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.


  1. That was very well written, Diane. I'm sorry you were bullied. I know the feeling, although my bullying happened in high school. It really can change a person's life. I went to a conference where the speaker was a woman with Autism. She pointed out (because people with Autism and Asperger's are one of the more bullied groups out there) that we, as a society, allow bullying. She then pointed out how the media picks on people, when what they really need is help, (ie. Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen)and we all watch and laugh. I hadn't really thought about it like that, but she was right.

  2. Lara, you are so right! You can't stop this sort of thing unless you address that root cause. Our kids don't want to come to us because they think it's so minor and it's not!

    Look at those kids, even grown kids who commit suicide because of their fears. It's no longer a "small issue" like it was for me.

    I was so afraid, but I didn't have any other thing going against me to make it worse, she just picked me out from a crowd. I wasn't black, I wasn't gay, I wasn't poor. Someone just didn't like me and they knew how to terrify me. That simple!

  3. Had the same thing in middle school .. A girl of my childhood over took me as the bus went away ... then she stopped .. only the bus children had the half story ... only me and my sis have the complete story .. but it did make me feel insecure throughout my high school years .. now as an adult .. I am BETTER than her in ALL ways ... And yes, I know this for a fact !!

  4. I think everyone experienced some form of bullying. I remember an older boy pinching my cheeks on the bus. And I mean pinched hard enough to make me have to hold back tears. I was afraid to ride the bus because of him. I was young enough that I still told my mom everything. She came to the bus stop with me and said something to him. He said he didn't realize he was hurting me. Yeah, right. But he did stop, thankfully.

  5. Now that we are adults and know better, I think we are better prepared to help others. And I know I'm better too. I think that because I went through what I did, I talk to my kids more often than my parents did me. I make sure that I question and poke and prod. I don't care if they say, "Mom, stop!"

    That just means they've learned to stand up for themselves. :D

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. What a charming and sweet little story. Even bullying seems more innocent and less dangerous than it is today.

  7. I think that might be the problem there Jeff. The younger the victim and bully, the more innocent and less dangerous, but I promise, the fear and anxiety is exponentially greater.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  8. Your blog brought back all the fear and anxiety I had in Junior High when a Hispanic girl decided she wanted to fight me when I didn't even know who she was. She'd stab me with extra sharp pencils and shove me into lockers between classes. I probably could have beaten her up but all my friends warned me not to because she was part of a gang and they all had switch blades. Maybe they thought this because they watched "West Side Story" but for me it was terrifying. I never told my parents because no one told me what to do when bullies pick on you. Thank God people are becoming more enlightened today!

  9. Yes, Deb! I think our parents always just assumed that since we were in school with adult teachers and administrators we were safe from harm.

    I question everything because my son was bullied at school and when I found out, I went to the school. He hated me for it, but I didn't care. I was too worried at the time that he would cause more damage if he let it go on.

    Even teachers get bullied by students these days, so who else is going to protect our children in the future? I say they hire ex-military to teach school. :)

  10. First, thanks for stopping by and your thoughtful comment. I love this post as I was the subject of school bullying back in the day. It's a sad fact that bullying still exist in today's society. I am thankful that being bullied actually made me stronger and I forgave those who bullied me and now I am friends with a few of them. LOL

  11. It definitely made me a stronger person, Debra. Thanks!

    I don't know that I could ever be friends with Ellen, but I remember years ago after I'd had my own kids, I fantasized about getting a phone call from the Oprah Winfrey Show wanting me to come on television and confront my childhood bully.

    LOL, I know, I'm a dork. :)

  12. Happy Holiday !!!

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  13. Your post brought back some of my own bully memories. I had a bully in middle school who made my life miserable. She mocked my physical faults in front of the boys. As a middle school literacy teacher, I see how destructive bullying is to the self-confidence of teens. Thanks for sharing about an important subject.

  14. Sorry to hear of your bully memories, JoDee (and all others) and glad we can fight this as adults.

    Feel free to share this article. I'm happy that others have already. Also, Ron Graham mentioned it via his Twitter and I'm flattered. He is promoting this site http://paper.li/rongraham1/bully-stake-out to help combat bullying in schools.


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