The One-Time Bully

A long time ago, I spent about fifteen minutes working in the dental industry. Okay, well, it was more like two years, but you get the idea — it wasn’t long. See, I thought I might one day go to dental school, but not because I was “passionate” about it. Instead, like most young people trying to figure out life, I thought cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics was a lucrative career choice, logical, safe, and I also felt fairly certain that very few people pass on while in a dental chair. I am way too connected with “all the feels” to handle medical crises over and over. Which is why, after just one particularly tragic clinical “trial” rotation volunteering in an ER, I decided I would not, in fact, try to become a doctor and would consider dentistry instead. My heart can’t handle it. Incidentally, my hat’s forever off to nurses and doctors who can work with the sick, care for the dying, and serve the families of those who are at death’s door and still keep it together and be professional. It takes a special anointing to do that kind of work – an anointing I do not have); but I digress.

Anyway, before committing to a big-ticket, lifelong-career-deciding endeavor like dental school, I decided I would get a feel for the dental world as a tech. After graduation, I got my first job at an established multi-doctor practice in my hometown. I had fun most of the time, and the doctor to which I was assigned was largely cosmetic — and, shall we say, eccentric. The latter being a personality trait of course, she didn’t give people weird teeth or anything. Long story short, I got into a groove, became engaged to a soon-to-be-military man, and immediately began applying to work for ortho offices, because I had no idea what the Air Force life would bring when it came to school and opportunity, and I wanted the chance to work in orthodontics before walking that road. Maybe I’d just stay a tech. Maybe I’d end up doing something else entirely. I had no idea.

I put resumes in the hands of every orthodontist in the tri-state area, but nothing was open for months and months. During that time, I continued working at the multi-doctor practice with about 30 other women. For the most part, I got along with everyone. There was cattiness and drama, which I suppose is par for the course in some ways. Thankfully, my circle of work friends wasn’t part of it. My doctor ALWAYS was, but again, I digress.

Everything was peachy and I was living a routine life, moonlighting as a waitress and seeing my fiance, who was also working two jobs, in the few minutes between shifts, and after work before lights out, as we tried to save money and plan our future. And then, this — I was standing in the break room one day when a hygienist, I think she was a hygienist, started making fun of my hair in front of half the staff. In her defense, it was bad hair. I had a terrible cut and while I was waiting for the layers to grow out, I wore it up every day, but the layers were choppy and when it was up, ugh, it was awful. Hair trauma. Anyway, during this break room experience, this nameless chick (she’s nameless for two reasons — One, I respect her privacy and two, I can’t actually remember her name) began mocking my hair, and eventually started telling everyone within earshot that my hair was fake. Apparently,  no real hair could look that bad, et cetera.

I just stood there, stunned, trying to brush it off. I continued stirring my soup and pretending I didn’t hear her. I felt like I was eleven years old. I felt like I was in a middle school cafeteria, looking across the room at that group of “popular” girls who seemed sweet on the outside, but were just ruthless on the inside. I wasn’t even a “target” back in those days, but I had friends who were. This moment took me right back to that place, right back to vulnerable. My typical self-confidence deflated like a spit-filled balloon. It only happened ONE TIME. It only lasted about five minutes. But every once in a while, even though it’s nearly twenty years later, I think about that moment.

It came to my mind just before I began this post. I don’t know why. But, it got me to thinking. If that single, isolated event was enough to stick with me throughout my adulthood, how many times have I said or done something (even accidentally) that wounded another person and left a lifelong scar?  How many times has my masters degree in sarcasm unwittingly cut someone? It brings tears to my eyes to think about it. Is there someone, somewhere who occasionally sees my face in the back of their mind, as they recall the sting of something I said?  God help me, I pray not.

I also began thinking about the power even just ONE WORD can have. My bully, in this case, was a ONE-TIME bully. I was a grown woman. SHE was a grown woman. And yet, her one-time meanness and her one-sentence insults have literally stayed with me for life. All it takes is one moment to change a person’s life. It might not be a dramatic change, but life changing is life changing either way. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not crippled by it or anything. I know my worth, and my identity was established on high. I don’t rely on man to tell me who I am. But, what about people who DON’T know their worth? What about people who are looking for something more, but don’t know where to find it? What kind of message are we sending to that slow clerk at the bank or that oblivious mom in the car-rider line? What kind of impact are we making on our kids when we’re frustrated, or our mates when we’ve had a long day?

Like most parents, my husband and I are doing our best to teach our boys about the power of kindness, and the power of the tongue. Our words are a creative force. We are either speaking life or death all the time – and that ain’t me talking, that one came straight from The King. But, as I thought about this moment in my past, I began to realize that we might not always give others the same benefit.

Listen, bridling the tongue is hard. I know it, you know it. But maybe, just maybe, if we teach ourselves to be aware of how just ONE moment can impact another person’s entire day, week, entire life, and we take ACTION to put that knowledge to good use, we can, TOGETHER, begin to see lasting change in the world. Every great movement of mankind started with a single idea, right? What’s stopping us from moving mankind one word at a time?

Do you have a “one-time?”  Share it.

For His sake,


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