivious to the way kids treat each other. Especially the ones that are different.
It made me wish that I could lean in and tell each one of the subjects of the film, "It gets better. Life is not middle school. There are plenty of people out there waiting for a chance to be with you and share the world through your eyes. It won't always be this way." When I made it to high school and found a crew with whom I could hang, a band room where I could eat my lunch in peace, a group of friends, it got better. When I grew up and met people who thought it was cool that I carried a lunch box in junior high. It got better. I wish I would have known that when I was thirteen. Or maybe, somewhere I knew it, deep inside. And that's why I never bothered to tell anyone that I was being bullied. I knew it would get better. When I came up for air.