Bullying can be defined as an aggressive behaviour that is intentional and implies an imbalance of power and strength between the bully and his victim, and comes in repeated, sometimes relentless, forms. As a child, I was a victim of bullying, although I suppose in many ways we could all say the same.
For me, it was never a chronic thing. I wasn’t afraid to show my face on the school, or worried to leave my very own backyard, for fear of whatever cruelty might await at the hands of my tormentors. But I was different, this I knew, even back then. I stood out, even in the most subtle of ways. As a child, I was small for my age, skinny, awkward, with thick glasses, and a cow lick that, despite repeated ongoing coaxing, would never stay put. I remember the start of the school year in Grade 2, stepping onto the school yard, my shy and quite nervous younger sister clutching my hand at my side. On that particular day, I’d worn new overalls to school, one’s I’d chosen with my mom from the local Kmart where she worked late evening shifts so she’d be home in the day to drop off and pick up my younger sister and I from school. I was proud of that stark, crisp, rough blue denim, the straps snug over my shoulder as they secured and almost protected me in a way from whatever unexpected things this new school day might bring. I felt happy, comfortable, confident, ready to take on Grade 2 in all it’s wonder and glory, and then suddenly….a small group of kids, mostly older, surrounding me, taunting me, calling me Old MacDonald (you know, he of the farm) and laughing at my bold new “look”. And before long, a tap to my shoulder, a slap to my back, a push to the side, and hands seemingly flying everywhere, boys jeering in my face, singing about cows and ducks and laughing….and then one curly haired boy in particular, direct in my face, snarling and laughing the most, and my little sister, frightened and tearful by my side. And then, with some primal instinct I barely recognized, I felt my hand fly out, in some semblance of a punch I didn’t know how to throw, and pain shooting through my knuckle and wrist as I connected with a nose, a nose soon bloodied, and then a shocked cry and a stinging slap across my face, resulting in my also recently acquired and quite expensive new glasses flying off my face and skittering across the pavement, to the sound of broken, tinkering glass. And next… silence. Followed by the sound of little bodies scurrying away, and the fast approaching and booming voice of the vice principal, a giant of a man, his strong hand clamped tightly on my arm and that of the bloodied boy next to me, dragging us off to the office, my sister inconsolable and screaming my name, with a duty teacher trying to comfort her, left far behind.
As an A + student, this was a rather traumatic moment. Not so much listening to the painful howls of the boy who teased me most (at the time, I wished I’d knocked out a tooth or two as well), but rather visiting the interior of the dreaded principal’s office. I’d never been in trouble at school before….I didn’t KNOW what trouble was…but I did soon come to realize (possibly after seeing the hurt, disappointed look on my parents faces later that day) that my actions – my aggressive, irresponsible actions – were in no way a solution to the problem. As I grew older, however, the school yard bullies came calling much less. I won’t say it’s because of that incident, although at the immediate time I’m sure it made some think twice. With all due modesty, as I grew older I simply looked different, and when it came to the part of the victim or the “geek” let’s say, I didn’t quite look the part, even if inside it was how I sometimes felt. Now I’ll never be mistaken for a Greek god, not even close. However, I like to think of the way I look as the equivalent of the performer with the heart of a small indie actor but with some of those leading man looks. Or, truth was I became taller, with strong, broad shoulders, a quick wit, and very soulful puppy dog eyes, and suddenly it seemed girls (and, in retrospect, boys) LIKED me, and wanted to be around me, and so the invites to parties or the junior high dances became more common. But still, I was something of a gentle soul, nothing so much rough and tumble about me, and smouldering glances aside,that was something I could not so easily hide. My brothers could be mean, not out of hatred or viciousness but more out of ignorance…..they loved Rambo and Rocky, I loved Footloose and Flashdance, and that, it seemed, was simply that. And to make matters even more difficult, I was somewhat in awe of my pretty, popular and ever so worldly seeming older sister, and modelled myself after her in a way, so they’re hockey lovin’, beer sneaking, girl chasing ways seemed rather foreign to me, and to me that seemed just fine.