When I was sixteen, my parents sent me to camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The Second World War had just ended in 1945 and everyone was happy and relieved. I lived in New York City so I was very much looking forward to spending time in the beautiful mountains. I was also excited about taking drama classes. This, I hoped, would be a wonderful summer.
What I didn’t expect was a summer of humiliation and shame due to another girl named Babette. She was there in my camp cabin, and I couldn’t believe it. Babette, who I had met in New York, had always bullied me. A tall girl, she particularly made fun of my height since I was short. Immediately she started attacking me. “Roxanne, you look as if you are standing in a hole. Roxanne, you are not welcome here. You don’t belong. You’re ugly too.” The bullying went on for weeks and weeks. Endless taunts and insults.
I was new to the camp and had no friends there. Who could I tell about Babette’s cruelty? The other girls were in awe of Babette’s power. The only place I felt I was safe was the woods, where I would go and cry and cry. After about two weeks I couldn’t stand it anymore. I telephoned my parents and said I was coming home. At that time I did not even know the word bullying. I told them that someone had been very mean to me. I wished now that I had pushed back verbally and told someone and received help. But back then you never discussed bullying.
Those few weeks changed my life. I began to believe everything that Babette had said that I was bad, incompetent and stupid. It profoundly affected my opinion of myself. Whenever I went away after this experience I had terrible anxiety and was scared that someone would attack me. I never had the confidence to go away to college. Now, when I think about it, I realize that a bully prevented me from a college education. That’s a truly terrible thing. If I had gone to college, I would have met different people, taken so many wonderful classes, and have the educational experience I deserved. But I didn’t attend college because Babette was still there in my heart, poisoning my chances in life.
Thirty years later I met Babette in the ladies’ room of a beach club. I tried to avoid her and had no intention of speaking with her. But she still approached me, apologizing for what she had done to me. She said as a girl she had felt so tall, big and clumsy and that was the reason why she attacked me because I was petite. She also admitted that she had been in therapy for years and the discussion of her bullying me had been an important issue for her. I had the sense that her life had been unhappy.
Could I forgive this woman who had made me so profoundly miserable and scared, a bully who had prevented me from attending college and missing out on other opportunities in life? I told Babette that I could forgive her but I would never be able to forget what she had done.
I’m so glad that today we recognize the problem and can help those who are being abused. We also know now that the person bullying may have a problem and for some reason bullying makes them feel better. I feel so upset when I read about these young men and women who are taking their lives because of bullying. I lived through this pain decades ago and I can still remember how terribly sad and hopeless I felt, sobbing all alone in the woods.
Roxanne Brandt now lives in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida. She is a proud mother of Penny Brandt Jackson and Jonathan Brandt, and a very proud grandmother of her grandaughter, Natalie Jackson. Roxanne enjoys opera, reading novels, and traveling around the world.