Saturday, January 15, 2011
It Gets Better, Pt. 2
Looking back on my school career, I think I was only happy about going to school just one day. It was, as for many, my first day of kindergarten. After watching my big brother go off to school for two years before me, the idea of school seemed like a big adventure you got to go on every day, and I wanted in.
My first day of school my mother dressed me in my most darling dress, curled my hair and took pictures of my brother Ben and I on our front stoop. I think many kids must have had a similar experience and occasionally stumble upon the picture and think, "Gosh I was so cute, so full of hope; what happened?" I remember arriving and walking through the playground and planning my turn on the merry-go-round. Walking into my classroom and being surrounded by children my age and meeting my teacher was one of the most exciting moments of my little life. I turned to the other children and asked them to be my friend and play with me. It was so easy! It was a day of play, and high expectations.
The second day of kindergarten was not the same. I went to the wrong classroom, because I followed one of my little friends to their class and assumed it was mine. My actual teacher busted into the classroom panicked and when she found me she very unceremoniously grabbed me by the hand and scolded me for going to the wrong class.
"Didn't you pay attention yesterday?", she huffed at me as if I were someone much older who should have been taking notes. I barely knew how to write.
On the playground the social struggle to fit in began. I'll never forget the first time a boy teased me for being chubby. It was a little British boy in my class named Patrick, who I thought looked like one of the angels from my Catholic prayer book. When I asked if I could play with him he said to me, "We don't play with fat faces." I didn't understand but even at that age I had my pride, so I wasn't going to beg. I told my big brother later on, who told me "Well you are fat, Medusa." Medusa was his name for me, because I called him Benji the Dog. I thought Benji the Dog was cool, so I never understood the need for a nickname filled with such animosity.
My kindergarten and first grade years were spent in Colorado Springs, where the bullying wasn't really that terrible. The occasional tease or being left out was all that I really received. It didn't really get bad until my family moved to Littleton.
For what I remember, second grade was quite nice. I had my friends, D and Missy, and I was in a bubble. Third grade was when it really started to kick in. I was teased for loving my teacher, Mrs. Rice. I did love her actually, and all the other students hated her. She was very sympathetic to me I think, because the students never really censored their bullying in the classroom. The classroom itself was always mild compared to the playground. When I would walk boys would followed close behind me and say "Ba-boom-babba-boom-babba-boom-babba!". They would slap my belly and scream "Ecto plasmic pudding belly!" and run away. I do have to give high marks for creativity and clever use of pop culture for that one, but deduct points for slapping my f*****g belly.
For as bad as the playground was, the walk home from school was tactical warfare. I planned my route differently almost everyday, because certain children would wait for me so they could put me in my place for being chubby. It got even worse in the fourth grade, when boys and girls would just follow me from the door of the school all the way to the property line of the complex I lived in. One particularly bad day was on a day I wore to school a skirt and vest my mother made for me. A girl whose name I believe was Missy was the ringleader of a group who regularly harassed me. I do recall her being kind of chubby as well, but she used her chubbiness for evil.
They met me as soon as I stepped off the school property. It was like that scene in "Christmas Story": the moment I turned the corner there she was with her gang of boys and her horrible redheaded little brother, who always carried a large stick; it was great for hitting.
"Nice outfit blubber.", she sneered at me with her gaggle of boys laughing at her oh so clever jab.
I didn't even think, I knew what she had planned and I was so proud of my hand sewn clothes, so I wasn't going to give her the chance: I booked around them as fast as I could and ran down the street past the track houses. I could hear them behind me and they were gaining very fast; I was never a fast runner. Rocks were hurling past my head and occasionally hitting my legs, but a rock in the leg was a far safer bet than letting them catch up to me.
What I thought at the time was a genius idea, turned out to be the worst idea. I thought if I ran into someones yard, they wouldn't dare follow me. It was horrible misjudgment on my part, because they continued to follow me and I managed to corner myself. They didn't waste anytime. They grabbed clumps of mud and rocks and continued to throw them at me, so I fell into a fetal position and covered my face and head with my arms. Missy didn't like that of course and decided to make her attack hands and feet on.
The children surround me and began to pull at my clothes. Missy pulled my skirt completely off of my body and began to kick my legs and thighs while the boys laughed and continued to throw mud at me. I watched her little brother dump the contents of my bag onto the lawn. Missy was laughing as she kicked my tenderest parts and screamed "Slut" over and over again. I don't know how as a 9 year old I qualified as a slut, but she felt I did.
The person who lived in the house of the property I ran onto must have heard the screaming, because she emerged and immediately chased the children off of me. They scattered away like rats in all different directions.
"Oh my God!", she cried, "Why did you let them do that to you?" I still don't know.
She helped find my skirt, which was torn down the side, and helped repack my backpack. She asked where I lived and I told her in the townhouses up the street. She walked me to the edge of the property, which was only a few block from her house, and told me, "Watch out for yourself" and walked away. As callous as she was, she did probably save me from being hurt even worse than I was.
I walked slowly up the hill to my family townhouse, fearing how I was going to explain to my mother what was going on. My parents reaction to my being bullied was always a mixed reaction of anger towards the bullies, and anger towards me for allowing it to happen. I think they wanted me to stand up for myself more, and I did but it only seemed to anger the bullies even more.
I entered the house quietly and was thankful to find that nobody was home. My Mother was somewhere with my little brother, my older brother was probably with friends, and my Dad was at work. I had time to wash the mud off of me and hide my torn clothes.
I remember my mother finding the ripped and muddy clothes when we were packing my room for our move to Castle Rock and asking me what happened. I told her what happened and she was angry at me for not telling her. Unfortunately telling adults was always fruitless. I would tell my parents, who would tell the principal, who would scold the offenders, who would beat me even worse. After awhile, I just stopped telling.
At the end of my fourth grade year I told my mother I didn't want to go to Centennial Elementary anymore. The kids were mean, and I couldn't concentrate in school, so she allowed me to transfer to Peabody Elementary.
The bullying stopped for the most part at Peabody. I liked my teacher, and my classmates seemed to come from a higher class system than the kids at Centennial. They all dressed very nice and they seemed to be much smarter. The teachers were kinder, and very accommodating. I imagine it's because they knew how badly I was bullied.
The children didn't so much bully me so much they completely socially rejected me, mostly because of how I dressed. My mother of course dressed me in the frilliest, most darling things she could find. Fifth grade was the year I decided to embrace my inner butch. For school pictures my Mother dressed me in a pastel pink sweater and curled my hair. I told her I wanted to wear my brothers blue blazer. She was mortified that I would think it was an option and told me flatly, "No." I never take no for an answer, so when she wasn't looking I packed my brothers blue blazer in my backpack, loving myself for being so clever. When I got to school I slipped the blazer on over my pink button down shirt. Even my teacher asked, "Would your mother really want you to wear that for school pictures?" I of course lied and said yes. When the pictures came in the mail I was quickly grounded, and my mother refused to frame it.
Fifth grade at Peabody was the beginning of my solitary years. I was resigned to the fact I would never have a friend that would eventually turn to bully me, so I spent a lot of my time alone on the playground. I would make daisy chains with dandelions, or sit under the jungle gym and sing to myself. I would occasionally talk to the playground supervisor. I liked adults a lot more than kids; they never bullied me. Due to my affinity for adults and boys blazers, I came across very mature and of course loved it. I liked the idea of fitting in with adults; it made me feel superior to the children who paid me no regard. They just didn't understand me.
Halfway through my fifth grade year my parents announced that they were buying a house in Castle Rock. Castle Rock is about 30 minutes south of Littleton and at the time it was a small developing town surrounded by farmland. In my youngest years I thought that it was the capital of Colorado, because there was a giant star on a hill in the middle of town. They said we would have our own yard, the school was great and there would be no bullies. Castle Rock wasn't just a new house or a new school: it was a new beginning and a chance to reinvent myself.
This is the second part of a series of short stories in accordance to the "It Gets Better" campaign. I would have done a video but I'm too pretty.