All last week I was trying to write something. There are five posts just sitting here in my blog book, waiting to go but none of them are quite right. They all seem so. . . half-hearted, like ice over the surface of a lake, hiding the depths. It makes me feel like I’ve written but without any real honesty.
One post was about evangelism. One was about how to begin blogging. One was about saying goodbye to some friends who went back to Poland. One was about how comfort can kill. And one was about as close to honest as possible but too close to share with you — not for my sake but for the sake of others.
I thought when I opened my notebook that I would talk about a conversation that occurred a few Saturday evenings ago but then I began to think about another conversation, one in which the Boy Moose asked an interesting question in search of understanding and I scared myself by telling the truth.
He said to me once,
Sometimes you’re so self-assured and then other times. . .
It’s just because sometimes I genuinely believe that I am safe and loved and sometimes I remember my place. In the latter case, I find myself retreating behind age-old walls to a place where it is easier to stay out of harm’s way.
I can write about anything I like and it will be readable with enough perseverance but the point is not to put words on a page, anyone can do that. The point is to say something. Maybe that’s the problem with those other posts, they don’t say anything that someone else hasn’t already said.
So here’s something only I can tell you, something honest. Something that it’s about time I talked about.
Schooldays are the best days of your life.
Maybe for some but don’t feel bad if you can’t agree. The majority of people I’ve heard say it were either teachers or the popular kids (now working in KFC).
Don’t get me wrong, high school was memorable. Some of those abiding memories include sitting in a PE cupboard crying while my teacher tried to work out what was going on; having juice thrown all over me at lunch break; being followed home with taunting shouts; having my shoes thrown at me in the changing rooms; being unable to walk or breathe with the pain in my leg when I was pushed over; being banished to the library at lunchtime to keep me out of trouble; pretending to stumble over my French vocabulary so that they could feel smug with their terrible accents; kidding on I didn’t understand Shakespeare; being backed up against a car by a gang of girls until my brother hauled me out by my collar and told me to run home; hating classical music but always feeling safe shut away in that little cupboard learning Bach with Mr Thomas; sitting through a hundred and one SE lessons about bullying and always feeling that it was somehow my fault; anger, lots of anger, muted by despair.
These days, no one really cares about bullying. Everything has turned into a phobia and that beautiful buzzword, intolerance (which only happens to ethnic minorities, non-heterosexuals, feminists, and politicians in need of political leverage). Bullying is just one of those phases kids go through when they get a little bolshy and push each other around, it’s not that serious. It’s not even really an issue anymore.
I stumbled across a blog post recently, written by a girl who was bullied in school. Not to diminish her hardship but she made light of it herself. She was fortunate to have a group of supportive people around her (by her own admission) and the whole thing faded out within a matter of months. Most of what I have read has been people looking back and talking about how dramatic these things felt at the time but how they were just overreacting and it wasn’t really all that bad.
It’s easy to say once you have come through the other side.
Some Things I’m Guilty Of
Firstly, I’m guilty of making light of it. Humour is my way of dealing with hurt. If I talk about it at all, I make it into a joke.
- Ugh! Teenage girls are the worst.
- High school are the best days of your life? They evidently never went to my school.
- Yeah, I moved school, They couldn’t handle the awesomeness.
- Mmm. High school had its moments.
- What? You enjoyed school? You are crazy!
I’m coming to realise as I grow older that pain is pain. You can’t compare it and neither should you diminish it because it continues to impact you long after it ceases to sting directly.
Another thing to be said is that the only adults (the only people?) on my side were my parents and in some of my lower moments I wondered if they only believed me because we were related so they had to. They were the only ones in my corner but I could hardly take them with me every day, I could only come home and cry on them.
To the teachers I was a nuisance, instructed just to keep my head down and stay out of the way. Don’t aggravate them, don’t give them the excuse.
As though one can simply cease to exist.
Even those of us who practice the art of invisibility cannot manage this feat although the Tramadol in the bathroom cupboard whispered to me more and more frequently to try it in the latter days.
It wasn’t serious. Lots of kids get bullied and make it out to be far worse than it is. But this whole attitude consolidated one thing in my mind that I am still struggling to let go:
You trust your family and no one else, especially when it comes to adults. Because no one else cares. Not really.
And then, the dismissal that it was the overreaction of a pre-teen drama queen. I believed it once. If things were that bad, I wouldn’t have grown up to be able to just get on with my life. If it was as terrible as it seemed, I wouldn’t have been able to move on and move past it. I know because I’ve seen it in friends who have suffered hard things in their youth and still find themselves chained and consumed by the hurt.
The thing is that first year was the climax of years of constant, subtle aggravation. Somewhere back in the mists of time, my English roots were used as an excuse but that faded with my accent and the whole thing developed into a habit with no apparent reason until the years went by and it grew into something that was just done, losing all memorable origin or justification.
High School was the pinnacle of those years of uneasiness. It is a place where restraint and supervision are lifted just enough to be dangerous.
It was not a one off beating after school one day, nor the intermittent pilfering of lunch money as the fancy took them, it was a bitter daily vendetta. There was no space to breathe, there was no respite, not even weekends because the return to Craigie’s corridors on Monday morning was never too far from mind. They were in all my classes, sometimes even making a point of sitting next to me so that they could whisper to me or copy my work or pinch me under the table to see if I would squeak.
Petty, all of it, I know. And because of that, and partly due to the reactions of those in authority around me, there were times when it just grew too confusing and I became convinced that I had caused it and deserved it somehow, that I was indeed in the wrong.
And That’s (Part Of) My Story
There’s nothing really to say about it all so sorry if you were expecting some trite comment on the dangers of taking bullying lightly. That’s not the point.
Nor is the point that it has not been permitted to become a part of my identity in the years that followed. Sure, it has shaped me but it does not define me. I’m slow to trust; I don’t express emotions very well; sometimes I remember my place and it devours all illusions of self-assurance–but I am not that child anymore. Even these things and others that I am becoming aware of and working through are not the point.
The point is this: there is a chunk of my life that I next to never talk about, make no effort to think about, and often do what I can to keep it where it won’t come up. And yet it was no small thing in my formative years, something that has had lasting impact, both good and bad.
I don’t want to play the victim nor the pity card and I don’t care to draw moralistic lessons about forgiveness, suffering, or justice. I write this only because I cannot keep ignoring it. Quite simply, it is time to acknowledge out loud that it happened and it hurt.
Because it did.