23 December 2011

All About My 5th Grade Bully

by Diane Carlisle


I commented about school lunches on April Plummer's blog this past week and it got me thinking about childhood traumas, or what I call childhood dramas today. This led me to thinking about an issue which has become a huge problem today, and not only amongst children either. Bullying is becoming so widespread, or is it just getting more visibility because of social media and technological advances?

I remember the girl who bullied me when we were in 5th grade. I can envision her face as I'm writing this. When I see her, this child who must have been lashing out, but at what I couldn't begin to tell you, she is just that, a small child.

Her name was Ellen Mathews (name changed to protect her in case she’s a changed person today). She always wore a dress. She didn't wear new dresses. They were old and two sizes too big. Her hair wasn't glistening and shiny like the other black girls whose moms had obviously taken care to comb, braid and polish their hair before sending them off to school.

Ellen's hair was scary. I can only imagine that she had to do her own hair. Her braids were loosely twisted together like the hairy legs of a tarantula spider and they looked like they had a fine layer of volcanic ash dusted over them. Her skin wasn't golden, chocolaty or brown, it was an ashy black and her eyes the same. She knew I was afraid of her and I think that made things worse.

Why do I remember her so vividly? Because up until that point, I'd never been bullied in my life. Sure I'd been in arguments and fights with other kids, but being bullied is a whole different issue. I'd never felt so alone as I did when I was bullied, and that face and her demeanor, mannerisms and all, will never go away.

Such little things a person can do to terrify another person and she probably didn't realize it. Maybe someone was doing it to her, I don't know. But, how else does a child learn that kind of behavior? I mean to ball up your fist, bug out your eyes with an angry grimace and silently mouth to someone you barely know, “I’m a get you.” That doesn’t just come from a 5th grade little girl.

I remember once we were on our way to the library and she walked up next to me and started teasing me and so I sped up. Then she sped up so that we were neck and neck again. I slowed down and so did she. I was afraid and she knew it. Then she said, "I'm a beat you up when we get out the library."

I didn't say anything back, I just kept walking. My entire session at the library was spent worrying about being beat up. Ten minutes before the bell rang, she looked over and stared at me. I glanced away, but each time I looked up again, she was still staring at me and her face looked angrier and angrier. It was like the first time I'd watched The Wizard of Oz and Miss Gulch rode by on her bike during the tornado and then turned into the wicked witch of the west. I remember all I wanted to do was go home.

I felt claustrophobic. All the other children at my table seemed to be caught up in their own groups, laughing and whispering with each other, and the librarian was busy cataloguing books. It was the loneliest feeling I'd ever experienced. I should have told a teacher, but I didn't want to bother anyone with my little issue. I didn't want anyone to know I was afraid, that this little girl who was smaller than me was making me afraid.

Anyway, she beat me up like she said she would. I was shoved and pushed against another child, who got mad at me for stumbling into them and thus pushed me back into the bully. Of course, they couldn't get mad at the person responsible for pushing me into them, right? The whole time I wanted to apologize to each person I stumbled into in hopes that they'd forgive me and not join the harassment.

Of course, I didn't tell my parents because I didn't get punched in the eye or mouth, no black eye or fat lip. She didn't hit me, just lots of shoving and pushing which sort of injured my pride a bit. Then a teacher got word that there was a "fight" and Ellen and I both had to write "I will not fight in school" five hundred times each. Sad, isn't it?

The next morning I remember going into my parent's bedroom and whispering to my mother, "I don't feel good. Can I stay home from school?" The dreaded hand to my forehead to check my temperature was an indication that I'd be going to school to face my bully yet again.

This sort of thing didn't happen every day. But you just never knew when it was going to happen. How do you prepare yourself to face such a person? There was always that day when I'd show up at school and Ellen didn't. CHA-CHING!! Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last! Well, at least for that one day.

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