Elementary school is fun. You learn how to share and care, and you get to have a great time being a kid with your friends who are also kids because the opposite sex doesn't exist yet. Then middle school happens, and the kids who used to be your friends take up arms on the other side of the island before killing Piggy with a rock when he clearly had the conch and then everything goes to crap because middle school is basically The Lord of the Flies. And it's the worst.

I spent most of my time between the sixth and eighth grades being bullied by bigger kids, cooler kids, richer kids, and more popular kids. Which was almost all the kids.

Kids who had been my good friends the year before came back from summer break transformed by Izod shirts, Converse shoes, Swatch watches and hormones. The other boys in my school began competing with me in a game I had no idea we were even playing, but it involved things like ape logic and the reptilian brain.

And girls.

Girls screwed everything up. Or rather, their sudden appearance screwed everything up. I'm pretty sure they'd been around my entire childhood, but they were just other kids before middle school. However, after that first bell rang on the first day of the sixth grade, they had become Girls. And life would never be the same.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up a minute. I'll save my humiliations with the fairer sex for another time. For now, I'll tell you all about my own personal bullies. For a very brief period of time during the Giant Satellite Dish In Your Backyard Craze of the mid '80s, my parents had money for the first time in ever, because my dad happened to own a business that sold Giant Satellite Dishes For Your Backyard. Life was good.

We moved into a nice house in the good part of town - which I'd later find out was basically just a nice way to refer to the white part of town, but I hadn't discovered racism yet. And part of moving meant that I got to go to one of the good middle schools - which, of course, I'd soon find out was just a way of referring to one of the rich middle schools. But I hadn't discovered socio-economic discrimination yet either, so everything was fine. Until it wasn't.

Kristian Bland

At this school, it didn't matter so much if you weren't the biggest or the strongest kid in the class, as long as you had the right parents with the right last name who lived in the right zip code with the right amount of dollars in their bank accounts. If your parents were rich - and, more importantly, had been rich for some time - you had it made. But if not...

I was scrawny kid. I liked video games and RPGs and tabletop games. I liked reading fantasy books and science fiction. I watched Star Trek a lot. I was (and still am) a huge nerd, and my parents didn't really have all that much money. We weren't rich, and definitely were never wealthy. But they took what they had from the success of the satellite business and moved us on up to the East Side (which was actually in the West End of my town, but I'm going for The Jeffersons association here, so work with me). They wanted Better Things for their children, so they spent what they had to get us to where we were, even if there wasn't much left over once we got there.

I didn't have the latest styles. I wasn't trendy. I was never cool. And my folks weren't rich. We were just pretending.

And I was really bad at it.

It didn't take long for the other kids to sniff me out of the crowd, especially since our newfound status didn't come with an instruction manual . My mother, for example, had no idea what the cool, rich kids would be wearing on my first, fateful day of middle school.

Which is how it came to pass that I showed up on the first day of school wearing a purple shirt with pink paisley suspenders and a questionable haircut of dubious style.

My mom was certain my outfit would be trendy, because I guess Sears had a lot of pink paisley suspenders on sale, which had to mean they were popular and not at all because nobody wanted them. So she bought them and I wore them, and...

Well, you can probably guess what happened next.

My entire sixth grade year was just awful. Teased, tricked, hazed, humiliated - you name it, I got it. But it was nothing compared to seventh grade.

I don't even remember what bizarre medical condition caused me to need crutches that year, because I never broke any bones. I don't even remember injuring whichever leg it was that I can't even remember. There was just something wrong with one of them, and the doctor told me that I wasn't allowed to put any weight on it for some reason. So, I spent a good chunk of my seventh grade year trying to outrun my tormenters by hopping around on one foot while trying to skip-walk through slippery breezeways on the cheapest crutches we could afford.

I fell a lot. People laughed. It was unpleasant.

Kristian Bland

But then, something amazing happened. A new kid enrolled at the school who was neither rich nor cool - and he was even weirder than me. Like, seriously weird. Bizarro World weird.

I instinctively knew what I had to do. And it was horrible.

My plan was simple: I would try to transfer my bullies to him, by way of me becoming one of the very tormenters I hated. Because in middle school, it's either eat or be eaten. And I was tired of being snacked on.

The kid's name was Bob, although it wasn't really. I'm changing his name to protect his identity, because I'm not the jerk today that I was that year in middle school. In fact, I'm not going to name him Bob, either. Bob is a pretty boring name, and this kid deserves some pizazz. Let's call him...Xendlarn, because why the heck not?

Xendlarn was a weird freaking kid. His head was so consistently greasy that we used to joke that he wasn't allowed in the swimming pool because his hair would leave a ring. He had acne so severe that we couldn't make up enough jokes about it fast enough. And he talked funny; kind of like a nasally, congested robot. Or maybe a cyborg. Who knows?

He was just a weird kid. And, if I hadn't been so obsessed with not being picked on, I probably would've been his friend. I'd probably be his friend today, if we still knew each other and he didn't hate me. I eventually learned how valuable and wonderful being weird truly is, so all my friends today are weirdos. Normal people are not to be trusted.

But that's now. This is then.

When I say he was weird, please understand that I mean he was super freaky. Take, for example, the incident with the Martian baby...

One day in gym class, while I was pretending to be his friend before I and some other jerks did something horrible to him we had planned that I don't remember, he told me his Big Secret. It was no ordinary secret. It was...weird.

He told me that he was from Mars, and that his whole family was from Mars. He told me that there was a thriving civilization living underground on the red planet, and that he had personally caused NASA probes to go on the fritz whenever they'd get too close, just so the humans would never detect them.

Oh, and he was a few hundred years old, because that's apparently how long make-believe Martians live.

He then went on to tell me that he had been grown in a test tube, and that all Martians were grown in test tubes because of course they were. His own children were growing right then, at that very moment, in a test tube back at his house.

I told him to prove it.

He said he would.

Kristian Bland

The next day, he showed up at school with a test tube. Inside it was a strange, murky concoction that was somehow both brown and green at the same time. Heck, it was so freaky looking, the kid might've been telling the truth. But the world would never know, because I murdered his unborn children.

We were out by the flagpoles during that weird not-really-recess-but-still-basically-recess period of time between the end of lunch and the beginning of the next period when he took it out and showed me. He held the test tube in front of him, like some kind of undulating trophy. Inside, the greenish/brownish goop swirled around like partially congealed Jello.

He smiled.

"Told you so," he smirked, in a really gloating sort of way that crawled under my skin and started to itch.

But I was still curious. I was still a huge geek and an enormous sci-fi nerd, so part of me wondered if maybe this weird kid really was an alien from space. I could be friends with freaking E.T. here. It was something to consider...

...that I didn't consider, because I looked up and saw all the other little monsters of the school standing around us. They were watching; waiting for something to happen. I could either give in to my curiosity and maybe make a friend to endure the bullies with together - or, I could be an jerk.

I went with jerk.

I faked a brief glance of fascination, and leaned in close to examine the test tube. Then, I slowly reached out my hand...and knocked it to the ground. Hard.

The glass test tube shattered on the concrete. The kids around me erupted into laughter. They pointed and made fun, but not at me. Everyone was laughing at Xendlarn. But they were laughing with me.

I'd done it! I'd successfully transferred my bullies to him, and I was in their club now. As long as tormenting this poor kid was fun for them, I would be okay. Just so long as I kept tormenting him, too.

For his part, Xendlarn was furious. Like, homicidal furious. Rage consumed him. I saw it in his eyes, and I didn't even know what murderous intent looked like. But I recognized it, all the same.

He snarled. Glared. He reached down and grabbed the biggest intact bit of the test tube, like some kind of broken nerd beer bottle. The little psycho wanted to cut me.

He lunged. I jumped back.

He swiped. I swerved.

He threw the gelatinous remains of his unborn Martian fetus on my shirt. And I...well, that was unexpected.

He just started spritzing the crap out of me with the dang thing, like that old priest from The Exorcist with the little ball of holy water or whatever, shaking his test tube at me and covering me in Martian baby goo.

To this day, I don't know what was actually in that test tube, but I do know that wherever it landed on my clothes, it turned them pink. My shirt: pink speckles. My jeans: pink speckles. The canvas of my sneakers: pink speckles.

Kristian Bland

It happened almost instantly, too. And to make matters worse, I was wearing that stupid purple shirt again. I'd shed the suspenders at that point, but we didn't have the money to just go buying new clothes like some kind of rich family with things like matching towels and seasonally-appropriate attire, so I was back in that Grimace monstrosity. And it was turning pink.

The other kids stopped laughing at Xendlarn - or maybe they kept laughing at him, but also started laughing at me. And now I was still being bullied by the same kids, only I didn't even have a cool space friend to help share the torment. Because that kid had gone rabid and wanted to shank my scrawny butt.

That incident ended my brief career as a bully and is, in no small way, one of the reasons I've grown up to be such an advocate of the bullied and the tormented. I know what it's like, and I don't want to see the bullied become the bullies, just to survive.

Eighth grade was better. I met twin brothers from Nicaragua who did for me the opposite of what I did to Xendlarn, and put themselves between me and the bullies. They stood up for me in a way that I never knew I could've stood up for him, and my last year of middle school was all the better for it.

I never did get to apologize to poor Xendlarn, though. He transferred out of the school at the end of the year, and I've never been able to find him. I've tried to several times, over the years. I want to apologize, to explain that I was just a scared, stupid kid and should've known better, but he was never on MySpace or Friendster, has yet to appear on on Facebook or Twitter, and Google has never returned any results. Sometimes, I wonder if he just went back to Mars.

I like to think that's where he went, because any other scenario is just too horrible to imagine. I hope he made it. I hope he got through school and went on to become a successful adult despite the nightmare he suffered as a poor, weird kid in that terrible school. I hope my brief contribution to his torment didn't push him over the edge. I hope wasn't that awful.

But I know that I was. And I know that asking his forgiveness would be more for my own benefit than for his, to make myself feel better about my brief stint at being an awful human being. I don’t deserve it.


Bullies are the worst, and it’s all too easy for bullied kids to become bullies themselves. We can’t let them. It’s a cycle, and it’s up to us to break it.

If you have kids going into middle school or even high school - or if they've already been there a year or two - go easy on them. It's a lot harder than you might remember, even though everything eventually gets better.

Let them know it gets better.

© 2015, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.