I was subjected to severe bullying when I was a child in the early and mid 1960′s. I went to Catholic parochial school, so you would have thought that the students there would have had more scruples or have been more humanistic because of their religious education. But let’s be realistic, kids will be kids. And vicious kids will be vicious.
My problem was that I was born with prominent, “Dumbo” ears. From the age of six I was subjected to humiliation and calls of “Ears!” by the older kids. This was usually followed by other insults and flicks of my ears. There was absolutely nothing I could do about this bullying and taunting…my ears were my ears. And once the bullying and name calling started, it didn’t take long for all the kids, of all ages, to chime in. So, I tried as best I could to accept the catcalls and the torture. My parents were as understanding as they could be…but I guess their options were limited in that situation. I also didn’t see much comfort and succor from the nuns at school. They would stop it when they could, but they never laid down any ground rules, etc.
Being kids, the taunting kids were crafty about their humiliation of me…and if one were caught and punished, I bore the wrath. Sure, I had close friends…BUT, even they would occasionally sneak in the “E” bomb to pick at me, for whatever reason. They were after all dopey kids.
When I reached nine years old, my parents and I couldn’t take any more…so they arranged for me to have surgery that would essentially pin my ears back in a more “normal” position. This would make me less of a target of opportunity for the idiots who, unfortunately, were my peers. I underwent my first surgery by a local ENT at a local hospital. The operative word is “first.” The first surgery didn’t go to plan — I ended up with infections of both ears and hearing damage from the infections. I had to wear bandages that looked like giant white earmuffs…and even though the surgery was done in the summer, I still was a kid and insisted to go outside and play. Bad choice! More humiliation due to the complications.
It took MONTHS to heal properly, and after the ear muffs came off the results were hideous. My ears were disfigured…and they were grossly asymmetrical. Good God, the worst case scenario had landed upon me! Add to this the incredible pain, the constant putrid discharge and my inability to sleep much, it was a mind bending experience for a young child. And guess what? The taunting and catcalls increased exponentially. After what seemed an infinite wait, we saw another doctor in Boston (this was a hardship for my parents because we lived 45 miles from the city and they were lower middle class folks, but at this point they would have done ANYTHING for me), another surgery was scheduled with this doctor to repair the damage done in surgery #1. The second surgery was performed at Children’s Hospital. Notice I said “second.” Once started, the doctor decided the damage was so great and the scar tissue so thick that he could only do one ear at a time. This surgery ended with no complications, and after four weeks, I had the other ear done. Again, no complications.
This time the doctor in Boston used new-fangled metal staples behind my ears so I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of the earmuffs again. But the disadvantage of these staples was the PAIN that they caused. It was like having hot pokers driven into the sides of my head and into my ears. But thankfully I only needed the staples for 3 weeks or so…and the ears healed just fine.
But the results were less than spectacular. The Boston doctor only had so much he could work with given the damage done by that first local doctor. Although he was able to make my ears bend closer to my head, the accumulated surgeries left them noticeably asymmetrical.
However, after the healing, POOF, the taunting and bullying ebbed and eventually stopped. Occasionally I would get a spurious call of “Ears”, but I would rejoin with a similar physiological insult…and thus I achieved a Mexican standoff with my taunters.
But this whole ordeal really worked on my mind. I would exhibit tics and other habits — like incessantly licking my lips or blinking my eyes. The bullying and taunting left me a train wreck mentally as it really tamped down my self-confidence. But I had a strong will and a loving family, and I was able to rationalize my way through this difficult time in my life. However, I’m left with both emotional and physical scars from my bullying experience. And this bullying has definitely made me a different person than I would have been if it had not happened. No one can be absolutely sure of anything, but I’m quite sure of this.
To this day I’m still hyper-sensitive about the appearance of my ears. I don’t like my picture taken. I wear a baseball cap to deflect attention away from my ears. The “ears” ordeal has left me non-assertive and I tend to shy away from confrontation. And it has left me with an inferiority complex that I constantly work on to overcome. But I am bolstered by the fact that I was able to work my way through the bullying with my head held high. I ended up being the physically biggest kid in my class for a time, so that one simple fact of nature guaranteed that I didn’t have to suffer any longer after seventh grade. But six years can take its toll.
Bullying is not a victim-less endeavor, unworthy of notice by adults. It isn’t just kids play, but it can be a cruel, life-altering ordeal for the recipient. I think it might be hard for someone who hadn’t been bullied to understand what the bullied individual went through. But I assure you that there are many damaged folks out there, and many diverse stories of how they’ve dealt with the consequences.
This was just mine…