My last letter was written with the intention of giving kudos and thanks to Melisssa Libbey; and she deserves the hell out of it. She has been a breath of fresh air – exactly what I needed. I was holding armfuls of lemons; she was the one who came along and told me how to make lemonade with them.
Some of my journeys are too long for this letter. I’ve been sick off and on since I came down with mono, after being infected by the Epstein-Barr Virus when I was 30. My health deteriorated after receiving the Gardasil vaccine back in 2007 at the urging of a trusted OB-GYN.
I fought other uphill battles, daily, for example. A typical day during 6th grade (at Ruckel Middle School in Niceville, Florida), I was carrying my clarinet case with me to band, when I realized I was being followed by a boy who kept calling me a “F_gg_t.” (I despise that word on so many levels, hence the reason why I’m blanking out the vowels up there.) My friend was walking with me. Instead of coming to my defense, she, instead, said, “Hey! I’m not in band!”
Yeah, so I was in band, had unruly red hair, glasses and braces at the same time, and it was 1996, so the glasses back then…they were not so stylish. That doesn’t matter. I was bullied from then on up until the end of my senior year of high school.
With a few moves in between, you know, because of my dad and that whole Air Force and Lieutenant Colonel and flight instructor thing that made him have to work at different Air Force bases.
My freshman year of high school, in Wichita Falls, Texas, I actually was on the receiving end of a classmate (a boy) walking up to me and telling me to my face: “You’re ugly.”
I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. I stood there and stared at him like he was insane.
A few other guys razzed him about making such a heinous comment to a girl–first, because it was mean as hell, but second, according to them, because it wasn’t true–but my friends and I stood there, stunned, unwilling to talk to the entire group.
I’ve told my eight year-old daughter about some of this, to which she replied, “That’s horrible!” , sadness painting her face and her big, bright doe-eyes.
“It’s okay, baby,” I explain to her. “Mommy’s all grown up now. And it doesn’t matter.”
“But you’re beautiful!” she protested, crying.
Now I felt really bad.
“Let’s say that I wasn’t the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen.(Not that I think I am; my daughter thinks I’m pretty by default because I’m her mother.) Then, would that have made that situation right?” I asked.
Well, no. Of course not! she said.
“That’s the point I’m making: bullying is bullying is bullying. I don’t care why they do it, how they do it or what goes on at home, but it’s wrong. And it does, in fact, hurt.”
I always got bullied for the dumbest reasons:
1 Having pale skin
2 “Talking funny”
3 Red hair
4 Freckles (“Tell me, are babies born with freckles??!!”)
The worst part about bullying a new kid is that you are absolutely kicking them when they’re down, no question. I already went home to our rent house on Putter Drive (off of Bay Drive, in Bluewater, close to Niceville) and cried my eyes out in the bathroom after school nearly every day, bullied or not. I was so lonely. The worst part about those two years was that there were a few teachers who’d decided they didn’t like me and slyly ostracized me from the group of students, the class activity.
The Florida panhandle is still my home, no question. Going there makes me happy. Life is full of bumps, twists, turns, what have you. I had a hell of a lot more happy times living there than I did sad. The hard part was that we lived there for six years, moved away for four, then moved back for the last two years of high school.
This journey isn’t always one that we complete or grow out of; there are plenty of adult bullies, trust me. Judgmental, angry, unhappy; who will do anything and everything in their power to bring you down with them. They may be coworkers, family members, whoever. But there are inevitably people you may have to encounter on a daily basis who seem to make it their life’s work to bring you down.
I encourage you guys the way that I do because I know what it is to feel sad and alone. I know what it is to start to hate your own writing. Hell, I know what it is to hate myself. Don’t give me a bunch of flak for that last sentence, guys; I’m being real. Adolescence wasn’t always necessarily kind to me. Adulthood isn’t a breeze either: as women, we’re always fighting to feel recognized, encouraged….and, sadly, worthy of praise. Worthy of feeling that we have intrinsic value.
This is how adversity has strengthened me.
I still have nightmares where I’m confronting someone that I’m so angry with; and I’m trying so hard to scream, and my voice barely comes out a whisper.
I am on the pragmatic, skeptical side of life as opposed to the endlessly optimistic, but I’m okay with that. Overcoming personal battles are sometimes the hardest ones; and those wounds are the ones that run the deepest.
The point is this: the only person who has the power to tell you what or who you are is you. No matter how hard that is to swallow, no matter how many people have told you that you aren’t worth it, that your work is all for naught, CLOSE YOUR EARS to them! Work that much harder, smile, find your happy place; once you do, you’ll find where you belong. This goes for poets, writers, artists, etc, but for everyone else as well. I omitted some of the more “vicious” stories about my past, but it’s because I don’t need to sit here and relive it. Writing about it once is cathartic; fifty isn’t.
But, let your critics strengthen you. They don’t have the power to tell you who you are or what you’re able to do.
Break that glass ceiling, girls – and fly straight to the top. Where you belong.
And if you get a minute, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Fitzharris Coody
CEO & Editor-in-Chief
*Featured photography courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*