Corrinne and Crystal: My Family’s First Bully

It’s high time I shared something from my book.  I thought this section might strike someone as familiar:

There was a person who entered Crystal’s life when she was in about second grade whom I’ll call Corrinne. She was a sour-faced bully, but Crystal adored her. Recesses were arranged so that only two grade levels were out at a time, so I never saw Elizabeth, but she and I both saw Crystal. We noticed that Corrinne didn’t like it if Crystal played with us, or really anyone else. She would snobbishly command that Crystal walk away from us with her, and Crystal would always comply. Crystal followed Corrinne around wherever she went and did Corrinne’s bidding all day. Corrinne would ask Crystal to do mean things such as “don’t play with her,” or “ignore her,” or “walk with me instead of your sister,” or call Crystal some name or maybe even tell her to lie.

At home, Mom and I tried to talk to Crystal about it. She is not a friend. She is a bully. Does she ever do nice things for you? Why don’t you tell her that what she tells you to do is wrong? She’s not your boss, she can’t “make” you do anything, so stop saying that she “makes” you do things.

Crystal would always answer that if she didn’t comply, Corrinne would say she wouldn’t be Crystal’s friend anymore. My thought was, Great! Problem solved! But Crystal didn’t feel the same way.

“She’s my best friend!” she would pout.

“Find a better best friend!” I would almost shout.

That always ended the conversation, but she never changed her mind.

Thus began her first abusive relationship; she was addicted to a person and a relationship with someone who used her as a puppet. This puppet was willing and loyal, just as long as the puppeteer remained her consistent, and predictable companion. I could see that Crystal saw the price of being made uncomfortable sometimes as being very small compared to her reward—a friend who would always be there to give her attention. It was as if she really didn’t believe that there were better friends out there to be had. Maybe she didn’t believe. At the time I thought maybe everyone else was mean to her, but it turns out they weren’t. Maybe she just didn’t want a best friend she had to share.

We knew Corrine was bad news, but we didn’t realize how much control she had over Crystal until the day Liz ran home almost in tears to tell Mom a story it still hurts me to recall. Liz had greeted Crystal during recess and invited her to play, and Corrinne told Crystal to call Liz a “noodle-head.” Crystal promptly obeyed, then  walked away as commanded without an ounce of apology on her face.

Even as young as Liz and I were, we realized it was a super immature and uncreative name to call someone, which made it particularly insulting. It was hard for Elizabeth to verbalize all of the things that experience made her feel, but we understood. I felt like I had been there too, almost right with her somehow. When Crystal was questioned, her responses were the same as ever. She didn’t ever seem to grasp why all of us were so upset about it.

This incident really cut me deeply. I was sure she was slipping out of our grasp as this evil influence increased its hold on her, and it was too much for me to handle. Young children experience and suffer sorrow in real ways, in ways the adults around them can only try to understand.  In my sorrow, I wrote  poem I wish I still had.  It didn’t rhyme the way I wanted it to, but it conveyed the helplessness I felt, and the special kind of sadness that comes from trying to help someone who doesn’t want help. My writing gave voice to the feelings that were too big for my heart to hold alone. I was still sad, but getting it out did help me feel better.

I would like to say Crystal learned her lesson and this was the last bully she would commit her friendship to, but I will be honest. This relationship was actually the first of many. The crazy thing is that most, if not all, of these relationship were much more painful for the family who loved her to witness than for her to participate in.

Many, many years later, Crystal and other members of my family were helping me with a garage sale in front of our old apartment when a familiar face came to look at what we were selling. It was Corrinne. She was taller and prettier, and not so pinch-faced, but still unwelcome in my family space as far as I was concerned. It took Crystal a minute to register her face, but she finally recognized her long-lost friend and ran to her, fully expecting a happy reunion. Corrinne was very kind and polite, though surprised and a little uncomfortable. I doubted she remembered Crystal at all, but she said she did just because it obviously meant a great deal to Crystal.

Crystal gave her a big hug and tried to reminisce about old times. But third grade was at least ten years removed from Corrinne’s memory by this time, and while she had meant a lot to Crystal, I don’t know whether Crystal meant enough to Corrinne to make her memorable. At any rate, long after Corrinne and her dad rode away, Crystal was still giggling and chatting about how glad she was to run into Corrinne again and catch up, and the rest of us were still looking at each other in disbelief that, even all these years later, Crystal honestly thought she had been her friend.

From Crystal Puzzle: My Life with a Sister with Asperger’s, due to be published July 2014.

What experiences have you had with your sibling’s bullies?  Were you successful at defeating them? Please share in the comments below.


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