Former bully seeks forgiveness as adult
Jan. 15, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 14, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.
Amy Rendon and her school-ground posse demanded respect one slap, kick or face-stomp at a time.
She was the mean girl. A curly-haired, mouthy, middle-school terror.
Her favorite victim was tripped, punched and jeered.
"I remember we didn't like the earrings she had on, so we ripped them off," Rendon said, with tears in her eyes. "I remember laughing when she did that, and her ears started to bleed. I truly felt bad, but I still did it. Those aren't things I was ever proud of."
Rendon, now 34, remembers the day she became a bully.
Her face swelled, her eyes burned, as she fled a fifth-grade wannabe-friend who slapped her in front of an entire class.
"I wore that handprint for the rest of the day," Rendon said. "That next day, I remember deciding I would never allow anyone to embarrass me like that. It was kind of like, 'I'm out to get you before you get me.'"
It's a plight fueled by a sense of inadequacy or need for attention that can grow into a dangerous mix of fear and violence.
"I remember having fear," Rendon said. "I wasn't proud of it. I demanded that respect."
In the heyday of Rendon's bullying, it was just a rite of passage.
"Back then, kids just took it," Rendon said, remembering her trouble-making. "And this generation, kids are taking their lives. That is why it's scary."
The danger comes when bullies stop seeing their victims as human - a perspective that can stay with them even through adulthood.
"Mean girls grow up," said Trina Gordon, a University of Houston-Victoria psychology program head. Gordon and a fellow researcher study bullying and ways to combat the problem through a program called Village Builders. "Men still get macho and pick on people who they feel are a little bit weaker than them. It can grow with them."
And grow it did.
Rendon, plagued by weekly fights and no thoughts of college, dropped out of high school in 10th grade.
Soon after, 16 years old and in love, she married and spiraled into a life laced in alcohol and drugs. The mean-girl saga continued until she was 21 years old and armed with a beer in a bar fight.
"I just grabbed my beer bottle and hit her over the head," she said, about her victim. "I could've cracked her skull."
The fight nearly branded her with a felony charge.
"That scared me out of my pants," she said. "I had to turn myself in twice and sit in a holding cell and wait for my mom to come and get me."
The fight forced her to re-examine her lifestyle and try to find God, but the full brutality of her bullying reappeared as a hunched, homeless woman under a bridge.
Rendon was driving to the Victoria Mall and passed under Loop 463 when she saw the sad, lifeless woman.
She was Rendon's middle-school victim.
"She just sat there and had no life in her," Rendon said. Her voice is thick with emotion, her eyes dripping. "Here I was, living and changing my life and happy, and it just took me back. I was just telling myself, 'You're dirt. How could you be so cruel?'"
That day in her car, Rendon flashed back to the kicking, tripping and hitting, and as the woman disappeared in her rearview mirror, she wondered if those actions produced the woman's lifestyle. Then she braked, pulled over and prayed.
"I just prayed that if she was homeless that she would find a home," She said. "That she would get help. I just said, 'God if it's anything I did, to just forgive me.'"
Rendon is now a warm, smiling aspiring teacher for one reason. She earned her GED diploma, found a new husband and became a mother. She's now a student at Victoria College and youth leader at Covenant Life Center where she found God and teaches youth to fight bullying.
"She's not changed her fight; she's just changed her opponents," said the Rev. Bobby Rivera, pastor of Covenant Life Center. "She's learned to nurture and to love."
Rendon's new role is critical to stop bullying because most victims won't tell a teacher, but will tell people like counselors, parents or church leaders. Having elements like that in place are what will eventually help the cycle end.
"I think we have to go beyond just the school environment," said Anitra Shelton-Quinn, a bullying researcher and program director of the UHV school psychology department. "We have to get all of the parents and all the community involved. We've got to start really creating environments that embrace caring and embrace included. Being different doesn't make you an unequal part."
She uses her work with the youth and her faith as a means for healing, but forgiveness is elusive.
The haunting memories linger like bad friends, but Rendon continues her quest for pardon and lasting peace.
"You feel a peace when you can think about those bad memories and feel a peace about it. It's OK," she said, as if to soothe herself. "You're dealing with those issues. God has forgiven you for those things, and you're learning to forgive yourself."