I was never bullied as a child.
Sure, there were kids (mostly boys) who occasionally called me names, but that wasn’t real bullying.
Well, this is the story I told myself for decades, but was it true? Not at all. For I was bullied and damn did it hurt.
“You’re so bloody ugly I can’t stand looking at you!”
I didn’t trust my teachers enough to tell them about the bullying and I definitely didn’t want to hurt my own mother by telling her.
Like any mother, she wanted her children to be happy, and I didn’t want to let her down, so telling her about the bullying was out of the question.
But most of all, I didn’t want to be singled out as different or special. I abhorred other people’s pity and I refused to be a victim, so I denied, to myself and to others, that I was a popular target for bullies.
I had one thing going for me though: in my refusal to be victimised I fought back, sometimes with my fists, exacting physical revenge on my tormentor.
Girls don’t get angry and they most certainly don’t use violence.
More than once, therefore, I was sent to see the school counsellor following an incident in the playground.
“If you can go a whole week without taking your anger out on someone, you’ll get an ice cream on Friday,” he told me.
How he managed to get a license to work with kids is beyond me.
I am pretty certain that had I been a boy, I would not have ended up in his office in the first place. Boys fight, it’s normal, but girls, apparently, don’t.
In the eyes of the teachers and the school counsellor, I was the problem, not the kids who bullied me. No wonder I didn’t feel I could trust adults with my pain.
As a pre-schooler, I had been relatively spared from nasty comments by other kids, so it came as quite a shock when only a few weeks into my first year of school, Jonas, a ‘tough boy’ in the 6th grade, approached me during lunch break as I sat on a bench chatting to my new friends.
“What the fuck happened to your face?” he asked with a smirk.
“That’s none of your business,” I snapped, trying to be cool although I was mortified.
“Hey, don’t be smart with me,” Jonas retorted and took a step closer, his tall frame now towering over me.
I should have been scared of him, and I probably was, but I refused to show my fear. I knew that if I did, he would have won.
So instead I got angry and, without thinking, I stood up and pushed him away from me. It wasn’t a hard push but not expecting such a reaction from me, Jonas momentarily lost his balance.
Once he’d composed himself enough, he yelled across the playground to the teacher on duty,
“She hit me!”
Within minutes we’d both been sent up to the headmaster’s office.
Feigning innocence, Jonas moaned,
“She attacked me. I wasn’t doing anything.”
“That’s not true!” I protested to the clueless headmaster. “He was harassing me.”
In the end, we were both reprimanded for the incident and I knew then and there that no teacher or adult was going to protect me from being bullied.
Over the years, I learned to fight back, not with my fists but with words, and I discovered that standing up to, and publicly shaming, my tormentor was the most effective way of putting an end to the abuse.