Natalia walks into the building as she does once every week for the last several months. The security guard on the corner waves as usual, and as usual, Natalia says nothing, just nods slightly. The hallway looks like a maze; you can easily make one wrong turn and be disoriented and confused. Natalia doesn’t mind it. It reminds her of her life. But she knows this building all too well to get lost. She gets to the door on the fourth floor, the fifth to the right and enters, and takes a seat in her usual chair. The lady at the front desk, Maureen notifies Dr. Grove that her patient has come and is waiting. Minutes later Dr. Grove, a tall brunette in her mid-forties, walked out of her office.
“Hi Natalia, are you ready?” she asks, nodding to her office right behind her.
Natalia nods and follows Dr. Grove into the office and takes a seat on the red loveseat with her hands in her lap and focuses on a spot on the wall behind Dr. Grove’s seat.
Dr. Grove sits down and pulls out her notebook of all her notes on her and Natalia’s discussions from the last several months. She’s hoping to have a breakthrough this session, she needs to get through to her and get to the root of her troubles.
“Hi Natalia, how are you today?” Dr. Grove asks, as she always does.
“Fine,” Natalia says quietly. Surprisingly, this is progress for Dr. Grove. When Natalia first starting coming she wouldn’t even say that much.
“Why don’t we start where we left off last week,” Dr. Grove says, referring to what she was talking about with her and what Natalia didn’t contribute to. “When you were in elementary school how were you treated by your peers?”
Natalia fidgets a little in her seat; she makes a little eye contact with Dr. Grove but not much more.
“How about this, if it was good nod, if it was bad don’t do anything,” Dr. Grove suggests hoping for a response. She knows that Natalia will speak eventually; she just needs to realize that talking about how she feels will free her from the silence. “So Natalia, how were you treated by your peers in elementary school?”
Natalia pauses but sure enough, she nods. That’s something. Dr. Grove writes in her notebook.
“Nod for yes, nothing for no. So would you say things went downhill when you got into middle school?” Dr. Grove asks.
Natalia pauses once again, but then nods. Another note in the notebook, this time giving her more of a lead.
“So people were giving you a hard time once you got into middle school?” Dr. Grove asks.
Natalia nods right away this time. Dr. Grove realizes this could be what she sees all of the time, bullied children can suffer for a long time after they’ve been bullied or are still being bullied, especially if the problem hasn’t been solved or nothing was done about it.
“Natalia, is it a specific group of people who gave you a hard time?” Dr. Grove questions.
“How do they give you a hard time Natalia?” Dr. Grove tries to ask a question that involved more than a yes or no. She knows probably won’t get an answer, but she can’t get anywhere with Natalia if she doesn’t get her to speak.
Natalia won’t say anything; she just glances at her watch, slowly gets up and leaves. The session hasn’t reached the end yet; she tends to leave early if she doesn’t want to go any further.
The next week Dr. Grove recruited her past patients who agreed to come and had them in the room when Natalia entered. She certainly didn’t expect four other people a few years older than her to be gathered in her time slot with Dr. Grove, her face showed her confusion. Natalia nearly turned around and left but Dr. Grove summoned her in and asked her to take a seat before she could.
“Natalia, I want you to meet some girls I have worked with before, this is Anna,Bethany, Nora andAlexandria. They all came to me when they had trouble with kids in their school giving them a hard time and they want to share with you their stories,” Dr. Grove explains. Dr. Grove waits for Natalia’s nod and when she does she gives Anna the floor.
“Hi I’m Anna, when I was thirteen I went through this phase where I wore all black clothes, at the time I thought they looked really cool and I didn’t care what other people thought about it. And then an eighth grade girl and her friends took it upon themselves to make me feel the worst I’ve ever felt because of how I looked. They called me things like ‘freak’ and ‘emo-who-cuts-herself’ yes, they weren’t very creative names, I’ve heard them say those words before but they stung nonetheless. Things escalated from there, I was getting mean phone calls and nasty threats and I didn’t want to go through it anymore, I exiled myself from everyone and I started skipping school to avoid their horrible behavior and how they made me feel. After a while I started to see Dr. Grove and she helped me realize that they were the one in fault, not me and that I can’t let them dictate my life. I’m the one in control, and I needed to get them to stop their tormenting, not by violence but by standing my ground and going to someone at the school for help,” Anna explains and sits down. After Anna sits,Bethanybegins.
“Hi I’m Bethany and a few years ago I struggled with my speech, I had a hard time pronouncing the ‘s’ sound or the ‘sh’ sound so instead I would say anything with an s as a ‘th’ sound and it really stood out to my peers. They didn’t understand my difficulty and they just thought I was stupid. I did what I could to not speak in front of anyone, I was miserable when we had to do presentations for class because there was always that group in the back that couldn’t refrain from laughing, and that hurt so much to hear it, I couldn’t control my speech problem, it just happened. But because they kept making fun of it I started to believe that I was a screw up and didn’t belong with anyone, that’s how powerful someone’s behavior towards another can be. Finally, like Anna, I started to see Dr. Grove who helped me get past their cruelness and referred me to someone who could help my speech problem. It took some time to correct a problem that lasted over ten years but they did, and now I don’t have a problem speaking and I am not ashamed of how I speak. But what I realized is, that even though at the time I was ashamed of my speech problem and thought it was a disgrace, I shouldn’t have let it get to me, everyone is different and it’s wrong for others to make you feel like your differences are flaws and defines you,” Bethany says and takes a seat. Nora comes up next. Natalia is sitting there, quietly but surely listening. She looks more aware and in tune than she has in the past sessions.
“Hi I’m Nora, a year ago I was where you are sitting, I never was one to cause trouble, to start a fight or to say anything mean or rude. I did whatever I could to please everyone, to stay on everyone’s good side and I could have easily been called a push over. It turns out that that’s not always a good way to be because the girls that I hung out with took advantage of that, they would ask me to do everything for them because they knew I would do it and they would start pointless fights with me because they knew I would take it and not try to put an end to it. And I did, I just let their words hurt me and waited for the wave to pass and for them to move onto something or someone else. After a while I realized I was miserable, I felt that I was giving everything for the friendship and I got nothing in return. I often heard of sleepovers and other fun events the group of girls would have, the ones that were supposed to be my friends, and realize I wasn’t invited. I also would invite them to my house, but there was always a lame excuse. I fell apart, I felt rejected and worthless and that I didn’t deserve anyone’s friendship, since they made it clear that I wasn’t really apart of theirs. I got depressed, which was why I came to Dr. Grove. Dr. Grove helped me become a stronger person and realize that a friend doesn’t treat you like dirt and that you don’t matter and that it is okay to leave their group and find someone who likes me for who I am and won’t use me. I was at first so afraid to leave their group because I thought they would lash out at me and I would be an even bigger target, but I eventually did and it was the best thing I have ever done. They tried to get to me once after I left but the new friends I made had my back and defended me and helped me stand up to them,” Nora says and she too, sits down. Now it’sAlexandria’s turn.Alexandrialooks extremely nervous; while the other girls were telling their stories she was rubbing her hands and fidgeting in her seat. Her story is hard for her to tell because it very much different from theirs.
“Hi I’m Alexandria, and well, my story is a bit different.”Alexandriapauses, looks at the other girls who just spoke and then at Natalia. She takes a deep breath and continues. “I was not the one who got bullied, I was not the one who felt victimized in the same way they had. I was the one who made my peers feel badly. I picked on others to make me feel more powerful. I, um, I didn’t care how they felt at the time because I didn’t realize all that I was doing, but that’s no excuse for what I have done. There was one girl in particular that I picked on because she was everything that I wasn’t. I envied her, I wanted to be her friend but I was ashamed. I called her names, I shoved her into lockers and I spread rumors about her that I knew were not true, I made them up to be mean. I watched her change from a confident person to one who hung her head while she walked down the halls and stayed away from everyone in class because I poisoned their minds with horrible lies about her. At the time, I didn’t care, I though I had won and now was who she was. Everyone liked me like they liked her because in their minds she was the corrupt one and I was Miss Perfect. And then one day she stopped coming to school and days after that I saw her parents clearing out her locker and retrieving her files from the school office. She was moving schools, because of me, she no longer felt like she belonged because of me. It all started to hit me that I was the reason for her unhappiness and I was a monster. I came to see Dr. Grove after that because I didn’t trust my behavior and I didn’t trust that I would fix myself on my own. Dr. Grove showed me how wrong I was and even nailed down why I acted the way I did. I bullied others because I was jealous, because I thought of myself badly and I came to the wrong conclusion that in order to achieve what I wanted to be I had to put down others. After the first few sessions I found the girl I tortured and apologized to her for what I’ve done, she didn’t say much at first but eventually after hearing me out she said that after time has passed she would be able to forgive me, she was still recovering. A couple months later she called me over and she did forgive me, I felt so freed, so relieved that I have been forgiven, especially since I still hadn’t forgiven myself,”Alexandriafinishes and sits down. The room is silent.
“Now, Alexandria is a unique situation, not many people who do the bullying realize what they do, or realize as soon as she did. Most people will continue acting that way for years to come and might not realize the effect they had on others until later in life,” Dr. Grove explains.
Natalia still sits there silently, but it looks like she’s processing, maybe even contemplating. Dr. Grove is waiting desperately for a reaction and for her to open up on what is going on with her. Natalia just checks her watch, seeing that it’s the end of the session. She nods a goodbye as she leaves the office. Dr. Grove sighs, disappointed that nothing had happened, and thanks the girls for all of their help.
The next day, Dr. Grove sits in her office in between appointments. She just finished speaking with a boy who is addicted to video gaming and heard a mouthful of the logistics of playing a war-like game. There’s a knock on her door. “Come in,” Dr. Grove yells. The door opens slowly and it’s Natalia. This really grabs her attention; Natalia doesn’t come on a different day than her appointment.
They stand there for a while in silence.
“I want to talk,” Natalia whispers.
“I would love to hear it, please take a seat,” Dr. Grove says, motioning towards the chair in front of her.
“Alexandria said she was forgiven by the girl she bullied, I don’t think I can do that,” Natalia starts out. “I was at a sleepover at my friend’s house, and when I got there I found out she invited a lot of other people from school that we really don’t know. And one of the girls she invited decided we should play truth or dare, when I’ve played in the past with my good friends everything was fine, but with this new group it got a little…crazy. It was my turn and one of the girls I don’t know, Amy, dared me to…” Natalia trails off for a moment, hesitating at this part. “They dared me to pretend to call someone I like and because I wanted to feel included and liked by them, I did it. Turns out they recorded it and took it to school and played it for everyone. And then people started to twist stories about me and constantly tormented me from then on. They picked everything apart, they isolated me from everyone and then the boy I pretended to call joined in, spread rumors about me about how gross and screwed up I am. They wouldn’t stop,” Natalia explains.
“So you felt like three of the girls then?” Dr. Grove asks trying to make her connect her and the group from yesterday.
“Yes, I felt exactly how they said they felt,” Natalia says.
“Well, now that that’s out, please let me help you so you can be yourself again, okay?” Dr. Grove says.
“Okay,” Natalia replies feeling relieved. She really wants to be back to the way she was before the whole mess of her life came about. The kids did everything they could to make her feel like garbage, they spread nasty rumors along with bullying her online, posting photo shopped pictures of her and sending mass e-mails and texts. She couldn’t get away from those who bullied her and Natalia wished she could just disappear. She wouldn’t mind leaving forever and that’s what led her to Dr. Grove, for one last chance to make things right.
Dr. Grove is relieved to finally hear Natalia speak and share what she’s been though, she knows now that she can help this girl get back on track and live a better, happier life. Bullies destroy lives and it’s up to the bullied and their peers to stand up to them and put an end to a destructive, cruel cycle.