Summer Camp Bully

Alana had the slender figure any overweight teen would envy. Her black hair was straight and too dark, the inky color of something from a bottle. She had faded blue eyes and mall store clothes of the latest fashion.

I first noticed how she ordered her dad around while he struggled to carry two armloads of luggage down the wood chip covered trail down to the cabin. Her tone perpetually cascaded condescension. 

Alana also suffered a constant need for attention, drawing it out of anybody who came within shouting distance. 

I recognized the personality from Sarah, a bully in my class back home who accused me of pushing her down the stairs on day one of first grade, and I knew she was one to avoid at all costs.

Unfortunately, we were assigned to the same cabin. The only boundary Alana possessed was who was in her circle and who was not, and the status of any given “friend” could change in an instant.

Despite keeping a low profile, Alana noticed me on the second day of camp.

I was snorkeling around the swimming pool, enjoying the relative quiet and privacy of my thoughts while looking for dropped earrings, hair ties and bits of trash to dive for. She twisted my snorkel under the waterline causing me to take in a mouthful of chlorine-laced water.

Spitting the water, I surfaced, ready to give whomever a talking to when I heard a voice behind me.

“I just thought you should know, I care about you,” she said, her syrupy tone setting off warning bells. “Nobody likes you.”

Rotating in the water, if found Alana floating on an innertube with her willowy, muscle-free arms crossed and a look of genuine concern on her face.

“And just so you know, the way you eat is embarrassing. I watched you eat that brownie at lunch, and you liked it way too much.”

Caught somewhere between being offended and hurt, I barely registered her next comment.

“You really shouldn’t have dessert, you know. That’s why you’re so fat.”

I don’t remember what I said in reply. More than likely it was something lame. After all, no one is born with a thick skin and a witty repartee. 

I do know I swam away, believing that if I ignored her, she would eventually quit.

Except that she harassed everyone the same way, targeting anything unique, good or bad, about a person and tearing them down over it. She boomeranged around the group, sucking the softer souls into her inner circle to use them and throw them away like toilet paper.

I never entered into that circle, though all I had to do was follow her around and seek her advice.

“Your face looks fat when you wear your hair back. I can show you how to wear your hair the RIGHT way.”

“Don’t you wear anything but homemade clothes? I would give you some of my clothes if you weren’t so fat.”

“I really do worry about you. You shouldn’t eat again today after what you ate for breakfast.”

She made fun of one girl for being short. Another fell victim because of her race. Another girl had frizzy red hair that Alana called clown hair.

By Thursday, I’d had it with her comments and fake offers of “help” which only served to put her in the center of a person’s attention for a little while. Some girls let it go. Others felt hurt. I doubt I was the only one who got angry, but that day, I snapped.

The nuns had assigned our cabin to the volleyball court that afternoon.

It lay in the middle of an open field, warm and humid in the south Ohio sun. Beneath the first warm inch or two lay cool sand, a welcome sensation to bare feet set free of tight shoes.

I took up a position near the center of the net. I might have been chunky, but I was competitive, enjoyed sports and threw everything I had into every game I played.

From the back row on the edge of the court and fringe of all action, stood Alana. Her peanut gallery commentary, now openly sour and off-handed, peppered us with negativity like a fly fisher desperate for a fish to take the bait. 

We played maybe a dozen volleys before I realized she was getting too me.

Then a serve caught three girls flatfooted, and I scrambled to return it, narrowly avoiding a collision with one of Alana’s current friends. I apologized and went back to my own part of the court.

“Obviously some people take games too seriously,” I heard Alana say and knew that comment was meant for me.

The sky had dumped rain the night before, and the dark soil mixed in the sand formed clumps of various sizes. One of them lay between my feet. It was about half the size of my fist and shaped like a sand-coated cat turd.

In a flash, I saw what I could do and knew it was something I should not do, but my blood was up as that last straw broke my tolerance.

I bent down and picked up the clot. It crumbled in my hand, barely held together by moisture as I turned in Alana’s direction.

Almost like the Red Sea parting for Moses, the crowd of girls cleared a path between me and an unsuspecting Alana, and I went for it.

I aimed to hit her in the shoulder with a gentle under-hand toss, limiting the damage to an “accidental” sullying of her pure white, puff-sleeve blouse, but as she turned in my direction, the clot landed squarely in her open mouth.

Sputtering, she charged me, and I stood my ground, silently hoping she would take a swing at me.

But she didn’t. Instead, she stopped a foot away, and let out a wail and ran off toward the nearest black-clad nun in a dramatic show of hurt not unlike a heroine in a 1930s movie.

Cold, calculating pride covered my satisfaction as the counselors looked up from their books in confusion. 

Their inattention afforded me an opportunity to cover my ass, but most of the witnesses and I were good Catholic girls who believed lying was a sin and kept silent. Only one of Alana’s friends gave testimony as the others hadn’t seen what happened.

However, no one openly thanked me for what I did. My action was un-Christian and invited punishment which landed me solidly in the category of paria. 

While a counselor followed Alana, the rest of us went back to playing. A few volleys later, one of the nuns came to summon me for punishment.

Stoically, I walked with her to the cabins where Alana sat on a bench tearfully telling Sister Mary James, the acting mother superior, about how I’d “harassed” her all week. In a manipulative switch of rolls, I found myself painted as a bully by the girl who actively bullied our entire cabin.

At Sister Mary James’s order, I sat down on the bench beside Alana and said nothing as she sobbed her guts out. Mentally, I crossed my fingers that Sister noticed her tears didn’t pour as fully as her profession of victimhood.

When finally Alana ran out of things to say, Sister turned to me.

“Do you have anything to say?”

“No, sister,” I replied.

I saw no point in defending myself. I accepted that what I had done was wrong, but I saw it as more right than what Alana did, and I accepted the consequences for my actions. Besides, how could I counter such a tearful performance that played on pity the way Alana had?

Sister’s eyes narrowed briefly. Whether she caught my hint or not didn’t matter. 

“Well, obviously you two aren’t getting along, and you need to.” Sister seemed conflicted on what to do. Maybe she was more aware of Alana’s bullying than I realized at the time, or maybe she had observed Alana’s insincerity, but I wasn’t about to hope that my actions would go unpunished.

“Can you both try to get along for the rest of the week?” Sister asked firmly.

I looked up, meeting her gaze, and nodded. Alana stared down at the ground, indicating nothing.

“Shake hands.”

Maybe Sister meant to force us onto common ground by the gesture, but I doubted it would work. 

Alana didn’t budge. In a goodwill gesture more for Sister Mary James’s sake than Alana’s, I extended my hand.

“Shake hands, Alana,” Sister commanded firmly.

Alana reached out with fingers as limp as a landed fish. When she glanced up, the look on my face would have made Clint Eastwood proud, a silent warning to not continue her behavior. She blanched a little, and I didn’t care if I’d hurt her feelings this one time after all the feelings she’d trampled in the week.

Pulling her hand away, she jumped up and ran into our cabin letting the screen door slam hard.

“Go back to your group,” Sister told me, her expression neither stern nor kind. 

“Yes, sister.” 

Once out of sight down the trail, I allowed myself a sense of satisfied relief. Though Alana did not quit her bullying, all I had to do was give her that cold look, and she backed down. 

That was not the first time I’d stood up to a bully, and it certainly has not been my last. Over time, bullies change shape and color, adapting to their surroundings like shape-shifters in Star Trek and hiding their true identity from anyone they need.

These people are narcissists, and they have no problem calling you the bully, and will lie in order to paint themselves in the best light. They will inflate their traits and blame you for their flaws, always taking credit and never responsibility.

Some might frown on how I handled the situation with Alana, and likely would consider me a bully because I met verbal and psychological violence with an act of physical violence rather than reporting it to an adult. However, violence is violence be it obvious or hidden. 

The difference between a bully and a non-bully, regardless of the type of violence resorted to, is that a bully will create conflict where there is none. A non-bully only engages in conflict when the conflict is brought to them.

We often forget this difference and end up punishing the non-bully because their actions stand out more than those of the bully.

Adults, or any authority figure, rarely succeeds in making bullies stop bullying. Bullies, because they are narcissists, are champions of charming people. They spend their lives making themselves look good, and will talk their way out of anything.

A true bully is not measured by the variety of violence they engage in. It really comes down to the old saying, “They started it!”

Yes! It does matter who started it. As I said, violence is violence, and we should not let the obviousness of who threw the first punch blind us to who threw the first insult on an otherwise friendly playground.

Instead of punishing the kid who resorted to physically worse means than the one who started the conflict, we should place a stricter penalty on those who start with the insults.

And those of us who chose to not tolerate bullies should not be penalized for our intolerance.

I don’t regret what I did to Alana. I also doubt it changed her behavior long-term, but behavior is a chosen course the same as violence, and I do not pity her for the consequences of her actions.

At this point in her life, I bet she’s had more than a few failed relationships all of which are the fault of her ex-partners. All of her relationships likely hinge on whether she needs something from the person, and most often end with the other person wondering what happened.

She is treading water in a sea of problems that she sees as proof the world is out to get her while she is actually the cause of all her problems.

Kind of sounds like Darcy & Stacy, doesn’t it?

I don’t regret what I did because what I did was one test in the course of learning to not be a victim.

Everyone has the right to not be a victim, and only each individual can determine that for themselves in all aspects. No one can protect you from victimhood, and no one has the right to make you feel bad for defending yourself. 

Anyone who does should probably read this post and watch a few YouTube videos on narcissism before they are allowed to speak to you again.

Live your life, be strong, and don’t settle for the excuses people make for bullies like Alana. There are none.

And to the Alanas out there, have a nice life…preferably lost on a desert island with no cell signal.

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