I am 57 years old, and my heart is hammering as I recall this incident from the 4th grade…
I remember it like it was yesterday…
I was standing in the lunch line alone, feeling self-conscious because I hadn’t found “my people” yet. You see, my dad was in the military and this was a new school. I’d been through this drill before. I knew that it was just a matter of time before I’d find a group of girls I’d fit in with.
I remember glancing around the lunchroom trying to figure out where I could sit, when I saw a group of 6th grade girls smiling and looking my way. They were pretty, having a blast, AND… they were looking at ME!
Then, it happened. The pretty blonde called out “Hey, Girl! I like your socks!”. Did I mention they were 6th GRADERS!!! I was THRILLED!!!!
Oh… My… Gosh!!! These girls were not only talking to me, but they liked my socks!!! I’d spent a lot of time that morning picking out the best socks for my outfit, finally choosing the olive-green paisley pair that the cool girls were admiring!!! I gave my new friends my biggest smile and said, “Thank you!”, with visions of having found my new crew dancing in my head.
Then… they busted up laughing, and I realized the truth. They didn’t like my socks at all.
They were making fun of me and doing it in the most public place possible. In front of the ENTIRE SCHOOL! With a little distance (like… almost 50 years…) I realize that the entire school didn’t hear them, but it sure felt like it at the time.
What those girls didn’t know is that I was hiding a secret.
I had a condition when I was young that completely baffled my doctors. I had little hard bumps that covered my legs. I went through biopsies, antibiotics, and tried every cream and lotion doctors could think of to treat the bumps.
In those days (some of you will remember this) girls wore dresses to school. Wearing pants was out of the question. So… I wore tights and knee-high socks to cover up my legs. My parents were beside themselves because I refused to go bare legged, so they bought every color of socks and tights in the rainbow to support my decision.
The tights and socks made my legs hot, and the bumps worse and itchier. As uncomfortable as this was, it was far better than being embarrassed by the condition of my skin.
Ohhhh… how I longed to wear bobby socks and ditch the tights and knee-socks!!
When that group of girls made fun of my socks, I felt sick. My head hurt. I wanted to run. I felt sick to my stomach. My feet felt like they were encased in cement. I remember thinking, “What do I do now?... Are my socks stupid? I can’t not wear them!! I am so stupid!”.
And then… quietly, and without a making a big show… a lovely girl in front of me (who was ALSO in the 6th grade) turned around and said,
“Don’t pay any attention to them. Those girls are stupid. Your socks are really cool.”
And just like that, I knew everything was going to be OK.
This story doesn’t end with me eating lunch with the girl in line, exchanging phone numbers, and becoming BFF’s. That didn’t happen. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing her again.
Here’s what I do remember:
Bullying hurts. So much so that 50 years later, I can remember vividly what it felt like…
Hiding is uncomfortable and painful
The kindness of a stranger matters
Here’s what Green Knee-High Socks, Purple Clothes, and Bullying have in common…
I learned from a friend a few weeks ago that two-thirds of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed at school, and 59.5% said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
My heart breaks for these kids.
As my friend says, we can do better…
Here’s what doing better looks like:
Wear purple on October 17th to show your support for our LGBTQ youth.
Yep, it’s that simple.
Some won’t notice. Some won’t care. And it will mean the world to some.
Just like the quiet girl in the line in front of me, your choice of wearing purple will say:
“I see you and you are perfect, just the way you are…”