Photo credit: Anton Tang
I was in Grade 5. It was after school and I had climbed up a totem pole in the playground and some older girls came across me and demanded I jump down. When I protested that it was too high one of them said slowly, deliberately and with menace: “Then I am coming up to get you” and began to climb up toward me. I stared down into her fierce face and knew terror. I leapt right out over her and into the air, landing a dozen feet down onto dirt and gravel. I stumbled, hurt my foot, and the girl pushed me from behind, knocking me down.
She and her friends did some laughing, jeering and ambled off, leaving me ringing with the shock of it, with the brand new realization that people could and would be mean just for the sake of it, who actually liked seeing other people in pain. I told no-one. I went home to my bedroom, shut the door, lay on my bed and pondered this new development for hours.
I have been bullied a number of times, some of them lasting a minute or two, some of them months.
The last time I was bullied was in Grade 11. It was after school. Between 2 of the buildings was a smoke pit where the cool, tough kids hung out, and I exited the two storm doors fast, banging them both against the outside walls, and waltzed out with my friend. Darlene Bellows gave a scornful laugh from the smoke pit and said: “Well get a load of her.” I kept going without a backward glance, heart thumping, sinking deep down in my chest. She never did approach me, but I watched her looking hard for an opening all that year, and it coloured everything.
Laughing with my friends at the Caf I would suddenly feel her eyes on me. A cold granite grey narrowing to slits. I stopped walking by the smoke pit. I was careful not to make it easy for her. I heard stories of her getting into fights on the weekends, once with a guy. She kicked the crap out of him. That summer a bunch of us got in under-age to the Ladner Arms, the town bar, for the wet t-shirt contest. We weren’t competing but it was a raucous good time hanging out with all the older guys. Darlene was one of the contestants. I watched her up there trying to hold onto her cool. All the girls were braless with t-shirts, and a guy went along the line and sprayed their chests with a spray bottle. One after the other they walked the gauntlet at the edge of the stage, trying to drum up the cheers which would crown them the winner. I think it was around 200 bucks to win and I heard a girl behind me say:
“Darlene has to pay her rent, man, so she’ll show her tits for sure.”
Darlene was only a year older than me, 18 at most, and already out on her own. I stared at her from the safety of the darkness. She looked uncomfortable, vulnerable and my heart surprised me and went out to her. Reluctantly, but with a very determined set to her mouth, she lifted her shirt. The crowd went wild and she got her 200 bucks. Safe for another month. Maybe. I never looked at her the same way again.
People are complex and we sometimes gain perspective from strange places, even in the eyes of a former tormentor. Bullying is, of course, timeless and will plague the young and/or vulnerable until the sun goes super nova. All we can reasonably do is look deeper at our enemy until we see not necessarily a friend, but a soul within the aggressor. And if that doesn’t work? Wait until she looks away and cave in her skull with a rock.
Samantha Bennett is a writer currently living in Montreal. She can be reached at email@example.com where she cheerfully encourages comments and lively debate.
For more, follow us on Twitter: @SpectatorTrib