Story | Liz Edwards • Photos | Taylor Ringenberg and Matt Duchesne
For some, the time of youth was a whimsical dream; for others, youth was a nightmare that they prayed to wake up from. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was a phrase that could only reassure for so long. From sticks causing genuine bruises, to a razor becoming a hope of solace, bullying is a very real wound that can only heal in time—if given the chance.
After surviving years of bullying, and for one some time as a bully himself, three Webster University students share their stories and what they have learned. Only by speaking out, can this epidemic be brought to light.
A Piece That’s Gone
“They cornered me, and I crouched down on the ground right in front of the fence and told myself it was just a dream.”
This incident in fourth grade, due to a rumor she did not initiate, was only the beginning of the recurring bullying that would follow Jasmine Kille, 22, through school. The senior English major was extracted from school after her mother was informed that Kille had been thrown over another child’s head. Kille was terrified after the abuse on the playground, so homeschooling was a safe-haven.
“I had nightmares for years. I felt like I couldn’t forgive them for what they did,” Kille says. “I kind of came to terms with it—forgave them—when I started college.”
However, before college, Kille would enter public school again after moving from that school district. Though she would not experience physical bullying afresh, she became acquainted with verbal harassment throughout middle school.
As many stories do, this time it started with a boy she liked who was also her good friend. He was often bullied and the fire was turned to Kille when she played defense. The ridicule consisted of sexual suggestions.
When she aged, her interests changed and so did the bully’s remarks. From rumors of oral sex to witchcraft, Kille was simply trying to find herself as she became interested in Wicca and dressed in dark clothing.
“I knew a lot of things that the other kids didn’t, and they didn’t like that. I guess they felt intimidated or something. That is the only thing I can tell myself to justify their behavior.”
Though such rumors did not follow her to high school, there was no reprieve. At times, it became a form of sexual harassment. A popular jock pretended to like her, kissing her on the cheek, just to openly rebuff her when she tried to reciprocate.
Even through all of this, the episode that Kille deems the worse experience of her bullying history was an ongoing act by people she called friends. Kille had been diagnosed with Bipolar II in high school, and her friends had started to ebb away.
“I guess they thought it was contagious or something. Slowly, they were leaving in an emotional sense, […] but the break didn’t happen until I broke up with my first boyfriend.”
Kille was at an all time low. She self-harmed and planned to commit suicide on the day she turned 18.
“To lose a part of yourself, I think, is worse than to lose another person, and that is what bullying does.”
Though her parents “were doing all they could,” Kille may have gone through with it if it wasn’t for the love of her brothers, plus outpatient treatment followed by inpatient treatment.
“I had an option to graduate early in December, and I took that option. That was my best bet to get out of there in one piece,” Kille says.
Now, she admits that Webster is her new safe-haven, a place where she can find herself without being judged.
“I think that what happened to me over—really over my lifetime—has defined who I am as a person. I’m stronger because of what happened. I feel more able to stand up for myself and what I believe in because I had to fight for my beliefs,” Kille says. “It’s had a good ending. It’s still an ongoing process, but as far as I am concerned, I’m doing pretty dang good.”
From the Outside In
In the courtyard of an apartment complex, a 7-year-old girl was making new friendships after she and her family had moved into one of the many units. It appeared to be like any other yard: Every child knew every other child, they played and they laughed. Nonetheless, after a mere month, their playground became synonymous with the terror that Denise Eaton, 22, an English major, would experience for nearly five years.
With childish name calling as the beginning, the situation would become one that would cost Eaton more than a few of her treasured Pokémon cards. She was bullied from the outside in.
One episode was a near poisoning. Eaton was presented with a concoction of household cleaners disguised as her favorite candy: Too Tarts. Suspicious because of her knowledge of the courtyard crew, she refused it.
“The older [girl] just grabbed my arms behind my back and held me there while the other one unscrewed it and dumped it down my throat,” Eaton says. “I was shocked, and the mixture was so strong, as soon as it hit my throat, I threw up.”
That wouldn’t be her last close call at a young age. After a family moved from the complex, the usual fumigation occurred. The older girls locked her in a closet within the noxious zone with all means of air blocked off.
“I passed out. The only thing I remembered was my dad opening up the door and freaking out and getting me out of there.”
Her dad acted as savior again during a savage physical incident. From a window, he saw Eaton being held down and beaten with thorny branches. Though he yelled for them to stop, they persisted. He eventually tossed them to the side in defense of his daughter.
Possibly in an effort to protect Eaton, he moved the family away from the dreaded courtyard but not from the school district.
“At school they kind of behaved. They didn’t really want people to see them, I guess. I was usually just ignored at school, so they didn’t really see the need,” Eaton says.
Eaton had one friend whom she took counsel in until high school.
“I felt like committing suicide because I felt that I didn’t have any friends, and I wasn’t going to make any, and nobody was going to accept me, and that was just the way people were going to treat me.”
Once again, her father would save her, but this time unknowingly. The night she tried to conjure the nerve to commit suicide, a knock and a question about dinner would stop her.
Her father was the first force that pulled her away from death, this time at her own hand, the second was a group at school who noticed that she had been outcast. Eaton had a hard time giving friendships a chance after feeling alone and singled out for so long, until she realized they had all been through similar things.
“It was only at that time that I started to realize that I was a person, and I deserved to be able to live my life how I wanted to,” Eaton says. “It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone and that [being bullied] wasn’t something that had to change who I was.”
Though she was only beginning to heal, Eaton discovered that there were people who would care if she was gone.
“I think that there’s always a new day and that there is always a new chance. Even if right now everything seems so bleak, things can turn around in an instant. Even the slightest: Meeting one person that knows how you feel and can talk to you about it can change your whole perspective. And you just got to hold out and wait until something like that can happen.”
From the Other Side
It was the middle of third grade and having gained few friends when he moved to a new school during the middle of kindergarten, tides were about to change. Evan Luberda, a 20-year-old interactive digital media major, had three friends, one that he still calls best friend and another that would change his life. This boy who was bullied for mimicking Pokémon and loving dinosaurs would become Luberda’s key to empty popularity and the motivation to stop bullying in its tracks. But before the latter could happen, Luberda would become something he was never proud of: a bully himself.
Luberda started using his knowledge gained through friendship to tease his already bullied friend. The other children thought it was hysterical, and suddenly, Luberda had a group of friends that centered on the bullying of this boy. By fourth grade, Luberda could not blame him for avoiding him; after all, Luberda and his best friend instigated much of his misery.
“I felt awful because […] I threw away one of my closest friends to get a bunch of people that were only kind of my friends, and it wasn’t worth it at all. I will never do it ever again,” Luberda says.
With this realization, Luberda did something that most bullies don’t: He apologized.
“I talked to him and he didn’t want to talk to me,” Luberda says. “He moved, and I think he moved because of me, and I felt awful about it since fourth grade.”
Though truly sorry, Luberda’s bullying story did not close there. In the next chapter, he found out what the receiving end was like. With puberty came his facial hair and with facial hair came steady harassment.
Three guys would play bullies every day during most of his middle school life. In gym, by his lockers and in the hallways, they were there commenting about his weight, how he wouldn’t shave and then the fact that he did.
Through the days of mistreatment, Luberda felt he deserved to be bullied for his past mistakes. It was one of his firmest beliefs, karma, in the works.
Between karma and his shy best friend being bullied, he was driven to start something new. Instead of just taking the taunting, he began defending others as a way to counteract what he had done in elementry school. It would start with defending his best friend, but develop into a crusade that stopped more than 10 people from being bullied.
“I found out that helping a bunch of people by stopping one person was a lot better than having a lot of people like you because you were picking on one person. I have legitimate friendships with people by stopping others from picking on them.”
To this day, he is avid about defending anyone out there from all types of bullying, whether he knows them or not.
“If I walked into a bar and I saw some guy hit a woman—I don’t care if it is Vin Diesel—I would run up and punch him as hard as I could in the face,” Luberda says. “[Because] for at least one second in that girl’s life she knows there are decent individuals and that someone, somewhere, does care.”
Though Luberda has come far from an elementary school bully, after seeing both sides, he still regrets what he has done. It is a feeling he has had to live with and wishes he could apologize again. With social media sites around, Luberda knows it would be an easy thing to do, if only he could remember how to spell the boy’s last name.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or considering suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be put in contact with a 24 hour crisis center near you. Remember, suicide is a permanent answer to problems that can be overcome.
Anyone can be targeted at any age. If you or someone you know is being bullied, call or text 1-855-201-2121 for help. The trained counselors at 121help.me keep information private and confidential.
Remember, aid is in arm’s reach at Webster. The Counseling and Life Development staff is available by appointment through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, walk-in or by phone at (314) 968-7030.