“It’s just a joke.”

A true story about bullying.

Story by: Caline Forward, Personalities Editor

For five years I thought my bullies were my best friends.

I thought it was normal for your best friends to make fun of your flaws; to call you names like “CaCa.”

“It’s because it’s the first two letters of your name,” one of them explained when the name-calling began. “Isn’t it funny?”

The teasing started in fifth grade. I first moved to the Cy Creek area in 2008 and met two neighbors my age. We transitioned to middle school, and our bond held. At least, I thought that was the case.

They would make plans with their other friends that I was “too awkward” to know and leave me out, hanging with me first at their house, and then telling me to stay inside until their “cool” friend’s car had pulled out of the driveway for me to finally go home.

“It’d just be uncomfortable if you came out the same time as us,” they tried to explain. “It’s nothing personal.”

I didn’t know they were ashamed to be my friend.

This continued all the way to freshman year. This time, it was my appearance that caught their attention.

“Why is your hair always in a bun? How come you never dye it? Wear it down for once and look like an actual girl.”

Little did they know how much their words affected me. January 2nd, 2013, I chopped off; my hair – it was the second semester of freshman year. The first thing I did was call my “friends” over to see my new haircut.

“It’s um…” one of them started.

“Why did you do it?” the other asked, and I don’t know why I was surprised by their words. Wasn’t it obvious why I did it?

“Just needed a little change,” I replied with a small voice, because that’s just who I was around them. I was the quiet, awkward, “fat,” depressed CaCa.

They would make fun of my weight. Was it my fault that they were both athletic and I could care less about personal fitness? Was it my fault that they were more fit than me? Skinnier – which apparently automatically made them “prettier?”

“CaCa, wanna go running with me later? You’re gaining so much weight that you’re stretching out my jeans.”

New haircut, new insecurities, new revelations.

No one realized what was happening at home for me. With my personal life crumbling and my “friends” busy with their own lives, I felt like I had no one to turn to. But then someone came to my rescue, an acquaintance who was partly in my bullies’ group of friends that I was too awkward for.

She pointed out all the signs of bullying that I’d been putting up with; how I deserved friends that actually cared and noticed how I wore long sleeves every day.

“I’m just joking,” was one of their favorite lines. “It’s only a joke.”

If they really thought that calling me a piece of crap, making fun of my appearance, and ostracizing me was funny, then I had a major newsflash for them: Bullying is not a joke. Bullying happens every day in today’s society – even in the halls of our school.

No one but the one acquaintance of mine noticed something was wrong with the “jokes” my friends inflicted on me. Not even the teachers I saw every day.

At the end of my freshman year, my family and I moved to a different street in the same neighborhood – but still, I was moving away from the two people who didn’t even comment on my depressed state-of-mind.

I did eventually confront one of the girls about everything. I told her about everything they had done that hurt me so deeply – all the things that left internal scars. I told her about the things I was dealing with at home, and the shocked look on her face told me that she had no clue any of this had been occurring behind closed doors.

I said my goodbyes.

I was through with being their awkward, quiet, fat friend that they liked to “poke fun” at.

I was tired of the lies (“It was just a joke.”); tired of the fake friendship.

It’s clear to me now that they had no idea how their actions were affecting me; they just did what they’d always done to me and called that friendship.

Three years later, I’m now a senior and I haven’t made contact with the two girls since that confrontation. The most miraculous thing, though? I’ve made peace with them. I’m no longer bitter about their actions towards me. I still cringe at times when I hear the word “CaCa”; sometimes I even look up to see who was calling my name.

It’s just a joke, they said. Don’t take it personally.

Their jokes ended up leaving scars that were hard to fade. Although they’re still there, I’ve grown. I don’t know if they regret what they’d done, or if they even realize what had happened, but I do know that bullying was a major part of my life – no matter how short (or long) it occurred.