This article originally appeared on VICE France.
For most people, thinking about their childhood brings up some nostalgia—smells, songs, making your first friends, getting physically ill with excitement just thinking about Christmas coming up. It's great stuff, if you drown out the night terrors, the surprise projectile vomiting, and the scraped knees. When I think about my childhood, I don't think about any of that. I'm mostly just sad and ashamed, having gone from my school's favorite punching bag to an all out miserable bully.
I was born in Les Sables-d'Olonne, a seaside resort in the Vendée department in France. Each summer, thousands of French and foreign tourists flock to the beaches of my town to soak up the sun. Off season, it's a very charming and quiet city, with only 15,000 inhabitants. My family—my parents, my two sisters, and myself—lived not far from the beach. Like my sisters, I went to a private school in my neighborhood. Despite our school being very Catholic, the kids there weren't loving to their neighbors. They were cruel, and I was their target.
We weren't very rich, so my mom always acted as my hairdresser. It wasn't one of her talents: My badly cut, thick bangs lay heavy on my forehead. On top of that, I always wore my sisters' old clothes that were way too big for me. I basically looked like a rag doll. You can't be expected to have great fashion sense when you're eight, but, sadly, all my classmates came from rich families, and they all cared about style. They went after me for how I looked. This one time, one of the kids picked up a broom from the playground, held me down, and brushed my hair with it. When I brought snacks, Pogs, or Michael Jackson Panini cards to school, they'd disappear in my classmates' pockets.
Looking back, I can't really blame them, because our teachers didn't like me either. I broke my wrist one morning, falling off a sled. My teacher ignored me because she thought I was faking it, but a few hours later, I was at the hospital with a fresh cast on my arm. My parents frequently complained about the situation, but nothing changed. They didn't want to move me to a different school.
When I finally left for secondary school, many kids from my old school came along, so nothing changed. Each morning, one of my classmates would welcome me with a knee in the thigh. But that's when, I started observing the older students, who I thought were way more interesting and had more character than kids my age. They weren't bullied—they dictated the rules. I started befriending older kids in school and imitating them. To start a new life, I had to become a new person.
The first time I got in a fistfight was with one of my old friends, just before art class. I don't remember why we fought. After that, every time anything didn't go the way I wanted, I would systematically slap or hit the person connected to it. It didn't matter if they were a boy or a girl: I'd go for them as long as they were the kind of kid I had been—vulnerable and reserved. I laughed at them and mocked the way they looked. It was so easy. I knew perfectly well how to reduce my victims to tears.
I loved the fact that I was suddenly feared—it was a sweet revenge on exactly the wrong people.
Having been a victim of bullying myself, I knew well that I was destroying their already low self-esteem. But I loved the fact that I was suddenly feared—it was a sweet revenge on exactly the wrong people. I started having more fights with my parents, did really badly at school, and had to repeat a year. In retrospect, that's probably the best thing that could have happened to me at that time.
Friendship is a very relative concept when you are a teenager and repeating a year separated me from my new friends—even if it only meant they were in a different classroom in the same building. It was an opportunity for me to see them with some distance. When I talked to them, the girls only cared about boys and sex. They shared all details of their intimate relationships and their boyfriends with me, which I cared nothing about. I realized that I didn't want to be like them.
I was still impulsive, but I managed to control my anger. I made some new friends who I still see today—they were a bit more stable than my old friends. I gradually became aware of the harm I had done to people and took care to apologize to everyone I had abused and assaulted.
The story of my aggression, however, does not end there. The new experiences that adolescence brought led me to binge drinking. As expected, getting completely trashed every Friday and Saturday did not help me get over my bad habits.
Pretty much every party I was drunk at, ended badly. Living in a seaside resort means that you can hang out on the beach with your friends and a couple of bottles of liquor, but it also means you have to put up with bratty surfers. One night, one of them noticed I was drunk and tried to kiss me. When I said no, he gave me an angry push. I reacted by punching him hard in the face. I hadn't expected him to do the same, but he did, and that obviously started an all out brawl when my friends came to protect my honor.
My friends were usually the ones bearing the brunt of my drunken rage, though. One of them, Manu—probably one of the most open and sensitive people I know—had an especially hard time with me. Butter knives, shoes, PlayStation joysticks: I threw anything I could get my hands on at his face whenever I got drunk, along with some harsh, personal insults. My friends started avoiding me: I was an explosive, and vodka was my detonator. The fact that they begun to distance themselves from me made me realize that if I didn't stop being a prick, I would end up alone. I had just left secondary school, and I didn't want to lose the friends who had changed my life for the better.
It's been four years since I stopped abusing alcohol. These days, I just have a couple of drinks on a night out, and my friends appreciate my moderation. I still feel really ashamed about my childhood—especially the part where I hurt fragile people despite knowing what it felt like to be humiliated. I was just so angry, and that anger was directed toward everyone and no one at the same time. I guess I wanted to prove that nobody could hurt me. That doesn't really matter as much to me anymore.