You’re an open book, until you realise that you actually have a bookmark and can fold in on yourself. (A story about bullying.)
Someone I’ve never written about or never even spoken to anyone about is getting bullied in Year Eleven.
What’s crazy about not being open about this is that I had a huge support network at the time: my parents, best friends, kinda-sorta-boyfriends, workmates and even ‘old people’ in their twenties friends. I was almost always honest about everything, and being a church kid meant that my friends and I were huge on self-examination, or sharing how we felt or just being honest about things.
But, nah, this ongoing bullying stuff I have left in my shoebox of memories as something I feel ashamed and still pretty pissed off about. I will go as far to say that this is the reason I wouldn’t attend a high school reunion now, and it’s also the reason I wouldn’t go certain places by myself, or with anyone, when I was at school. I can tell you exactly who these people are, but I won’t. I’m not mad, and also who wants to be held accountable for something shitty they did at aged sixteen, when most people are shitty at their friends anyway?
It started because there was a new cool kid at school and he obviously decided I was a loser slash easy target. Which I was. Always striving to be different, I wore bandanas, excessive jewellery, sometimes kneesocks and I wore sunglasses everywhere. My school had a very relaxed uniform, but even when I’d dress down (swapping out my school skirt for denim jeans), I was still a target. I also have issues with my eyes — besides having a squint (one eye turns in, which people notice eventually), I also have really bad light sensitivity, so I was often squinting my way through the hallways and stairwells which provided enough natural light for me to look like a goober.
But this new guy had friends. And his friends were mostly not my friends, and they were cool as well. They were the kids that most everyone liked or feared, and they had girlfriends who didn’t like me because, well, see the paragraph above.
The only time they would say things to me was when I was alone, which was a lot during the first few months of school. Maybe I’d skipped out on most of the bullying during the first few years of high school because my best friend was a guy and we shared most of our classes. Maybe it’s because I had some friends who people didn’t give a hard time either. I don’t know. What I do know as a fact was that if I was with someone else they would never say anything. It was only when I was alone that they’d be nasty.
At the time I was kind of happy that a few of the guys never said anything, and I justified that because we shared our homeroom together for four years. I still like those guys, but we would probably call them by-standers now.
The thing is with the kids from homeroom is that if someone gave me a hard time, I was almost always in on the joke. When your best friend is a guy, you find yourself in all sorts of silly situations, including the fake wedding the class clown put on for us during Year Eight the day we were given Gideon’s Bibles. Everyone laughed then, including me.
But this act of bailing me up in the stairwell on my way to the common room after lunch wasn’t funny. Best friend was no where to be seen, which was fine, but it gave them license to corner me about my squinty eyes,my boyfriend, myfashion choices and just generally being a loser. Now the joke was on me, and I wasn’t laughing.
I’d like to say that I took it on the chin. But I said nothing.
As in, I ignored them every time they’d say something and keep walking. I’d hear one of the girls say ‘oh my God, she’s such a LOSER,’ her voice getting louder and louder as the distance between me and them grew.
Why didn’t I tell anyone?
I knew that nothing would happen. At the time the senior students had a lot of freedom, and I knew that by dobbing in these people I’d be making it worse for myself, not to mention that it’d be a joke. Plus, these were the cool kids, remember?
There was one time, totally unrelated to this, when a new guy in my Drama class started interrogating me about God stuff and my teacher pulled him up about it (he never did it again), and also spoke to me afterwards. He was the best (he still is), but it was the only time in school when I remember some kind of consequence for being plain-old-rude.
I’d love to say there was a triumph here, but there wasn’t. In the young adult novels I devoured, the main character would finally stand up for themselves, at the same time revealing that the bully had some kind of damaged past, leading the reader to feel sorry for them. As the main character in my own narrative, I knew it was smarter to say nothing.
The only reason that a lot of this behaviour went away was because I had to take about two months off school, and by that time a number of the kids in that group left. There wasn’t a pack that would stalk around the school giving dorks like me a hard time when I got back, thank goodness. Luckily I went back to school and I was back to being my old Drama dork self. But the damage was done. By this time I was too scared of being alone in the senior common areas and sort solace in the library during free lessons. I carried my phone everywhere, even though we weren’t supposed to carry them around. I sought out comfort through emailing my church friends, and enveloping myself in the ongoing trials and tribulations of my own friendship group (we weren’t cool, but we knew that).
And into adult life… Look, I don’t know. I think this experience is why I often shy away from crowds. I tune out if I’m scared someone will be talking negative things about me. It is the reason I always ALWAYS wear sunglasses everywhere, especially when I’m in my home town.
My experience with bullying wasn’t extreme, but it was enough to scare me out of living out the dreams I had during Junior School — hanging out in the common rooms, wearing cool things to school, enjoying free lessons hanging out on my own. It also made me dread going to school, and saw me become someone who had to cling to their friends rather than just being chill, doing their own thing.
It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve realised that two two months I had off from school probably saved me from further misery. In May and June that year I had two lots of eye surgery and could hardly see for weeks afterwards. If it weren’t for my teachers being demanding and kind, I would have flunked most of my subjects. I also lost my part time job during this time because I cancelled too many shifts. I felt like I was failing at everything — I couldn’t focus on work, I barely scrapped it together to sit my AMEB exam, I decided to get a new church and boyfriend… I was a bit nuts. But, when I went back to school for the second semester, the bullying had mostly stopped. I don’t know who the new target was, but it wasn’t me. I got on with life, and though it took a while, I started thriving in a different, more cautious way.
But I’ll never forget their unkindess.