(This essay is derived from a talk at the Apocrypha #8: Dear Younger Me.)
I was born and raised in Japan, and I went to school there just like other Japanese people. Today, I want to share with you a story of my school life.
There is one moment I vividly remember from my junior high school. When I was thirteen, I found a letter in my locker. When I took it, words instantly came into my eyes. It said, “Don’t come to school! You should die!”.
My heart was racing. I looked around to make sure that nobody was watching. I saw people coming out of a classroom, so I crushed the letter and threw it away, pretending nothing happened. I tried to rationalize that it was a mistake. “This is not for me. This is not for me.” I was telling myself. But, I actually knew that it was for me. I had been bullied for two years in my junior high school. This was the early day of my hell.
Imagine that your heart is ripped off every day. That is how I felt. They ignored me and excluded me. I had no company when I moved from one classroom to another, so I followed other kids alone. They were telling me that I am nobody over and over again. They pointed at me with their fingers and laughed at me just to have fun. They even made fun of my family. It sometimes got physical too. They lynched me usually with more than a few people. I couldn’t do anything about that. This followed me everywhere, a school bus, soccer club, and cram school. I had nowhere to hide from this hell. At that time, the school was my world. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
My relationships were all broken. I could not talk to my parents about this because I was ashamed of being bullied. This made a huge wall between my parents and me. My friends, or people who I thought were friends, pretended like nothing was wrong, and we never had a real conversation. Some of them even looked like having fun bullying me. My teacher didn’t care. I accidently saw my Mom’s email that she sent to him, worrying about me. She probably sensed something. He told her a filthy lie by saying that there is nothing wrong in school. And, I of course hated myself. I didn’t want to see myself in the mirror. I had no one to talk to, and I didn’t know any way to heal myself.
I was thinking, “Why me? “Maybe it is because I am loud? Maybe it is because I am small?” I had no idea.
At a certain point, I had been taking too much pain, and I was almost completely broken. I thought about stopping going to school to avoid getting hurt, but I didn’t want to because I thought that could make me look like a loser. I wanted to stay strong. So, I decided to keep going to school.
But, I needed to have a survival strategy. I didn’t want to be obedient to them, but I also didn’t want to get hurt. So, I naively decided to kill my emotions. I didn’t laugh, smile, or cry. I just pretended like everything was normal. Because, I thought, it doesn’t hurt if I stop feeling. I was also hoping that they would stop bulling if I stop responding to them emotionally.
This was a bad strategy. They didn’t stop bullying me, rather, they made fun of me that I looked like a servant who is not allowed to talk back to the master. Moreover, I found out that human beings cannot be completely numb. I was screaming in my mind. I remember that one day I just snapped and had a fight with one of them. Luckily, I didn’t get physically hurt, but I could not stop crying. I had to pretend that I injured my leg to go to the nurse’s office and keep crying.
This was, what my thirteen-year-old self looked like. Pretty intense.
I was thinking, “How can I help? How can I save this kid from this hell?”
I know that he will get over this anyway, but it will take some time. So, I wrote him a letter to give him a new perspective and save him as early as possible.
“Dear junior high school me,
I know that, out of injustice, out of betrayal, out of loneliness, you have gone through lots of pain.
It’s not your fault. You haven’t deserved any of that.
But out of that, you will gain strength.
You are ashamed of being bullied. You are thinking that men should be strong and being bullied is the proof that you are weak. That’s why you don’t want to talk about it to your parents.
That is NOT what strength is about. A strong person can accept the harsh reality, be honest with himself, and be honest with other people.
In college, I started to share with your future friends that I had been bullied. Their response was not necessarily sympathetic, but something started to change inside me. From the way they responded, I was convinced that it’s ok to be bullied and it’s ok to show who I really am. People accepted me, or they just didn’t care!
Why did this make me strong?
Once I showed the most vulnerable part of myself, I was not afraid to share anything about me or my ideas. And as I shared my past experience with more people; friends, family, or people I just met, I became not being afraid of showing my true self to anyone. From this point, I just had to be who I am without pretending.
This is so powerful and strong.
There is a movie called 8 miles (I am sure you know this). In this movie, Eminem, in his last rap battle where they cuss out each other, he torn HIMSELF apart in front of the audience by saying “I know everything you’ve got to say against me.” And he beated his opponent up by sharing his weaknesses. He was saying, “I am not afraid to show who I really am, I am willing to show it by myself, and I still stand here confidently.”
This is what strength is about.
Junior high school me, I know you have a few people that you feel comfortable talking to. If you want to be strong, talk to one of them. But remember, the point is not whom you talk to, but this act of opening yourself up. It’s your inner battle.
Keep fighting with yourself, be honest and stay strong.”