As a child growing up in the apartments where I lived, I was unstoppable. I invented clubs and managed to get kids from every corner to join. I made up games that everyone played until the air cooled and the sun went to bed. I wasn't afraid of many people, I was very trusting. I was the kind of kid that wore life like a poncho. Comfortable, but unrestricted. You know the old saying, "The world is your oyster"? Well, I was the oyster and life was pearl within me.
And then one day, I realized some people wanted to rip the pearl from my muscle and smash it like it was nothing more than plain, old, ordinary glass. Seventh grade can be brutal, especially when one is so innocently unprepared for the cruelty that accompanies hormonal pubescence.
I'm not sure at what point people started ganging up on me, or what led up to it. It was unfortunate that my last name rhymed with "whore," and even less fortunate that I had no idea what that word meant. I knew it wasn't good, because laughter followed the name with which I'd been newly christened. I do know that one boy in particular became the regular Asshole du Jour. And he tormented me the entire school year. Which meant that I was target practice for everyone else.
Remember spitballs? Those tiny wadded up pieces of paper slick with saliva and blown straight out of a straw? At some point, my hair would become decorated with them. A pat on my back meant someone had stuck a sign there. Probably sporting the phrase "kick me," because these weren't the most creative of kids. One boredom-buster for my peers was walking on the heels of my shoes so that my feet came out of my sneakers. Sometimes a foot would slide out of nowhere, toppling me and my heavy stack of textbooks to the ground. You know, the usual bullying tactics before social media was a thing and people could do it cowardly behind a computer.
But one kid stood out more than any other. He had a mop of wavy hair. A good-looking kid. Confidence bursting from every seam. Oh, he was a funny one, this guy. The class held their breath waiting for the fun that would ensue the moment he entered a classroom. I was often part of that fun.
Because his last name and my last name ran close together in the alphabet, we were always seated near each other. Teachers often placed kids in alphabetic order. Which meant if your last name started with an "A" you were doomed to remain in the front row forever. In this case, Tim (his real name) shared a table with me in English class. At first, I'd thought things had started off on a decent, saddle-shoed foot. The assignment was to take a favorite song and create a "story" using pictures cut from magazines. I chose "We Got the Beat" by the Go-Gos. Of course, in a grammatically proper world, it should have been "We Have the Beat." So perhaps my teacher didn't appreciate my song lyrics, hence her lack of support for me later on. Anyhow, I was proud of my art, but being creative is not advantageous in public school. You are forever marred as being that "strange kid."
So, perhaps that's why one day Tim decided it would be fun to pull my chair out from under me. I hit the floor pretty hard, and the kids laughed. The teacher had her back to me and didn't know what had happened. By the time she'd turned around, I'd righted my seat, holding back tears dotted with humiliation. Because Tim's audience had appreciated the slapstick comedy, it became a regular routine. Usually, I caught him in the act, disappointing our viewers. But one time he managed to do it so quickly, I hadn't caught on. I'd slapped my ass against the floor and looked over at the teacher and saw she was snickering along with the class.
I can't explain the feeling that welled up in me. It was bad enough that the class derived sadistic pleasure from my fall to the floor, but to see the teacher laughing along...someone who was supposed to protect kids, to foster their well-being, to encourage good behavior and punish bad behavior...it placed a question mark in the back of my head that eventually became engraved back there. Was I that disgusting of a human being that even my teacher wanted to see me suffer?
I begged her to move my seat. Pleaded with her to switch with someone else, someone who wouldn't intentionally make my life hell. But back then, victims were victimized. "You need to learn to get along with people in this world," was the answer I received. As if I was mature enough, strong enough, capable enough to make it stop on my own. I will never, ever forget that teacher. Or forgive her. Not everyone deserves forgiveness.
It took years before I was able to find a fresh perspective. The anger, the hurt, the shame...he wasn't around to provide me the canvas for that anymore. Nope. I'd kept it there, red paint like blood added year after year until it was so thick, the weight was too much for me. And then I had a dream. I dreamt I faced Tim, even though I hadn't seen him in at least ten years. And I told him, "You were horrible to me. You crushed my spirit. Ruined my confidence. Emptied me so that I felt like nothing. But I'm past that, now. You were a kid. You probably didn't realize the pain you inflicted on me. Know what? I'm not going to let it stay with me anymore. Tim, I forgive you."
I woke up feeling so much lighter. When I tried to find the anger I'd held against him for so long, I couldn't locate it. It was gone. Completely gone. The canvas has been cleared of its old, dirty paint.
That day, I put my poncho back on. I wasn't going to let anyone hurt me again like that. I was going to love my life. I was freed. Of course, this is never the end of the story, it's always the beginning. But for now, we'll leave that little girl and that bullying boy behind. Next post, I'll mention a new supply of bullies during my seventh grade days. You'll meet a girl who ended up in one of my stories. In real life, she's dead now. Stay tuned.