A man struggles to overcome psychological damage from schoolyard bullying in this sometimes-harrowing, sometimes-feckless memoir of trauma and recovery.
Eisenberg, founder of the website Bullying Stories (bullyinglte.wordpress.com), recounts his ordeal from the second to seventh grades at his school in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he suffered regular beatings at the hands of several bullies and their gangs, who would surround, pummel, and kick him as he curled into a ball. Almost as bad as these attacks were the betrayal by friends who suddenly turned on him and joined the bullies and the callousness of adults who did little to help. He was sent to the school psychologist, but his tormentors were almost never called to account. The author’s recollection of these years is vivid and gripping, and it evokes primal scenes of terror that will resonate with many victims. (Although the bullies seem to have backed off as soon as he fought back.) The memoir loses its focus in his adolescent and adult years, though. He asserts a lingering effect of “Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” from the bullying, marked by low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and aversion to ordinary conflict, but the resulting dysfunctions—teenage angst, social awkwardness, and an intense desire to fit in, having sex with any girl who took an interest in him, with ensuing relationship turmoil—seem more like run-of-the-mill growing pains that resolved themselves in a successful career and good marriage. The book’s final section recalls a middle-aged bout of major depression, which he overcame with a full-court press of antidepressants, talk therapy, yoga, health food, a meditation app, and a deepening involvement with the anti-bullying movement, including a cathartic reconciliation with his main bully. Eisenberg’s meandering ruminations on his psyche—“I was totally co-dependent on others”—sometimes drag, and his attempts to blame all his discontent on his bullying nightmare don’t always feel compelling. Still, when Eisenberg sticks to the unquestionable pain of his real victimization, he adds a moving, informed voice to anti-bullying efforts.
An uneven but often powerful indictment of a youthful subculture of violence and intimidation that darkens many lives.