She was being watched. Like predators waiting for an opportunity to pounce, Calesse’s bullies prowled her every moment. Even when they weren’t physically nearby, they continued to torment Calesse’s thoughts.
Like a defenseless rabbit, ready to flee perceived danger, Calesse lived in a state of constant fear.
For a child of just 11 years, it was no life at all.
A rocky start
Calesse felt the weight of the target on her back from almost the moment she stepped into the halls of her new middle school. Her family had moved to Virginia, and Calesse found being the new girl brought unexpected risks.
“If you didn’t act like them, they’d bully you,” Calesse remembered.
The students’ name calling was bad enough. But what was worse, others threw trash at her or picked fights with her. An admittedly sensitive girl, Calesse said she didn’t know how to react to the uninvited aggression.
“If I ever got in a fight, I’d break down crying,” she said.
Calesse felt trapped. Everything she tried to solve her problems, from quiet submission to outright defiance, failed to deter her bullies.
Calesse’s parents took action, too, but the children who bullied her at school lived in the same neighborhood. Sometimes, they stood outside Calesse’s house, taunting her through her window.
Hopelessness overtook Calesse.
“I didn’t even want to be at home anymore … I felt like I couldn’t even go anywhere,” she said.
Holed up in her bedroom, the ever-building stress began taking a toll on Calesse’s family relationships, too. She was exhausted by the constant looking over her shoulder, and it eroded Calesse’s trust for, well, everyone. This once big-hearted, caring young girl was now snapping at everyone around her and withdrawing from the people who loved her the most.
“It was chaotic. I’d hear my parents fighting about (what to do) every night,” Calesse remembered. “My mom would ask if I was OK, and I would be mad and just want to be left alone.”
The last straw
One day, as her science class was about to start, another student approached Calesse and demanded she give up her seat. Calesse, fed up from an already long, aggravating day of torment, flatly refused. She’d had enough. She wasn’t moving.
Calesse’s response lit the proverbial match in a gas-filled room.
“She pulled me up by my hair and dragged me out of the chair,” Calesse recounted.
With Calesse’s hair in one hand, the girl began pummeling Calesse and threw her to the ground. By the time Calesse’s teacher reached her, Calesse was bloodied, bruised and missing chunks of hair. And, she was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. Calesse and her family spent hours that night in the emergency room.
Regardless what tension the situation had fostered between Calesse and her family, on this night, they all agreed on one undeniable point: This was the last straw, something had to change. And, it had to change right now.
Her parents searched for an alternative to her local school. There were schools for poor students, or trouble-making students, schools for students with learning problems. Was there nowhere for Calesse?
The solution turned out to be closer than they realized. Calesse’s grandfather knew of someplace that might be right, Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. Looking over the website, calfarley.org, the family found Boys Ranch a refreshing option to the toxic environment Calesse faced every day.
A fresh start
Calesse has lived at Boys Ranch for about a year now. She participates in tennis and track, and has found theater an excellent outlet for the vibrant personality she’d hidden away under a mountain of fear.
She also participates in the Experiential Learning Program, which is designed to give Cal Farley’s youth real-world experience in vocational fields. For now, Calesse is learning in the Boys Ranch Headquarters gift shop. When her time there is finished, she plans to move on to the community garden, where her peers learn to grow produce and take care of small animals, like goats and chickens.
“I have my heart set on being a veterinarian,” Calesse said. “I just want to help animals.”
As important as all these activities are, more important for Calesse are the strong relationships she’s building with her peers and mentors at Boys Ranch. As Calesse rediscovers her sense of belonging through these relationships at Cal Farley’s, her self-confidence is returning.
Calesse once felt like she stood alone against an angry, frightening world. Today, she has an entire team of dedicated people to stand beside her. And, day by day, she’s learning to trust her friends and family amid tough times.
She’s feeling free to be herself again.
“People can say what they want,” Calesse said with renewed confidence. “I know exactly who I am.”