Off the Clock: It gets better(ish)

Like Whitney Kropp, the 16-year-old nominated as a joke to homecoming court by some classmates, I also had a bully. He was small, he was mean, and he made me use an encyclopedia.

Nole Burns.

His name has been changed, to protect the surely more innocent than my nearly thirty years of bitterness would have you believe, but Nole Burns was my bully.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bullied in the same way that many were. Not by a long shot.

No, pre-internet bullying was a lot less sophisticated. It consisted mostly of spreading rumors about someone, kicking their butt after school, or just plain being mean right to their face. Nole was the third kind of bully, and he was a dick.

In case you don’t remember, junior high is the worst. I contend that there is no one group less sensitive, or more sensitive, than the eleven, twelve, and thirteen-year-olds. Stuck in an in-between place where we looked like grownups but had only the vaguest notion of how grownups conducted themselves, we would often lash out at those who were foolish enough to attempt to help us on our journey from kidhood to adulthood. Like parents, teachers, and other confused preteens.

And don’t get me started on crazy body stuff. Girls wake up with breasts and boys wake up with erections, and both sexes are confused about their own and the other’s changes. It’s like the kids we’ve known for years are suddenly completely different people and we don’t know who to turn to about our own physical embarrassment.

I, myself, was a hot mess at that age. Poor, chubby, and angry at the world is a bad combination, and I was unleashing it on the people around me on a daily basis. I went out of my way to convince people I was completely unloveable, and then I was hurt and furious when they didn’t love me.

So, I walked around, 5-foot-7 and 140 lbs (which seemed absolutely gargantuan at the time but now sounds quite lovely) having been hit early by the Puberty Express, but being raised by parents who didn’t want to admit that their daughter needed deodorant and Stridex and razors and tampons. I was big, I was hairy, I was bumpy, and I didn’t smell pleasant.

So, I walked around slumped over, desperate to go unnoticed because, as confused as we all were, we somehow came to a group understanding that conspicuous was the most dangerous thing to be.

Nole Burns, though, he noticed me.

Nole was a small, bitter boy. The two may have been related, but I’m not sure. Standing just over five feet tall, he was twice that size in anger and so, so sarcastic. He had a quick, mean mouth and used it to cut down not only other students but our teachers, as well. Basically, Nole Burns was the Joe Pesci of my school.

And something about me just got under his skin. I didn’t know then and I guess I’ll never know now exactly what it was, other than that “big, hairy, bumpy, smelly” thing, but I was a walking target for his zingers.

“You look like a lesbian. Are you a lesbian? I’ll bet you don’t even know what a lesbian is.”

“I do, so. And, no. I’m not.”

But I didn’t know. He had spat “lesbian” like a racial slur, so I rushed home to our antiquated encyclopedia to see if I could find Lesbia on a map. Finally, I asked a friend, who explained. “That’s the thing?” I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Hey, Big Foot, go back to your cave.”

“Something smells like fish.”

“Does your face hurt, because it’s killing me.”

Every time he’d shout at me in the hallway, I would cringe, sure that the whole school had stopped in their tracks to stare at the hideousness that was me.

— ∮∮∮ —

Whitney Kropp, a 16-year-old Michigan girl, knows just how I felt.

Whitney was nominated for homecoming court at her high school this year, which thrilled her. Until she found out the nomination was a prank, pulled by some unkind fellow students.

After an initial period of depression, though, Whitney, encouraged by family and friends, decided to go ahead and sit on the homecoming court, despite the fact that it was a prank.

“I can just prove all these kids wrong…I’m not the joke everyone thinks I am,” she said.

Soon, word got around, and more people started supporting Whitney. The facebook page designed to champion her has nearly 100,000 likes.

What’s more, after having heard Whitney’s story, local businesses stepped in to donate her gown, shoes, and big day beauty services.

“Every girl looks forward to being on that homecoming court and for her name to be called,” said hairstylist Shannon Champagne, who did her hair. “For her to be so excited about that and then just to find out that it was all just a joke, it just–it really touched me.”

In a beautiful, sparkling red dress, Whitney beamed, Friday night, as she stood on the football field, clutching a bouquet of flowers, while a stadium full of people cheered.

Whitney Kropp had her night. Her bullies had inadvertently seen to that.

Victory over these sorts of things makes for a good story, and I wish I had that. I, however, just served as a target for Nole until we both moved on to the same high school, but I got lost in a much larger crowd. A quick Google of him reveals that he hasn’t grown much, physically, but is now a substance abuse counselor “working to de-stigmatize addictive illness.” Nole Burns is helping people. Side note: A quick Google of me results in a plethora of dirty jokes.

But Whitney and I–and even Nole, because his inner bully must have been brutal–are proof that people who try to get you down don’t have to succeed. The world can dish it out, and it’s your choice whether or not to take it. Even when you don’t know what “it” is, and you have to look it up in an encylopedia.

  • error

    Report an error

The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

There are 3 reader comments. Read them.