Zoe Nepomnayshy was just 9 years old when she started getting picked on by her classmates. She said the other girls teased her about her clothes and thought nothing of poking her as they laughed about her sense of fashion.
A shy fourth-grader at the time, Zoe said she remembers all she wanted to do was get away from those mean girls. She cried a lot in those days, feeling worthless and ashamed, while also wondering if her peers were right about her social awkwardness.
Thankfully, she said, her mother, Ame Matuza, and her best friend helped her through those rough times by getting her to talk honestly about how much the bullying hurt.
“I guess they were jealous,” Zoe replied when asked why she thought she was picked on. “You never really know ... bullies just say stuff and keep going.”
Today, a much happier 12-year-old Zoe is using the experience to inspire others.
The seventh-grade honors student at West Middle School has written a song called “Feel the Rain” about her bullying experience. In it, she talks about how to stand strong in the wake of being bullied or being told that you are something less than you are.
“We did not initially know that she was writing it because it was her way of dealing with (the) bullying,” her mother said. “When she finally did show it to us, we thought it was really special.”
Zoe started with the lyrics and then put music to the words. After spending some time refining the song, she brought it to her piano teacher, Ed Lee of The Music Studio in Tewksbury, who liked it so much that he took it through the studio process and produced it.
The initial recording was done last December and then it took about 10 months to coordinate the musical and vocal accompaniment and lay all the various tracks. The song was released on iTunes in October under the young songwriter’s stage name, Zoe Bronwyn.
Ame Matuza said local teachers have received copies of the song so they can share it with students.
“There have been too many terrible stories of late about suicides and horrible tragedies associated with bullying,” Matuza said. “We are trying to get the word out that bullying should not be tolerated.”
Moira O’Brien, Zoe’s former principal at Shawsheen Elementary, sent it to all of her staff. Teachers at West Elementary have been playing it for their classes. Gina Murray of the West Middle School PTO sent it to the principal, vice principal and some of the guidance counselors to play.
West Elementary School Principal Liz Roos said in an email that Zoe’s song fits in with the five tenets of the school’s Open Circle program.
“That’s our social emotional program and the tenets are: making big problems smaller, caring about your classmates, knowing when to ask for help, working well with others and being in control of body and words,” Roos wrote. “Students are recognized with Open Circle High Five stickers for demonstrating any of the tenets.”
Zoe, who has two younger siblings, said she knows putting her autobiographical story into a song on iTunes could have opened her up to even more bullying. But it hasn’t.
“I just thought that maybe I could help someone ... that’s why I did this song,” said Zoe, who in her free time swims on the Hurricanes team, dances and teaches at Dance Infusion in Andover, takes piano and guitar lessons and plays in the chime choir at church.
She encourages youths who might find themselves the target of bullies to open up about it and not keep it to themselves.
“Bullying is out there and you have to talk about it,” she said. “I was lucky to have my mom and my best friend. I talked and cried with them. That’s what you have to do ... talk about it. Don’t hide.”
`FEEL THE RAIN’
I know a lot about you, and about what you can do
Like trying to always bring me down, right back down to the ground.
You seemed so nice and caring, too, but I should not have trusted you,
Because beneath those heartfelt smiles, lay insecurities that ran for miles.
I thought we’d be the best of friends, sharing laughter ‘til the end,
Instead you shared with me your rage, and let your tiger out of its cage.
You laughed at every move I made, you lied and took my friends away,
You ruined lots of days at school, and made me feel like a fool.
(Chorus) Don’t tell me I can’t feel the rain, don’t tell me I can’t hear the wind.
Don’t tell me I can’t see the rooftops, even if you say only you can.
I felt so lost and afraid, knowing I had been betrayed
Not knowing which way to turn, I knew I had a lot to learn.
You made me feel so very small, but that is not true at all
I know that I have got the key, to unlock the power in me.
When people come in my life, and make me feel less than tall, I know what to do ...
I must break the chain of feeling sad and refrain from making others feel small.