I’m hurt and cold, but I’ll be fine

How I won’t let my experiences with bullying keep me down

By Candice Zhang

Teenage years are confusing; everyone around you doesn’t know who they are and are trying to find the correct path to self-fulfillment. But one phenomenon can never be forgotten throughout those years of enjoyment: friendships. If you were to ask any young adult about the best moments of their teenage years, they will most likely talk about drinking or planning faraway trips with their besties.

I used to long for those moments, but I never had the friends to share them with. Even back in primary school, during recess, the washroom was my closest friend. There, I wept and learned to identify my emotions with music. After listening to songs in every language, I fell in love with the Russian language.

Ever since I was nine years old, I have had a fascination with Russian culture. The interest stems from watching gymnastics and attending piano class, and led to researching Russian music and learning the language. I viewed Russia as a land filled with arts and culture: the architecture, music, and dances spoke to my emotions. It may not have been a country that many people were interested in, but I saw past the biased media representations.

Ever since my parents enrolled me in gymnastics class, I wanted to learn Russian. Whenever I felt ostracized and picked on by my classmates, I would go home, sit on my computer, and spend the next one to two hours learning new Russian words. This was my method of coping throughout the difficult journey of adolescence. Whenever I listen to Russian music or I’m reminded of the richness of Russian culture, I think back to the adversities I faced, and how I overcame them by learning Russian.

Sometimes, this quality of mine set me apart from other students and figures in my life. Back in middle school, I remember the bell ringing for recess. In less than 10 seconds, all of my classmates ran out the door onto the playground. Trudging slowly behind, I hummed some tunes to myself and sat against the brick wall. Kicking tiny rocks around the cement, I visualized my life in a decade: working in Moscow, travelling home to my apartment, video calling my mom on Skype.

“Hello,” a familiar voice called me.

I looked up and saw my eighth grade teacher standing beside me. “Not again,” I thought.

“I wanted to speak to you about something,” she told me. I raised my eyebrow, as I never would assume that a teacher would approach a student during recess.

“Can you fix your obsession with Russian music?” she asked. “No one wants to listen to it, and everyone complains about it.”

I placed my head in my hands, feeling tears flow out of my eyes. It’s difficult to comprehend why a teacher would choose to speak to me like this; the tone was degrading and resentful. My classmates already made fun of me because of my music taste, but I didn’t understand why it was an issue.

Alex Denhart/The Varsity

I always thought that immature behaviour and judgement, from students and teachers alike, would stop when I entered high school. Contrary to my beliefs, it was even harsher.

Fast forward to when I was completing ninth grade. In my high school, the guidance counsellors assigned us to a home room, which was our first morning class. The teachers described home room class to be tight-knit, intimate, and filled with memories and friendships. The idea sounded like a utopia. So I thought that perhaps, fond memories would originate from the people I met here.

I was wrong.

In my home room class, there were around three other students in ninth grade, four students in 10th grade, one student in 11th grade, and four students in 12th grade. I remember trying to talk to them everyday, to get to know them more and share my story with them. In particular, I remember one girl from 12th grade — let’s call her Becca.

I would tell Becca jokes from other people and share my experiences from elementary school. She would be there, listening to me with wide eyes and open ears. Whenever I felt uncertain, I would ask her questions related to assignments and academics, for which she would happily provide an answer. Every day, Becca was the reason I decided to go to school; she had a therapeutic way of helping me navigate my troubles while being a person with a great sense of humour.

One day, after finishing an assignment on Romeo and Juliet, I scrolled through Twitter and found Becca’s account. I was eager to follow her.

Little did I know, a surprise was waiting for me as I mined through her page. In one of her tweets, she wrote that every time she told somebody about the grade nine student in her homeroom, they think she’s being mean, but they don’t understand the situation.

Knowing that I was the only ninth grader who spoke to her, I felt tears rolling down my face. I felt backstabbed, betrayed, and forgotten. The feelings of misery consumed my weekend.

Before this, I viewed Becca as a mentor, as someone who was successful. She was a great student, and the teacher bragged about her cleverness. Although we never talked outside of our homeroom class, I knew that Becca had experienced the struggles and joys of three years of high school. She had been a role model to me.

As soon as Monday arrived, I stopped talking to Becca. I started to ignore everyone else in my morning class as well. Many of them knew about Becca’s tweet, but hadn’t informed me about it.

I was fed up with how other people treated me. After my experiences with my eighth grade teacher, it was difficult to tolerate the tweet from Becca. Placing trust in people in higher positions is understandable, especially as a student. We all perceive people in higher positions to be these great people with great personalities, but my experiences taught me otherwise.

I no longer trust the people I meet. When I started university, I stopped perceiving the friendships I formed with my new classmates as ‘friendships.’ The closest people I talked to were more or less acquaintances or ‘professional friends.’ Not a lot of them even know about my previous experiences, since I refuse to share any embarrassing occurrence that I think could potentially wreck my character. I refuse to give people the tools to hurt me again.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking back on those instances when I felt the most betrayed. Everyone will tell you to avoid thinking of things going on in your personal life when writing an exam, but if the event has impacted your life, it is complicated to free yourself from the memories. In fact, I didn’t even want to be a U of T student when I found out that Becca had enrolled at the school.

However, tears are enough. I can’t keep dwelling on these unfortunate events. I must move past it and forget about the roadblock. But what can I say?

Well, these destructive events are another form of adventure. Despite the actions of Becca and my teacher, I learned that there are still good people who are willing to lend you a hand in this complicated world.

Even now, when I still think about Becca during my morning class, I feel dread. Dread that this ghost from an earlier chapter of my life has followed me for this long. Dread that I can’t break free from how she has affected me. But it serves as a constant reminder that I need to heal myself.

Every step taken is a step closer to a destination, whether it would be a house, or the coffee shop, or even all the way to Moscow.

Of course, the healing process to self-fulfillment will be long, but the time is worth it. Despite the way people treated me, my music taste never altered, and I have cultivated fulfilling friendships. One part of me wanted to prove them and everyone else wrong, but the other part just wanted to do what was best for me.

Throughout university, I learned that people enter your life and leave without a trace. I’m still not okay with my past, and sometimes, I consider therapy. When anger starts to boil within me, I lash out, even if I don’t want to.

But reflecting on the friends I have made in university, I know that a change in me will happen. It’s just a matter of time and effort, and I’ll try to do better. Even when the worst happens, no one can stop me.

To other individuals who experienced bullying and betrayal, please remember this: the world may be cold at times, but it’s possible to continue being cool in your own way. Just remember to ignore people with negative energy and continue to learn from your lessons with time.

And if you like Russian music, play it as loud as you want.