The first years of school, we’re often told, are the most important in our lives. We learn to read, we learn to write, we learn negotiation skills and we learn how to make friends. And while there was no professor of bullying, no tutor in nasty taunts, this was the area in which you excelled.
You claim to not remember this now, but for six long years you bullied me. For no reason other than because you thought I wasn’t pretty, that my pants weren’t brand new and my hair was short and flat. When I told my parents, they assured me they would try and get to the bottom of things.
Eventually our principal and teachers were informed, mediations were attended by all three groups. Except you and your parents. So, nothing changed. In fact, as seems to be the way with these things, your behaviour just got worse.
Where were your parents?
My parents knew what was going on but when they informed the school, nothing changed.
You were born into a family and social group that became the envy of everyone around you. Maybe our teachers wanted your family to like them, and confronting them about a misbehaving daughter would have jeopardised that.
Or maybe it was your parents who were too scared; that by talking to you about your behaviour they’d have to address their own.
For whatever reason, nothing was done about the bullying and I built my life around two extremes; being prepared for battle at all times, and knowing how to make myself invisible, as quickly as possible.
This is how it felt to be me
Did you know I regularly walked home on the wrong side of the road so I didn’t have to be physically near people who made my life a living misery?
Did you know that the nicknames you gave me, pooper-scooper, freckle faced fart machine, ghost girl, meant that it wasn’t until age 19 that I felt comfortable going to the beach without long pants or stockings on, covering my pasty-white skin? Or that I would try to cut off bits of my stomach with safety scissors to make it look flat like yours?
Did you know that I spent lunch hiding in the music room to avoid the embarrassment of being told I couldn’t sit with someone? Or worse still, be seen to be sitting on my own in the wet weather shed?
It’s not your fault that those wounds would fester and scar. You were small. You were reacting to a dopamine response in your brain. You would say a phrase, the group would laugh, one would cry. Economically speaking that’s a win for you.
Bullying changed the way I saw myself
Our experience, mine and yours, became the foundation of rubble on which I created the rest of my life. My values, my sense of self.
Did you know that no matter how many times people have told me that I look gorgeous, I pull faces and earnestly believe that they are lying? Because you told me I wasn’t pretty when I had no choice but to believe everything you said.
Being little makes you honest, it is grown-ups who tell lies.
You don’t remember being a bully
When I confronted you recently, you said you don’t remember those six long years. I’m sorry you don’t. But that has made me realise my greatest challenge; it’s up to me to take steps toward forgiveness, growth and understanding.
To be honest, forgiving you feels difficult. But I have been able to shift some of the blame I felt towards you because I realise that it was up to the grown-ups to face the ugly truth of your bullying behaviour.
We were only six, after all. How could we resolve such a complex issue when we could spend an entire lunch time fighting over who was going to be which Spice Girl at the concerts we staged in the sandpit?
Yes, grown-ups have to do better. Mine fought for me tooth and nail. But yours never showed up.
If our parents and teachers couldn’t meet as equals, how can we expect children to do the same?
Funnily enough we’re both grown-ups now; the thing I used to lie in bed at night and wish so furiously would hurry up, has finally happened.
Yet, it seems growing up hasn’t fully dulled the ache. I don’t hate you anymore. Because it takes up time, and if super-hero movies have taught me anything, hate breeds more hate. Still, that doesn’t stop the hurt. It doesn’t end the second-guessing or the inability to feel comfortable in a swimsuit.
Maybe someday soon I’ll have kids of my own. I’m looking forward to hearing their thoughts, their dreams and their meandering stories that just sort of drift off mid-sentence, before they run off to play with something else.
That’s the most important thing you taught me. Even if you don’t remember the lessons.