Phoebe Prince haunts me. She haunts me because I WAS Phoebe Prince, or something akin to it when I was a kid. It started pretty early, because I was unusually short, and a bit chubby, and I could read already when I was in first grade and kids would rat me out for "just looking at the words" instead of reading just because I didn't move my lips when I read. It got worse in third grade when the other third grade teacher would scream at me and call me "weakling" because I would cry during dodgeball because kids throwing a big ball at me made me feel paranoid. I was this strange little kid who liked to read instead of climbing trees, who watched The Twilight Zone
and The Outer Limits
and drew pictures with the kids in the house at the end of the backyard, who were as weird as I was.
Then in fourth grade there was the boy who hit me on the arm every day. Then in seventh grade it was the boys in the youth group who called me "Zimmerpimple at school." And on and on and on. I was a lonely kid with few friends. A good chunk of the time I sat outside alone in high school at lunchtime writing moody poetry in a blank book. I had friends on occasion, usually kids as weird as I was. It was only when I got involved in community theatre that I had anything approaching a real social circle, and I was always on the periphery of that.
There were always misfits, there always have been. Some of them had the confidence to wear their misfithood proudly. One girl in high school had a beanbag dog she wore on her head all the time. It was a statement. I lacked the confidence to make statements, I just wanted to be like everyone else. I might have been smart and funny, but when you're a kid, and especially in high school, you just want to be pretty and popular.
I think the reason that Phoebe Prince haunts me is the same reason Megan Meier haunted me. These were not short, chubby, funny-looking girls who would be the obvious target of mean girls and mean boys. These were perfectly fine-looking, pretty girls, like any other high school girls, who for some reason became the targets of bullies. Phoebe Prince may have been an immigrant, but she was an immigrant from Ireland, which when I was in my teens would have made her the ultimate pretty shiksa
that I envied. From my vantage point at the age of 55, where the scars of having been tormented by the prettier and the thinner and the more confident have long faded but can still come roaring back at vulnerable moments, it's a mystery as to why kids like this are targeted, today in a way that's far more vicious than anything that I experienced.
Attention to the Prince case now focuses on who knew what was going on, who should have known, who should have done something about it, and how. Nine teens are now charged with felonies and the truth about the vile filth that was showered upon Phoebe Prince endured is now coming out
. Was it simply that her accent made her different? Was it some kind of anti-immigrant sentiment at home gone mad in these kids? I suppose during the trial of these kids we may learn just what it was about Phoebe Prince that incurred their wrath.
I look at the photos of Phoebe Prince, who looks like any other pretty high school kid, and then I think about the fabulous Gabourey Sidibe, who conforms to no conventional American standard of beauty, but who is cocky and confident and cowers before no one. What is it that makes Gabby Sidibe survive high school and become successful while Phoebe Prince takes her own life?
I can't even begin to imagine what my life would have been like if being a misfit then was the way it is now, where home is no respite because there's cyberbullying and mean girls exercise power by tormenting those they deem unfit because they don't buy their clothes at Hollister or Juicy Couture or whatever the hell the status symbol is these days. I look at my neighbor's seven-year-old, an adorable child with the kind of fiery red hair that so often describes a personality. This child is jaw-droppingly bright and articulate; a conversation with her is like talking to a 40-year-old. Her mother tells me that she too is often thought of as odd by her peers and they are trying to make home a safe, loving place for her. This kid is by any measure, fabulous, and I just hope and pray that her confidence and a loving family is enough to get her through the mean kid minefield that lies ahead of her.