COLUMN: The lingering effects of bullying

Someone had reached out to make amends for what had happened

The conversation from out of my past was completely unexpected.

A few days ago, someone I had known in elementary school and junior high school reached out to apologize for bullying me during those years.

“I am truly sorry and I wish I could take it back,” he said. “It has been bothering me for years.”

The years from Grade 5 to Grade 9 were terrible. I was the victim of bullying during those years, not only from this person but from others as well.

There were many times when I wondered what I had done or what I was doing to deserve the bad treatment I was receiving.

It was a miserable, lonely period and I didn’t have friends to support me. Thankfully, I had my family and my faith in God to help me through the hard times.

Nothing I have experienced in the years following has been as difficult as what I felt then.

That’s part of the reason this apology meant so much. It was an acknowledgement, from someone else, that I had been mistreated.

It also showed people can change. I don’t know what led to his apology, but something happened, and today he is not the same person as when we were younger.

For the rest of the day, I had a smile on my face.

Someone had reached out to make amends for what had happened.

But that evening, I felt an immense sadness as well. It wasn’t a sadness for me or what I had experienced. Instead, the sadness was for the man who had apologized to me.

All this had happened around 40 years ago.

My life got better in high school, and within a few years after graduation, my elementary and junior high school years seemed like something from the distant past. I had moved on and I was happy.

My past was behind me. My present is amazing and I look forward to an exciting future.

Life is good now.

On rare occasions, I remember the bullying I endured so many years ago. It may be one of the reasons it takes me a while to trust people and to speak freely.

But I don’t feel resentment or bitterness towards the people who mistreated me in the past.

For the man who apologized, it has been different. For years, he carried the weight of past regrets. Over time, that weight grew heavier. Much heavier.

I learned that years ago he had tried to contact me, but he was unable to reach me. The only reason he was able to connect now was because he and my brother have a mutual acquaintance on social media.

“Being able to do this means more to me than you can guess,” he said when we finally connected.

The apology meant a lot to me as well. He wasn’t the only one to bully me, but he has been the only one to apologize.

I’ve been quite moved by our recent conversation, and it has prompted me to do a lot of thinking. There’s a lot more talk about bullying now than when I was growing up. Over the years, there have been numerous anti-bullying initiatives, including Pink Shirt Day, which will be held on Feb. 28.

But despite these efforts, bullying still happens today. It affects the perpetrators as well as the victims.

I wouldn’t wish my elementary and junior high school experiences on anyone.

But my heart also aches for the one who made the apology to me. He has had to live with his regrets for decades. And I know it hasn’t been easy for him.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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