We were in grade school. I don’t remember what year it was but it was before sixth grade. I was a quietish kid, kind of an oddball. I can’t really even now pinpoint what it was that made other kids (and some adults) see me as easy pickings. I’m not telling this story for sympathy, but because I was inspired by something I read on Facebook today.
I have only told this story to one person as an adult, someone I thought would be my friend forever. That doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. That’s not germane to the story though so I’ll put that in my back pocket for another day when I’m braver.
It was warm that day I remember. Someone, I don’t know who, had an accident in the cloak room. It was literally in a small pile on the floor. Of course everyone was grossed out about it and made a lot of noise but to my knowledge no one claimed responsibility. Probably the teacher knew who it was but who knows. I can assure you that it was not me. For those of you who were my classmates it was before the Helter Skelter scandal. (OMG do you remember that??!)
On my way home the afternoon of this accident I was walking down my street after school and I was chased down by two boys in my class. Johnny and Bruce. They lived past me and were walking home like me. They shoved me around, called me a filthy animal and other names, pushed me to the ground, rubbed my face into the dry dirt and pulled grass putting it into my hair and mouth. They did all of this right outside Bobby and Johnny’s (another) houses. I knew that other kids were around but no one did anything. They didn’t hurt me or anything, just humiliated me. You see, they thought I was the one who did that in the cloak room. I’m pretty sure to this day both those boys grew up believing that I did that. Not only that but I’m pretty sure that they told a lot of other people. No one ever accused me directly of it other than those two on that day.
I never told anyone what happened. I think if I’d have told my brothers they would have confronted the boys who did this but even then I knew that I was just one of those kids. I was destined for whatever reason to be one of the oddball kids and if I’d have made big deal out of it, things would only have gotten worse. Kids who are bullied catch on pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a pretty good childhood. I was surrounded by family and friends who cared about me and liked me just the way I was. They might have laughed at me behind my back I don’t know, but they treated me okay. I was awkward and a teacher’s pet. I was a bookworm, an academic and not athletic in the least. When I was little I was tiny, skinny and knock kneed and extraordinarily shy. As I got older I became chunky and less shy and I was still not athletic. I had a lot of hair and I was covered with freckles and as a little girl would burst into tears if someone looked at me crooked. I grew out of that by Jr. High School and kind of jumped from group to group until I found a core group of friends. Some people like Debbie, Sue and Ann stuck around from grade school to Jr. High and High School, others I met in High School.
It’s funny it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I learned that the people on my softball team saw me as kind of a joke. Admittedly I wasn’t very good, or as one person told me and anyone else who would listen, I sucked at softball. It’s okay it doesn’t hurt my feelings because it was true. I didn’t really know how bad I sucked though! I loved it, the team, the uniforms, the forced practices, the camaraderie, the scorched and bruised palms from catching Debbie’s windmill pitches, the smell of grass in the outfield, getting dirty running the bases, getting in trouble with the coach etc. I’m glad I didn’t know what they thought of me because I would have quit and I really did love it. I only quit because I genuinely injured my leg and the coach thought I was making it up so my Mom told me I could just tell him I was done. I was riding double on Sue’s ten speed and we wrecked. Crazy.
Once, not very many years ago, someone approached me and apologized for the way they treated me as a child. I told her I had no memory of her treating me badly. I always thought she was one of the nice ones. Again, I’m glad I was oblivious to some of it because I was able to live a pretty happy life as a child. I do remember running into Johnny of the dirt many years later. I was doing pretty well and he was working at a 7-11. I didn’t care really what he wasn’t doing and we talked like old classmates do. I remember seeing the shock on his face when I told him I was married and had a child. He actually said “You have a baby?” in a surprised tone. I just smiled and said “Yes her name is Anne Marie” then I paid for my stuff and left.
Something else though that came to mind today after reading that stranger’s post on Facebook. I was a bully too. I remember this girl Diane. She was off somehow, I don’t know how but I do remember she was very shy. You might remember her, she worked at National and I think Schnucks for a long time, she might still be there. I recall seeing her and her mom walking on Mullanphy a lot. We picked on her. We laughed at her when she walked by, we made her feel bad for walking on the seal at school and we talked about her. We used to make jokes about her marrying another boy who went to our high school named Ross. I think Ross was mainstreamed and we weren’t nice to him either. I hope they don’t remember us. I have tried to track down Diane to apologize but only in the last few years. I don’t know why, having been on the receiving end, I ever mistreated another person, I guess psychologically speaking I was just emulating so as not to feel like such a victim. Who knows? I have grown up since then.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer that what does not kill us makes us stronger. I believe I’m stronger for it. I know I’m more compassionate. My mother used to say that I wore rose colored glasses and didn’t see things the way they really were. I don’t know if that was such a bad thing. She and my Dad both used to just shake their heads because I would take up for any underdog or lost cause there was. I’ve refined that a little bit (I don’t marry them or date them any more LOL) but I still cannot stand to see an inequity and if I see someone being bullied I tend to step in – much to my daughter’s chagrin. There have been many a time where she has just thrown up her hands and gone out to the car while I tussled with some big fat jerk mistreating someone.
I’m pretty happy with who I am overall, there are obviously things I would change about myself but I don’t get bullied any more and I surround myself with good people. Life is what you make of it.