Growing up, I was a victim of bullying. This is by far the most vulnerable piece I will ever write.

At age 10, life felt unfair. I've never figured out why I was picked on and beaten up. But now that I'm 34, I'm ready to tell my story.

This isn't easy to discuss, but enough is enough.

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As a child, riding the school bus should open doors to new friendships. It can also expose you to unkind people. At first, it was exciting. I was always social, but once the older kids began targeting the younger ones, I fell right into their crossfire. They went from tossing sandwiches to tossing fists.

I say "they." but it was really just a couple of bad eggs with a toxic following.

Cries That No One Heard

The back of the bus is where most adolescents dream of spending time. In my town, it was always occupied by the dominant kids, never the weak. I stayed as close to the driver as I could, and even then I wasn't 100% safe.

All it took was for the adult to step off the bus (usually to help a child cross the street safely) and it was open season for the mean kids.

"Stop! Please! Leave me alone!" I cried out, anxiously praying for the bus driver to hop back on, but it was always too late.

My attackers were professional escape artists, scurrying back to their seats like cockroaches exposed to light. Of course, they denied everything. Back then, there were no cameras on buses so the accusations were nothing more than fairytales.

Are you still with me? Unfortunately, I've only unveiled the tip of the iceberg.

Not Even Safe at Home

As rough as the ride home from school was, the walk home was even worse. I was old enough to stay home for an hour alone while my mother finished up her day job. Most times, I was unsupervised for no more than 45 minutes with my younger brother.

Once I was dropped off, I had no protection or adult supervision in sight to ward off the punks who lived on my street. Every day was a race to get to my house. I've never prayed for protection more times in my life than in my younger years and I wasn't always lucky. I'll never forget an older kid named Kyle who would chase me down with an aluminum baseball bat.

I wasn't as fast as he was and I can still envision the stars that filled my eyes after the bat made contact with the back of my skull.

I cried out in pain, but my parents weren't home quite yet and there was no one else around. Lying on the ground, I prayed someone would hear my cries, yet no one came. There was no reason behind the beatings, just a troubled kid who craved to be an Alpha.

The ping of the bat still sticks with me years later, but let's move on.

Walking the halls of high school was never easy. I was an average Joe with an amazing small circle of friends. I was an avid band geek who loved playing the alto saxophone and a "B" average student at best. I was happy and depressed simultaneously, giving birth to a class clown.

I was battling my sadness with humor, triggering a whole range of emotions. I was afraid to cry when sucker-punched in the hallways, so I often laughed it off. Nicknames were absorbed while goofiness ensued. I sought attention to muffle the cry for help that lived deep within. Nothing healthy spawned from any of this.

As years pressed on, I discovered the gym and channeled the pain to get the gains. Lifting weights felt like a sigh of relief and I was highly addicted. I went from scrawny, lanky and tall to bulky, beefy and confident, but I never forgot who I was and where I came from.

Sure, growth helped me overcome the toughest of memories, but there's one more weight I need to be removed from my chest.

Bullied Becomes the Bully

This will be the toughest thing I've ever written.

I was unfair to my younger brother and it's been killing me inside for years.

Whenever I was bullied, I turned to you, Taylor, cowardly, as an outlet. The mean older brother who beat on his siblings. Looking back, it sickens me to the core. I hate to use the cliche, "It wasn't you, it was me," but it's true. I was insecure. For that, I truly am sorry. I love you so much and will always be there to protect you as an older brother should. However, I should have done so when we were younger. I never meant to hurt you.

Proud of the Journey Since

Maturity is funny.

I've grown to forgive. As much as I endured from my bullies, it all truly shaped and strengthened my character, internally and externally, and it's finally time to let go:

To every person who shoved me into the lockers, shoved me down in the halls and continuously made fun of the way I looked or how I spoke with a lisp:

You made my life a living hell. You tore me apart from my own flesh and blood and made me believe I was the problem in this toxic world, gave me endless nights of crying myself to sleep secretly without my parents knowing that something was wrong and shutting out everyone who ever cared around me...

I forgive you and I truly hope you have found peace because I'm done hiding my past.

Let kindness overcome and continue to stay humble.

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