Dear Teen Anna,
To this very day, I’m proud of you.
Remember riding the bus in middle school? Sweaty Augusts, football players who hadn’t yet learned about the magic that is deodorant, and that one kid Adrian who always tripped you as you walked by? Good job on spraying him with vinegar that one time, by the way. Even if his mom did call your mom. You didn’t realize it then, but when you’re older, you’ll know that getting grounded for a mere weekend was totally worth it. His backpack smelled for days.
But what I’m really proud of you for is Ricky. Remember him? Tall, awkward, quiet, more developed than the other boys so they felt the need to take out their insecurities on him? Blowing an airhorn in his ear, deluging him with the oh-so-generic spit wad, and calling him Icky Ricky? Yeah, those guys were ball-less, and you knew it even then.
In fact, you called them out on it, do you remember? After a particularly horrible hate-fest on the ride home, you grabbed one of their straws and threw it out the window (you naughty literer) and said, “Could you be any more jealous of Ricky?”
They didn’t like that, not at all. “Oh yeah right,” one said. “Jealous of what? His super-cool comic book shirts?” But you wouldn’t back down. “The fact that he can grow more facial hair than you even have on your legs,” you said. “Or the fact that you’re only tall enough to be his puppet. Or maybe you’re jealous that he doesn’t smell like an anus all the time. Seriously, what do you have against cologne.”
It was good of you to say those things. It was. And you got some snickers from onlookers. The bullies were getting a dose of payback . But you should have expected what happened next. “If you like him so much, why don’t you ask him out?” they’d said.
Yeah, you hesitated here. But you recovered like a boss. “Because I didn’t think he’d go out with me.”
Stunned silence. No, you weren’t the most popular girl in school. But you were never picked on, had a ton of friends, and never went without a date to the school dances. The idea that Icky Ricky wouldn’t go out with you seemed outrageous. Even you knew that.
“Hey Ricky!” they yelled across the bus. “Anna likes you! Will you go out with her?”
Ricky slowly turned around. He looked up at you, and you could tell by his expression that he thought you were playing some sort of cruel joke on him. That this was just a more elaborate prank and that you were in on it. And that cut pretty deep. You knew what you had to do.
You made your way to the front of the bus and asked him if you could sit next to him. He was still skeptical, but because Ricky was a nice guy, he scooted over. “Look,” you told him. “You’re quiet, so I don’t know if that means you’re shy or if you don’t like me.”
“I don’t have a problem with you,” he says without looking at you.
“I would go out with you, you know,” you said, heart racing. “If you wanted to.”
Of course, going out back then meant writing each other notes and sitting together at lunch and on the bus. It wasn’t like you were going to bond at the movies over The Titanic or anything. But it meant you were taken—and you’d just worked up the courage to flirt with this new kid on the cross country team. But that would have to wait.
“Sure,” he said, right before we reached his bus stop. “We can go out.”
So, just like that, you had a boyfriend you’d never spoken to in your whole life. Over the next few weeks, you got to know Ricky. You invited him to sit with you and your friends at lunch. You sat with him on the bus, you talked to him on the phone after school, and you wrote him notes. He drew you pictures of comic book characters and saved your seat in the only class you shared together. He truly was the nicest guy you’d ever met.
During this time, he didn’t get picked on.
You called it off after a while, but told people that you felt he was too good for you. Ricky started dating other girls after that. He even dated the ex-girlfriend of one of the bullies—which nearly ate that kid alive. Icky Ricky had disappeared. Now there was just Ricky, who was good at drawing, always smelled like Calvin Klein cologne, and sat at the back of the bus with the rest of us.
Maybe you shouldn’t have pretended to be interested in him. Maybe it was a shallow solution. But the point is, you tried. And for that, I’m proud.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice
~ Anna Banks, author of Of Neptune
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