DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter about school bullies. I went to school more than 20 years ago, and it hasn't changed. My family was poor. My clothes in high school were yard-sale stuff. One morning I walked into school and kids stopped and pointed at me, laughing. I remember a teacher coming into the hall to see what was going on, and he laughed, too. I was wearing colors that didn't go together, but it was the best I could do. My life was a nightmare.
I had gym class that same day. We were going outside to play softball but had to choose up teams first. The two popular girls were always team captains. They chose their teams and I was left standing alone. The teacher said, "Bonnie, you get Carol." Bonnie said loudly, "I don't want Carol. She stinks at this game. She stinks at every game." Then the team captains argued over who was going to get stuck with me. I wanted to die.
When they all ran outside, I lagged behind, slipped back into the locker room, and changed back into my old, worn-out, mismatched clothes. I went home. Nobody missed me. I went into our garage and looked for something poisonous. I wanted to kill myself and get it over with. I hated the kids, I hated the teachers and I hated myself. I turned the old broken radio on low. Its case was cracked, but it still worked, and I just cried and cried.
Then I got serious and found a bottle of termite poison. I had almost worked up the nerve to drink it when the radio played Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors." It was a song about a girl who wore a coat pieced together from rags because her family was poor, and the kids at school laughed at her. And I thought, "Look where Dolly is today -- she didn't run home and kill herself. She got through it."
I went back to school the next morning and ignored everyone. I ignored the cruel comments as if I didn't hear them. I told myself I was an outsider in hostile territory, but I had a goal to achieve, and I poured everything I had into my studies, my grades. I graduated and went on to college in another state.
I'm successful and happy now and have a loving family. I work with disadvantaged kids in my spare time. Life is wonderful. Thank you, Dolly. And thank you, Abby. -- CAROL, A SURVIVOR
DEAR CAROL: Thank you for a letter that I know will give hope to other young people who are the victims of taunting and ridicule. I'm struck by its dual message. The first is about the ability of music to heal suffering. The second is about the ability of the human spirit to rise above suffering and to prevail in the face of difficult odds. I'm sure you are saving lives in the work you are doing with disadvantaged youth. You are a shining example of the success that comes from perseverance.